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Lyall's wren or the Stephens Island wren (''Traversia lyalli'') is a small, extinct, flightless
passerine A passerine () is any bird of the order Passeriformes (; from Latin 'sparrow' and '-shaped'), which includes more than half of all bird species. Sometimes known as perching birds, passerines are distinguished from other orders of birds by t ...
belonging to the
family Family (from la, familia) is a group of people related either by consanguinity (by recognized birth) or affinity (by marriage or other relationship). The purpose of the family is to maintain the well-being of its members and of society. Idea ...
Acanthisittidae, the New Zealand wrens. It was once found throughout New Zealand, but when it came to the attention of scientists in 1894, its last refuge was Stephens Island in
Cook Strait Cook Strait ( mi, Te Moana-o-Raukawa) separates the North and South Islands of New Zealand. The strait connects the Tasman Sea on the northwest with the South Pacific Ocean on the southeast. It is wide at its narrowest point,McLintock, A H ...
. Often claimed to be a
species In biology, a species is the basic unit of classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate ...
driven extinct by a single creature (a
lighthouse A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of physical structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses and to serve as a beacon for navigational aid, for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways. Lighthouses ma ...
keeper's
cat The cat (''Felis catus'') is a domestic species of small carnivorous mammal. It is the only domesticated species in the family Felidae and is commonly referred to as the domestic cat or house cat to distinguish it from the wild members of ...
named Tibbles), the wren in fact fell victim to the island's numerous feral cats. The wren was described almost simultaneously by both Walter Rothschild and Walter Buller. It became extinct shortly after.


Taxonomy

The bird's
scientific name In taxonomy, binomial nomenclature ("two-term naming system"), also called nomenclature ("two-name naming system") or binary nomenclature, is a formal system of naming species of living things by giving each a name composed of two parts, bo ...
commemorates the assistant lighthouse keeper, David Lyall, who first brought the bird to the attention of science. It was described as a distinct genus, ''Traversia'', in honour of naturalist and curio dealer Henry H. Travers, who procured many specimens from Lyall. ''Traversia'' is a member of the family Acanthisittidae, or the New Zealand wrens – which are not wrens but a similar-looking lineage of
passerines A passerine () is any bird of the order Passeriformes (; from Latin 'sparrow' and '-shaped'), which includes more than half of all bird species. Sometimes known as perching birds, passerines are distinguished from other orders of birds by t ...
, originating in the
Oligocene The Oligocene ( ) is a geologic epoch of the Paleogene Period and extends from about 33.9 million to 23 million years before the present ( to ). As with other older geologic periods, the rock beds that define the epoch are well identified but t ...
, and the sister group to all other songbirds. DNA analysis has confirmed that ''T. lyalli,'' the only member of its genus, is the oldest and most distinct lineage in the Acanthisittidae.


Description

Lyall's wren had olive-brown plumage with a yellow stripe through the eye. Its underside was grey in females and brownish-yellow in males and its body feathers were edged with brown. Most distinctively, Lyall's wren was
flightless Flightless birds are birds that through evolution lost the ability to fly. There are over 60 extant species, including the well known ratites (ostriches, emu, cassowaries, rheas, and kiwi) and penguins. The smallest flightless bird is the ...
, with a reduced keel on its breastbone and short rounded wings. It is the best known of the four flightless passerines (songbirds) known to science, all of which were inhabitants of
island An island (or isle) is an isolated piece of habitat that is surrounded by a dramatically different habitat, such as water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atolls can be called islets, skerries, cays or keys. An isla ...
s and are now
extinct Extinction is the termination of a kind of organism or of a group of kinds (taxon), usually a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed an ...
. The others were two other New Zealand wrens (the long-billed wren and the stout-legged wren) and the long-legged bunting from
Tenerife Tenerife (; ; formerly spelled ''Teneriffe'') is the largest and most populous island of the Canary Islands. It is home to 43% of the total population of the archipelago. With a land area of and a population of 978,100 inhabitants as of Janu ...
, one of the
Canary Islands The Canary Islands (; es, Canarias, ), also known informally as the Canaries, are a Spanish autonomous community and archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, in Macaronesia. At their closest point to the African mainland, they are west of Moro ...
, all of which were only recently discovered as fossils and became extinct in
prehistoric Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history between the use of the first stone tools by hominins 3.3 million years ago and the beginning of recorded history with the invention of writing systems. The use o ...
times. Living Lyall's wrens were seen only twice. The lighthouse keeper described the 'rock wren', as he called it, as almost nocturnal, "running around the rocks like a mouse and so quick in its movements that he could not get near enough to hit it with a stick or stone".


