Lava Gull: Larus fuliginosus

Gulls are white, right? Well, not the Lava Gull (Larus fuliginosus).

Lava Gull, Larus fuliginosus (Charadriiformes, Laridae). Sooty-colored. Source: Wikipedia.

Lava. Red, orange, yellow, and black, which I guess is close enough “sooty.”

The Lava Gull is found in the Galapagos, and at somewhere between 300 and 600 individuals is the world’s rarest gull. They’re fairly rubbish fliers (hello island dispersers), though have been recorded riding on boats. They eat eggs and chicks of other birds, as well as iguanas, fish, and human rubbish; they’re also kleptoparasites of Magnificent Frigatebirds, meaning that the gulls steal food that’s been caught by the frigatebirds.

The English word “lava” meaning cooling molten rock — along with Spanish/Portuguese/German/Dutch/Swedish/etc lava and French lave — is a loan from the Italian lava. According to the OED, this word meant “a stream or gutter suddenly caused by rain,” which was then applied to streams of lava from Mt. Vesuvius. “Lava” in the water sense comes from the Latin lavare meaning “to wash,” whence French laver (to wash), English “lavatory,” archaic English “lavabo” (when the priest washes his hands before the Eucharist), etc. This root also has Germanic origins, such as the Old English lafian (“to pour water”). The meanings of the cognates in Middle Dutch, Old High German, etc, mostly refer to food/drink “refreshment” rather than to washing per se, and it’s unclear if this is a true cognate or just a coincidence. (Convergent evolution ftw!)

Remarkably, the OED also has an entry for a “lava-lava,” which is a Samoan word for a type of skirt/dress that missionaries made female Pacific islanders wear to preserve modesty. Live and learn.

(If you’re into amazingly adorable short Pixar animations, here’s a link to the “Lava” song, which was at the beginning of Inside Out. You’re welcome.)

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Adorable volcano is adorable. Also, fun fact — the word “volcano” comes the Sicilian island/volcano VulcanoJust like “geyser” comes from the Icelandic geyser Geysir.

The word “gull” apparently comes from Welsh. (As does the word “penguin”: pen meaning “head” [same root as the mountain names starting with “Ben”, e.g., Ben Nevis] and gwyn meaning “white,” originally used to refer to the Great Auk, which did have white on its head.) Welsh gŵylan, Cornish guilan, Old Irish foilenn, etc all refer to gulls. One of the French words for “gull” has Celtic roots as well — goëland is a loan from the Breton goelann.

The other common French word for a gull is mouette, which has the same roots as the German Möwe, Dutch meeuw, Old English meau, traditional English “mew” or “seamew,” and the modern English name “Mew Gull,” the North American name for what the Brits call the Common Gull (Larus canus).

 Larus is Latin for “gull,” from the Greek λάρος (laros, “gull”). This is also the source of the family name Laridae.  The genus name fuliginosus is Latin for “sooty,” again referring to the color of the gull, not to be confused with the Sooty Gull, Larus hemprichii, named after the German explorer Friedrich Wilhelm Hemprich.

20110920_burningoilThis is an image of “soot” from the BP Oil Spill, but the burning oil does almost look like lava?


One thought on “Lava Gull: Larus fuliginosus

  1. Pingback: Bonaparte’s Gull: Larus philadelphia | Name This Bird

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