Sunday 26 July 2009

British Wildlife: C

Cetiosaurus oxoniensis Phillips, 1871
Cetiosauridae; Saurischia; Sauropsida; Chordata

At sixteen metres (53 feet) in length, Cetiosaurus was one of the largest animals ever to live in the UK. The genus Cetiosaurus was named by Sir Richard Owen, who also famously coined the name ‘dinosaur’. He named six species, C. brevis (currently the type species, but this is disputed – see below), C. medius, C. longus, C. brachyurus, C. hypoolithicus and C. epioolithicus in 1842. All are poorly known: C. medius is considered a nomen dubium, as it has no distinguishing features; C. hypoolithicus and C. epioolithicus, although the first names to be published, were published without descriptions, and are thus nomina nuda.

Cetiosaurus oxoniensis femur (thigh bone) with my nephew Eren for scale
Oxford Museum of Natural History
July 2008

Cetiosaurus oxoniensis, first discovered in Oxfordshire, is much better known, and it has been proposed that it become the type species of the genus, over-riding the Principle of Priority that Owen’s species have. The proposal, by Upchurch et al. (2009), states that all of the species named by Owen are less well known than the Oxfordshire specimens, and on this basis the name should be fixed against this species.

Owen thought that the bones belonged to a whale or other marine creature, hence the name Cetiosaurus, meaning ‘whale lizard’.

Smooth snake
Coronella austriaca Laurenti, 1768
Colubridae; Squamata; Sauropsida; Chordata

The smooth snake is the rarest and most locally distributed of Britain’s three native snake species (think that’s bad? Ireland has none!). It is a non-venomous species from the large family Colubridae, and is quite restricted, in Britain anyway, to heathland. Its distribution is centred upon parts of Dorset, Hampshire, Surrey and West Sussex in the south of England.

They are called smooth snakes because their scales lack ridged keels down the centre. They could be confused with adders (Vipera berus), but the adder usually has bolder markings. Other than the UK, smooth snakes are found through most of Europe, and have a close relative, C. girondica, living in southern Europe.

Fringilla coelebs Linnaeus, 1758
Fringillidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata

The chaffinch is one of my favourite British songbirds. The male (pictured above) has bold facial markings of pink and grey, and has a delightful song, which is short and consists of descending notes and a final flourish that sounds a bit like a sneeze. I hear it throughout the year and always cheers me up.

Female chaffinch
Broxbourne, Hertfordshire
May 2008

The female doesn’t sing, and has a more muted coloration. Both sexes have quite a lot of white on the wing, which shows in flight, helping to identify it from sparrows or other finches. Outside of the UK, the chaffinch is also found in north Africa, Europe and western Asia, as well as some of the Canary Islands, where an endemic relative, the beautiful blue chaffinch (C. teydea) is also found.

Upchurch, P., J. Martin & M.P. Taylor (2009). Cetiosaurus Owen, 1841 (Dinosauria, Sauropoda): proposed conservation of usage by designation of Cetiosaurus oxoniensis Phillips, 1871 as the type species. In: Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 66(1) 51-5

For D we have a stegosaur, a woodpecker and a cetartiodactyl.

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