Distribution

Historically, Lyall's wren was found only on Stephens Island. Prehistorically, it had been widespread throughout
New Zealand New Zealand ( mi, Aotearoa ) is an island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It consists of two main landmasses—the North Island () and the South Island ()—and over 700 smaller islands. It is the sixth-largest island count ...
before the land was settled by the Māori. Its bones can be found in caves and deposits left by laughing owls on both main islands. Its disappearance from the mainland was probably due to predation by the
Polynesian rat The Polynesian rat, Pacific rat or little rat (''Rattus exulans''), known to the Māori as ''kiore'', is the third most widespread species of rat in the world behind the brown rat and black rat. The Polynesian rat originated in Southeast Asia, a ...
or ''kiore'' (''Rattus exulans''), which had been introduced by the Māori. The presence of a flightless bird on an island 3.2 km from the mainland, along with Hamilton's frog (''Leiopelma hamiltoni''), which can be killed by exposure to salt water, may seem puzzling, but Stephens Island was connected to the rest of New Zealand during the last glaciation when sea levels were lower.


Extinction

Much of what is commonly assumed to be established knowledge about this species' extinction is either wrong or has been misinterpreted, starting with the account by Rothschild (1905) who claimed that a single
cat The cat (''Felis catus'') is a domestic species of small carnivorous mammal. It is the only domesticated species in the family Felidae and is commonly referred to as the domestic cat or house cat to distinguish it from the wild members of ...
had killed all of the birds. The research of Galbreath and Brown (2004) and Medway (2004) has uncovered much of the actual history of the bird during the short time that it was known to researchers. * 1879 ** Early June?: A track to the site of the proposed lighthouse site is cleared, starting the period of human activity on the island. * 1881 ** 22 February: Marine engineer John Blackett surveys the site for the proposed lighthouse. * 1891 ** April: Preparations for the construction of the lighthouse are begun by starting to build a tramway and a landing site for boats. * 1892 ** April: Clearance of land for the lighthouse and the associated farm begins (three lighthouse keepers and their families, 17 people in total, would eventually be living on the island). The first report of the species was a note on the island's birdlife made by the construction worker F. W. Ingram, which mentions "two kinds of wren" (the other one was probably the
rifleman A rifleman is an infantry soldier armed with a rifled long gun. Although the rifleman role had its origin with 16th century hand cannoneers and 17th century musketeers, the term originated in the 18th century with the introduction of the r ...
). * 1894 ** 29 January: The lighthouse commences working. ** 17–20 February?: This is a likely date for introduction of cats to Stephens Island. What can be said with any certainty is that at some time in early 1894, a pregnant cat brought to the island escaped. ** June?: A cat starts to bring carcasses of a species of small bird to the lighthouse keepers' housings. Lyall, who was interested in natural history, has one taken to Walter Buller by A. W. Bethune, second engineer on the government
steamboat A steamboat is a boat that is propelled primarily by steam power, typically driving propellers or paddlewheels. Steamboats sometimes use the prefix designation SS, S.S. or S/S (for 'Screw Steamer') or PS (for 'Paddle Steamer'); however, the ...
'' NZGSS Hinemoa''. ** Before 25 July?: The specimen reaches Buller, who at once recognises it as distinct species and prepares a scientific description, to be published in the journal ''
Ibis The ibises () (collective plural ibis; classical plurals ibides and ibes) are a group of long-legged wading birds in the family Threskiornithidae, that inhabit wetlands, forests and plains. "Ibis" derives from the Latin and Ancient Greek word ...
''. Bethune lends Buller the specimen so it can be sent to
London London is the capital and largest city of England and the United Kingdom, with a population of just under 9 million. It stands on the River Thames in south-east England at the head of a estuary down to the North Sea, and has been a ma ...
for the famed artist
John Gerrard Keulemans Johannes Gerardus Keulemans (J. G. Keulemans) (8 June 1842 – 29 March 1912) was a Dutch bird illustrator. For most of his life he lived and worked in England, illustrating many of the best-known ornithology books of the nineteenth century. Bi ...
to make a
lithograph Lithography () is a planographic method of printing originally based on the immiscibility of oil and water. The printing is from a stone ( lithographic limestone) or a metal plate with a smooth surface. It was invented in 1796 by the German ...
plate to accompany the description. ** Winter – early spring (Southern Hemisphere): Lyall finds several more specimens. He tells Buller about two more (but does not send them to him), and sells nine to Travers. ** 9 October: Travers, who recognizes the commercial value of the birds, sidelines Buller and offers the birds to Walter Rothschild, who was wealthier and thus more likely to pay a high price, further piqueing Rothschild's interest by writing, "in a short time there will be o "wrens"left". Rothschild acquires his nine specimens. ** 11/12 October: Edward Lukins makes a list of birds on Stephens Island; he apparently confuses the species with the South Island rockwren. ** 19 December: Rothschild has quickly prepared a description of the bird, as ''Traversia lyalli'', which is read by
Ernst Hartert Ernst Johann Otto Hartert (29 October 1859 – 11 November 1933) was a widely published German ornithologist. Life and career Hartert was born in Hamburg, Germany on 29 October 1859. In July 1891, he married the illustrator Claudia Bernadine ...
at the British Ornithologists' Club meeting.
Philip Sclater Philip Lutley Sclater (4 November 1829 – 27 June 1913) was an English lawyer and zoologist. In zoology, he was an expert ornithologist, and identified the main zoogeographic regions of the world. He was Secretary of the Zoological Soci ...
, the Club's president and editor of the ''Ibis'' who knows of Buller's article in preparation, brings up the matter to Hartert, who says he cannot withdraw Rothschild's description without consent. ** 29 December: Rothschild's description appears in the '' Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club''. * 1895 ** 24 January: Travers offers Rothschild a specimen preserved in
