Snoring Rail: Aramidopsis plateni

Long time, no post — sorry folks! Turns out trying to finish one’s thesis (now done), find a job (now done), and work enough part-time jobs to pay rent  (ongoing) results in very little time for anything else. Now that life has calmed down a bit, though, I’ll try to get back on a one-post-per-week cycle.

I spent a large part of today reading about birds that eat both terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, a task both very fun (getting paid to read about birds!) and somewhat monotonous (so…many…rails…). By far and away the best English name I’ve encountered so far in this endeavor, though, is the “Snoring Rail,” Aramidopsis plateni.

800px-Aramidopsis_plateni_1898 Snoring Rail, Aramidopsis plateni (Gruiformes, Rallidae). Source: Wikipedia

The Snoring Rail is a flightless bird found in the bamboo and liana forests of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Like all rails, it is “secretive” — shy, and thus difficult to find. In fact, there’s only been a handful of recorded sightings of this species since 1992, and given the problems that its habitat is having with deforestation and feral cats, it may not be long for this world.

Sulawesi_TopographyThis is Sulawesi (formerly known as the Celebes), a “K-shaped” island east of Borneo/Kalimantan, northeast of Java and Bali, south of the Philippines, and west of Papua. According to Wikipedia, Sulawesi is the 11th-largest island in the world, a surprisingly cool list.

The “snoring” moniker refers to the bird’s call, an “ee-orrrr” noise that, well, sounds like a snore. The verb “to snore” is itself onomatopoetic — that is, named after the sound it makes, along with the verb “to snort” and “to snork.” No, I didn’t know that “to snork” was a thing either, but the OED claims that it is, so who am I to argue. These words can be compared with the Middle Dutch snorken, the Dutch snorke, the Middle Low German snarken and Middle High German snarchen, North Frisian snarke, Swedish and Norwegian snarka, and so forth. Presumably from one of these Germanic vowel shifts, we also get the English word “snark,” which used to mean the same thing as this mysterious “snork” (i.e., to snore or snort), but now is either a portmanteau of “snide remark” (Urban Dictionary) or a verb meaning “to find fault with, to nag” (OED). When the word’s not being appropriated as a noun by Lewis Carroll fans, of course.

The word “rail” to mean the bird, dates from at least 1450, when it was borrowed from the French rale (itself a descendant of  the Latin rallus, from which we get the family name Rallidae). It is possible that rale came from the verb râler, meaning “to make a rasping sound when breathing,” because rails sound like this, or something. Anyway, this is the root of the medical term “râle,” meaning a crackling or bubbling sound in the lungs.

If you’ll forgive other uses the of the word “rail,” it traditionally (Old English through 1800s) meant a cloth worn on a woman’s upper body, like a scarf, shawl, or drape. This is cognate with the Old Norse hræll, or “weaving batten” (the thing you hold to pull the yarn/thread through the weft) (when you’re weaving a rail), which is in turn cognate with the Greek κρέκειν (krekein, “to weave”).

maz_weaving 013_lg
All the pretty weaving!

The order name, Gruiformes (cranes, rails, trumpters, limpkin, sunbitterns, kagu, etc) is Latin for “crane-like,” from grus meaning “crane.”

The genus name Aramidopsis, aside from being disturbingly close to “arabidopsis” (the genus name of a species of small flowering plant popular as a model organism), appears to come from the Latin aro meaning “plough” + Greek -ιδές (ides meaning “son of”) to get Aramides (a genus of rails, which kind of look like plows when they forage?), + Greek όψης (opsis meaning “resembling”). All together, we have “thing that resembles the son of a plough.”

The species name plateni comes from Carl Constantin Platen, a German physician who along with his wife Margarete traveled throughout what is now Indonesia and the Philippines in the 1870s-1890s, killing birds and butterflies (aka preparing specimens for the Staatliches Naturhistorisches Museum Braunschweig). Other birds named after Herr Platen include the Palawan Racket-tail (Prionochilus plateni), the Mindoro Bleeding-Heart (Gallicolumba platenae), and the Palawan Flycatcher (Ficedula platenae), as well as at least nine species of butterflies.

14425045544_d9641fde4d_c
The Branded Awlking, Choaspes plateni, also named after Carl Constantin Platen.

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