Thursday, August 29, 2013

Eastern Brazil's muriquis nicknamed “charcoal monkeys”

Like hunters, soldiers and artists, after artificially camouflaging their face with sooty charcoal, muriquis show similar looking facial features due to their natural pigmentation. Their darkened, black or black-spotted faces inspired the Brazilian nickname “charcoal monkey” [1]. The muriqui is the largest New World monkey, endemic to tropical forests north and southwest of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil—the Atlantic Forest region [2]. Contrasting with their face color, muriqui's thick coat is grayish brown, often with a tinge of yellow [1-3]. Their fur and their expertise in navigating the canopy by air acrobatics resulted in their common name, or other nickname: woolly spider monkey.

In the late 1980s two distinct muriqui species were recognized: the northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) and the southern muriqui (B. arachnoides) [2,3]. Note the spider reference in the scientific name of the southern species. Steve Kemper summarizes the current classification and conservation status [1]:

Once called woolly spider monkeys, muriquis occur in two closely related species that scientists didn't officially split until 2000: northern (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) and southern (Brachyteles arachnoides). Both species live only in Brazil, in scattered remnants of the once-vast Atlantic coastal forest, now greatly reduced by clearing for pasture and agricultural land. Because of extensive habitat fragmentation, both muriqui species are classified as endangered, the northern one critically: Only 1,000 of them survive, spread across about a dozen patches of forest [...]

Muriquis are of particular interest in biology and anthropology, since they are capable of great behavioral plasticity. Muriquis display a social and sexual “life style,” that differs from the ruffian behavior observed with many Old World primates. Karen Strier has been studying the critically endangered northern muriqui since 1982. She applies a comparative approach to understand the behavioral ecology of primates, gaining new insights into population viability and making significant contributions to the competition versus cooperation debate in the science of evolution [1,4].

Keywords: primatology, biological anthropology, taxonomy, nomenclature; Animalia > Chordata > Mammalia > Primates > Atelidae.

References and more to explore
[1] Steve Kemper: No Alpha Males Allowed. Smithsonian September 2013, 44 (6), 38-43. [].
[2]  Encyclopedia of Life: Brachyteles hypoxanthus [].
[3] Encyclopedia of Life: Brachyteles arachnoides [].
[4] Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Karen B. Strier [].  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

El Rio de las Plumas: Feather River

The Latin word pluma means “feather” in English. The Latin-derived English word “plumage” showcases the meaning of this root: the noun “plumage” refers to a bird's feather coverage.

The Spanish word for “feather” coincidences with the Latin word; the Spanish plural is plumas. Hence, el rio de las plumas means “the river of feathers,” or “feather river” for short. With a little imagination it can be translated as a “river with plenty of birds.” 

This imagination was reality in the first half of the 19th century, when early European explorers and gold-rush pioneers discovered and exploited the Feather River in northern California. During that time it got its beautiful name [1]:

The Feather River originally was named “el Rio de las Plumas” in 1821 by Spanish explorer Luis Antonio Argüelo for the multitude of waterfowl seen upon its waters. In about 1850, the name was anglicized to “Feather River.”

Several branches of the Feather River run through Plumas County [2]. It can be considered as Feather River County, but continues to stick with the Spanish name. Plumas County's Frazier Creek, for example, is a tributary of the Feather River: it flows from Gold Lake via the scenic Frazier Falls into the Feather River's Middle Fork by the resort town of Graeagle.

The Latin/Spanish word pluma also lives on in open-space and park names such as Plumas National Forest and Plumas-Eureka State Park, associated with the Feather River headwaters.

Keywords: geography, languages, etymology, place naming, anglicisation (anglicization), American history.

References and more to explore
[1] Plumas County, California GenWeb Project: A Brief History of Plumas County [].
[2] About Feather River Country [].