New Antbird named for E.O. Wilson

By Marc Devokaitis
April 2, 2018
E.O. Wilson by Jim Harrison; Cordillera Azul Antbird (Myrmoderus eowilsoni) by Andrew Spencer/Macaulay Library.E.O. Wilson by Jim Harrison; Cordillera Azul Antbird (Myrmoderus eowilsoni) by Andrew Spencer/Macaulay Library.

From the Spring 2018 issue of Living Bird magazine. Subscribe now.

In his autobiography, Naturalist, the famous biologist E.O. Wilson wrote that as a child growing up in the 1930s and 40s, his poor hearing and partial loss of eyesight meant he was “a wretched bird watcher. I couldn’t hear birds. I couldn’t locate them unless they obligingly fluttered past in full view.” As a result, he turned his attention to creatures that could be captured “between my thumb and forefinger and brought close for inspection.” Namely, ants.

Fast forward to July 2016. Birder Josh Beck was in the eastern foothills of the Peruvian Andes exploring a remote mountain forest when he heard the rattling alarm call of an antbird. After playing back some audio of similar antbird calls, he was able to get a recording of the mystery bird’s song and see its diminutive black-and-russet body briefly in the open. He soon determined that the bird did not match any known antbird. As luck would have it, there were several other researchers and ornithologists staying in the nearby town of Flor de Café, and they were able to visit the site and obtain additional documentation.

A recent paper in The Auk describes the new Cordillera Azul Antbird, with the scientific name Myrmoderus eowilsoni, named in honor of Wilson. When we asked about his new eponymous bird, Wilson mused: “In addition to some ant species, I share names with an Australian cockroach, a New Caledonian cave-dwelling phalangid [a spider-like arachnid], and maybe a couple more. None have the extraordinary star power of the Myrmoderus eowilsoni.”