alcohol Alcohol most commonly refers to: * Alcohol (chemistry), an organic compound in which a hydroxyl group is bound to a carbon atom * Alcohol (drug), an intoxicant found in alcoholic drinks Alcohol may also refer to: Chemicals * Ethanol, one of sev ...
(with
viscera In biology, an organ is a collection of tissues joined in a structural unit to serve a common function. In the hierarchy of life, an organ lies between tissue and an organ system. Tissues are formed from same type cells to act together in a ...
intact) for £5 (about £415 in 2002's money: U.K. House of Commons Library, 2003). Rothschild apparently agrees, but never receives the bird. ** 4–9 February: Travers and three assistants searched the island for the bird, but found none. ** Before 11 February?: Lyall writes to Buller: "...the cats have become wild and are making sad havoc among all the birds." ** 7 March: Travers supplies Rothschild with some details of the bird's habits. To his knowledge, the species had only been seen alive twice until then. He has only been able to procure one additional specimen, brought in by the cat as the bird was dying, which also had been preserved in alcohol. ** 16 March: The
Christchurch Christchurch ( ; mi, Ōtautahi) is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand and the seat of the Canterbury Region. Christchurch lies on the South Island's east coast, just north of Banks Peninsula on Pegasus Bay. The Avon Rive ...
newspaper ''
The Press ''The Press'' is a daily newspaper published in Christchurch, New Zealand owned by media business Stuff Ltd. First published in 1861, the newspaper is the largest circulating daily in the South Island and publishes Monday to Saturday. One comm ...
'' writes in an editorial:
"there is very good reason to believe that the bird is no longer to be found on the island, and, as it is not known to exist anywhere else, it has apparently become quite extinct. This is probably a record performance in the way of extermination."
** April: Buller's description of ''Xenicus insularis'' appears in the ''Ibis''. The name is immediately reduced to a
junior synonym The Botanical and Zoological Codes of nomenclature treat the concept of synonymy differently. * In botanical nomenclature, a synonym is a scientific name that applies to a taxon that (now) goes by a different scientific name. For example, Lin ...
. In the same issue, Rothschild's description is reprinted, with some additional remarks on the bird's apparent flightlessness. The race to describe the bird sparks much animosity between the two men and Buller never forgives Rothschild for beating him to it; for details and quotes, see Fuller (2000). ** August: In a paper for the Wellington Philosophical Society, Buller speaks of a female bird he recently had examined. He later purchases this specimen. ** 28 November: Travers informs Hartert that Lyall was not able to find more specimens during the winter and he believes the bird to be extinct. He offers two alcohol specimens for sale, for the price of £50 apiece (nearly £4,200 in 2002's money – to compare, the average lighthouse keeper's wage in 1895 was £140 a year). ** December: Travers tries another search for the bird, again without success. * 1896 ** 13 May: Travers, unable to sell the birds at such a high price, now wants to sell his specimens for £12 each, about £1,000 in 2002's money. ** June: Lyall gets assigned to another lighthouse and leaves Stephens Island. ** 31 December – 7 January or longer: Hugo H. Schauinsland collects birds on Stephens Island, but cannot find many and no "wrens" at all. On 7 January, he collects the only specimen of the local South Island piopio acquired during his stay. It is the last record of that species. * 1897 ** 31 July: The principal lighthouse keeper, Patrick Henaghan, requests shotguns and ammunition from the Marine Department to destroy the "large number of cats running wild on the island." * 1898 ** 5 September: Travers writes James Hector that he has one more specimen available. At some time before this date, he had sold Buller one specimen for Henry Baker Tristram and claimed he had ''two'' additional ones. ** 27 December: Travers writes to Hector, saying that Stephens Island "is now swarming with cats". * 1899 ** 1 August: The new principal lighthouse keeper, Robert Cathcart, shoots over 100 feral cats since his arrival on 24 November 1898. * 1901 ** Travers offers "his specimen of the Stephen's Island Wren" to the government for £35 (c. £2700 in 2002); apparently, the bird is bought and deposited at the Colonial Museum with other skins. The collection is not reviewed until 1904, by which time a fifth has to be discarded due to insect damage. No record is made of the specimen since the offer, but the eventual sales price suggests it was among the collection deposited at the Colonial Museum. * 1905 ** Travers sells one specimen to the Otago Museum. ** Buller publishes his ''Supplement'', in which he keeps using his name ''Xenicus insularis''. He furthermore quotes an anonymous correspondent to ''The Press'':
"And we certainly think that it would be as well if the Marine Department, in sending lighthouse keepers to isolated islands where interesting specimens of native birds are known or believed to exist, were to see that they are not allowed to take any cats with them, even if mouse-traps have to be furnished at the cost of the state."
* 1907 ** Rothschild publishes his book, '' Extinct Birds''. In a remarkable breach of '' nil nisi bonum'' (especially considering both men's social standing), it contains several acrimonious attacks on Buller, who had died the previous year. * 1925 ** The last cats on the island were exterminated. Considering Buller's August 1895 note, it is probable that the species was exterminated by feral cats during the winter of 1895. Assuming the date of February 1894 for cat introduction was correct (there were certainly cats around in the winter months of that year), the winter of 1895 would see the second generation of cats born on the island reaching an age where the wren would have made ideal prey. Habitat destruction, sometimes given as an additional reason for the birds' disappearance, was apparently not significant: in 1898, the island was described as heavily forested and there was little interference with habitat beyond the lighthouse and its associated buildings. Large-scale destruction of habitat started in late 1903, by which time ''T. lyalli'' was certainly extinct.


