Weaver news

Weaver Wednesday [219] - Discovery [102]: Strange Weaver

2016-08-24 (738)

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday (species text)

Strange Weaver Ploceus alienus

Strange Weaver
Strange Weaver
figure from Shelley (1905)
Strange Weaver
Strange Weaver egg (circled)
figure from Ogilvie-Grant (1910)
Strange Weaver map
Strange Weaver
distribution, type locality circled


The Strange Weaver was formally described by Richard Bowdler Sharpe, an English zoologist.

The Strange Weaver was collected by Geoffrey Francis Archer, an English ornithologist, big game hunter and colonial official.

In 1901 the 19-year-old Archer joined his uncle Frederick John Jackson, the acting high commissioner in Uganda. His uncle sent him on an ornithological collecting trip in early 1902. Archer visited Lake Albert, the Semliki valley and the Rwenzori Mountains, discovering over twenty new species and subspecies. Four specimens of the Strange Weaver were collected in the Ruwenzori Mountains between 7 and 26 February. Archer noted that this weaver was common here. The specimens were sent to the British Museum.

The species was described later in the same year by Bowdler Sharpe as Sitagra aliena, where aliena means alien or strange. In fact, the English name for this species was Alien Weaver for several decades before becoming Strange Weaver. At this time there were many genera for the true weavers and Sharpe placed it in the genus Sitagra, which contained weavers with slender bills and black masks. However, this new species had a black head and throat, ie. the black area was much larger than a mask. His type description implies discussion with GE Shelley who thought this species best fit in with the Spectacled Weaver genus (Hyphanturgus), due to the slender bill and other similar characters. Either way, Sharpe considered it a strange weaver because it did not clearly fit into any weaver genus described in Shelley's book (1905, The birds of Africa, comprising all the species which occur in the Ethiopian Region. Vol. 4, Part 2).

It has been claimed that "Sitagra aliena" was based on an anagram of Aline referring to Aline Jackson (nee Cooper), the aunt of Geoffrey Archer. However, "aliena" has an additional letter and thus is not an anagram. In Sharpe's type description, he clearly mentioned the classification problem and thus could only have meant to name the species as "strange".

The first illustration of the Strange Weaver was of the adult, published by Shelley (1905). The next illustration to be published 50 years later by Mackworth (1955).

Scientific citation

Sitagra aliena Sharpe 1902b, Bull. Br. Orn. Club 13 p.21, Ruwenzori, Uganda.

Meaning of names

alienus, Latin: alienus, strange, foreign.

First English name

Alien Weaver (Shelley 1905b).

Alternate names

Alien Weaver, Reichenbach's Weaver.


Geoffrey Francis Archer.

Date collected

Feb 1902.

Locality collected

Ruwenzori, Uganda.

Type specimens

The types are in the British Museum.