Weaver Wednesday  - Discovery : Fan-tailed Widowbird2015-06-17 (647)
Weaver Wednesday (species text)
Fan-tailed Widowbird Euplectes axillaris
IntroductionThe Fan-tailed Widowbird was collected and formally described by Andrew Smith, a Scottish surgeon, explorer, ethnologist and zoologist. Smith organised an expedition to the interior and he travelled to near the Botswana border in 1834-35, collecting many new birds, reptiles, mammals and other taxa along the way.
Smith described this species from a specimen 'obtained upon the south-east coast . . . in Caffreland' (Smith 1838). Smith actually described this species earlier, but did not provide a specific name (Vidua sp., Smith 1831), but he did give the locality as near the Kei River (Smith 1831), Eastern Cape, South Africa. The specimen could have been collected anytime bewteen 1820 to 1831. Smith crossed the Great Kei River on his trip to KwaZulu-Natal in 1832, but clearly he must have collected Fan-tailed Widowbird on an earlier excursion to the Kei.
The first illustration of a Fan-tailed Widowbird was published by Andrew Smith in 1838 in Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa, being painted by George Henry Ford. The next illustration was published in Reichenbach (1863), who painted 2 males in different poses.
Scientific citationVidua axillaris Smith 1838; Illustr. Zool. South Africa, Aves, pl. 17 (and text); 'between seven and eight hundred miles to the eastward of Cape Town ... in Caffreland' = eastern Cape.
Meaning of namesaxillaris - Latin: axillaris, of the armpit, shoulders or wing (axilla, the armpit, shoulder or wing; ala, the wing).
First English nameEpauletted Widow-bird (Gurney 1860).
Alternate namesAbyssinian Fan-tailed Widow-Bird, Benguella Fan-tailed Widow-Bird, Bocage's (Fan-tailed) Whydah, Bocage's Widow Bird, Epauletted Widow-bird, Fan tailed Widow Bird, Fan-tailed Whydah, Malandje Fan-tailed Widow-Bird, Natal Fan-tailed Weaver, Niger Fan-tailed Whydah, Nile Fan-tailed Widow-Bird, Red-shouldered Whydah, Red-shouldered Widow Bird, The short-tailed red-shouldered Widow, Zanzibar Fan-tailed Widow-Bird.
Date collectedBetween 1820-31.
Locality collectedGreat Kei River, Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Type specimensNot traced.