Specimens

About 16–18 specimens (excluding
subfossil A fossil (from Classical Latin , ) is any preserved remains, impression, or trace of any once-living thing from a past geological age. Examples include bones, shells, exoskeletons, stone imprints of animals or microbes, objects preserved ...
bones) are now known. They were collected by the lighthouse keeper's cat, by the keepers themselves and by professional collectors. * Rothschild's specimens, all of which were collected between July and October 1894: **
Natural History Museum A natural history museum or museum of natural history is a scientific institution with natural history collections that include current and historical records of animals, plants, fungi, ecosystems, geology, paleontology, climatology, and ...
,
London London is the capital and largest city of England and the United Kingdom, with a population of just under 9 million. It stands on the River Thames in south-east England at the head of a estuary down to the North Sea, and has been a ma ...
: three (NHM 1895.10.17.13; 1939.12.9.76; 1939.12.9.77). **
American Museum of Natural History The American Museum of Natural History (abbreviated as AMNH) is a natural history museum on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City. In Theodore Roosevelt Park, across the street from Central Park, the museum complex comprises 26 inte ...
,
New York City New York, often called New York City or NYC, is the most populous city in the United States. With a 2020 population of 8,804,190 distributed over , New York City is also the most densely populated major city in the U ...
: four (AMNH AM 554502; AM 554503; AM 554504; AM 554505). **
Academy of Natural Sciences The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, formerly the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, is the oldest natural science research institution and museum in the Americas. It was founded in 1812, by many of the leading natura ...
,
Philadelphia Philadelphia, often called Philly, is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the sixth-largest city in the U.S., the second-largest city in both the Northeast megalopolis and Mid-Atlantic regions after New York City. Sinc ...
: one (ANSP 108,631). ** Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology,
Cambridge, Massachusetts Cambridge ( ) is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States. As part of the Boston metropolitan area, the cities population of the 2020 U.S. census was 118,403, making it the fourth most populous city in the state, behind Bosto ...
: one (MCZ 249,400). * Buller's specimens, collected at unknown dates between 1894 and 1899: ** Carnegie Museum,
Pittsburgh Pittsburgh ( ) is a city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, United States, and the county seat of Allegheny County. It is the most populous city in both Allegheny County and Western Pennsylvania, the second-most populous city in Pennsy ...
: one (CMNH 24639), labelled as female and dated 1894 in Buller's handwriting. Apart from the date discrepancy, it could be the bird Buller spoke of in August 1895; possibly the specimen was collected months before Buller had examined it. Alternatively, it could be the Bethune bird in case Buller kept it (he initially seems to believe it to be a female), as Rothschild (1907) believed. DNA analysis could, at least, clarify the bird's sex. ** Canterbury Museum,
Christchurch Christchurch ( ; mi, Ōtautahi) is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand and the seat of the Canterbury Region. Christchurch lies on the South Island's east coast, just north of Banks Peninsula on Pegasus Bay. The Avon Rive ...
: AV917 and AV918, a pair from the collection of Buller's son, dated 1899. They were acquired between late 1896 and 1899, but may have been collected before that date. * World Museum, National Museums Liverpool: Two (including NML-VZ B.18.10.98.10). Purchased by Buller from Travers for Tristram, probably after late 1896 (but may have been collected earlier). Sold to the museum in October 1898. *
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is New Zealand's national museum and is located in Wellington. ''Te Papa Tongarewa'' translates literally to "container of treasures" or in full "container of treasured things and people that spring ...
,
Wellington Wellington ( mi, Te Whanganui-a-Tara or ) is the capital city of New Zealand. It is located at the south-western tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Remutaka Range. Wellington is the second-largest city in New Zealand by ...
: one
OR.005098
mounted specimen without data; may be Travers' specimen sold in 1901 or another one
This
photograph b

shows the Te Papa specimen and another one – possibly the Otago Museum bird, but the matter is not clear. * Otago Museum,
Dunedin Dunedin ( ; mi, Ōtepoti) is the second-largest city in the South Island of New Zealand (after Christchurch), and the principal city of the Otago region. Its name comes from , the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. ...
: one, but two catalog numbers (AV739 and AV7577) exist. It is not clear whether they represent re-cataloguing of the one specimen sold by Travers in 1905, or whether a specimen was lost. * Unaccounted for (all collected in 1894 or very early in 1895): ** Bethune's specimen: lent to Buller for the description, apparently later given back. If so, it was probably deposited at the Colonial Museum (now part of
Te Papa The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is New Zealand's national museum and is located in Wellington. ''Te Papa Tongarewa'' translates literally to "container of treasures" or in full "container of treasured things and people that spring f ...
) for safekeeping between 1895 and 1897, or ** Buller's female mentioned in August 1895, or even both (if neither is CMNH 24639). ** Two of Lyall's first three specimens (one was given to Bethune) remain unaccounted for. They may be part of Rothschild's nine, or Buller's three. They were not in Buller's possession as of early February 1895. ** Travers' "lost" specimen referred to in January 1895. It is not certain that this specimen was indeed lost; it may have been one of the alcohol-preserved specimens mentioned in November 1895 and Travers may simply have withheld it so he could fetch a higher price as the bird became extinct.


In the media

* Lyall's wren was featured in the episode "Strange Islands" of the documentary series '' South Pacific'' that originally aired on 13 June 2009. * Lyall's wren was the topic of the episode "Stephens Island Wren and the Cobra Effect" of the
game show A game show is a genre of broadcast viewing entertainment (radio, television, internet, stage or other) where contestants compete for a reward. These programs can either be participatory or demonstrative and are typically directed by a host, ...
''Citaeeded'', published on
YouTube YouTube is a global online video sharing and social media platform headquartered in San Bruno, California. It was launched on February 14, 2005, by Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim. It is owned by Google, and is the second mo ...
on 8 June 2017.


See also

* New Zealand wren * Cats in New Zealand


Notes


References


External links


TerraNature – Wren



Extinct New Zealand Birds

''Lyall's Wren. Traversia lyalli.''
by Paul Martinson. Artwork produced for the book ''Extinct Birds of New Zealand'', by Alan Tennyson, Te Papa Press, Wellington, 2006 {{Taxonbar, from=Q507428 Extinct flightless birds Extinct birds of New Zealand Bird extinctions since 1500 Collection of the World Museum Species made extinct by human activities Marlborough Sounds Lyall's wren Lyall's wren