Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 23, 1890
This text is also available in PDF
(214 KB) Opens in new window
– 602 –

4. Sir Walter Buller exhibited a huge kiwi from Stewart Island, which he referred to Aperyx maxima of M. Jules Verreaux (Bonap.: Compt. Rend. Acad. Sc., xliii., p. 841). Two of the largest specimens of Apteryx australis (male and female) were on the table for comparison; and he pointed out that this new bird had a bill fully an inch and a half longer, with proportionately robust feet; and that the claws, instead of being long and sharp-pointed, as in Apteryx australis, were short, broad, and blunt at the tip. He also pointed out other distinguishing peculiarities in the plumage. Referring to the history of this species, he said that the well-known French naturalist named had, as far back as 1856, distinguished it from the others on what appeared at the time to be very insufficient data; and a year or two later the Government of New Zealand published in the Gazette a report by Drs. Sclater and Hochstetter “On our Present Knowledge of the Species of Apteryx,” in which special attention was called to Jules Verreaux's new form, and the colonists invited to look for it. When, in 1871, Professor Hutton published his “Catalogue of New Zealand Birds,” he referred the large grey kiwi of the South Island (Apteryx haasti) to Apteryx maxima; but Sir Walter Buller himself, in his first edition of “The Birds of New Zealand,” dissented from this view, expressing himself as follows: “The evidence, as far as it goes, would seem to indicate the existence of a much larger species of kiwi than any of the foregoing—in fact, a bird equalling in size a full-grown turkey. For this reason I have considered it safer to retain Apteryx haasti as a recognized species, and to leave the further elucidation of the question to the zeal and enterprise of future explorers in the land of the Apteryx. Seventeen years had elapsed since this was written, and at length the veritable Apteryx maxima had turned up in Stewart Island, the specimen now before the meeting being undoubtedly the only example known in any public or private collection. Sir Walter Buller then proceeded to give an interesting account of the geographical distribution of the various species of Apteryx, and the circumstances of their development. Apteryx bulleri is confined to the North Island, Apteryx australis to the South Island, and Apteryx maxima to Stewart Island; whilst Apteryx oweni, inhabiting the colder regions of the South, has also been found on the snow-line to the north of Cook Strait. All these species have doubtless sprung from a common parent, and the insular separation has existed for a sufficiently long period of time to admit of the development

– 603 –

distinct species under the ordinary laws of evolution. Whilst on this subject Sir Walter Buller said he would take occasion to refer to some remarks made by a former President when Mr. R. B. Sharpe's paper was read, changing the name of the North Island bird from Apteryx mantelli to Apteryx bulleri. In the discussion which the President's remarks evoked Mr. Maskell and others appeared to reproach him (Sir Walter) with having, as it were, filched the name from Mr. Mantell, who had so long enjoyed it. As a matter of fact, he (the speaker) had nothing to do with the change of name beyond submitting his series of specimens to Mr. Sharpe's critical judgment; and he was afterwards merely the “passive bucket” in communicating Mr. Sharpe's paper to the Society. In selecting the speaker's name to distinguish the species, Mr. Sharpe only gave effect to a suggestion made by Dr. Otto Finsch, of Bremen, many years before. Agreeing as he did in the technical accuracy of Mr. Sharpe's conclusions, he (Sir Walter Buller) had no alternative but to adopt the proposed new name. As a rule, however, his own tendencies were conservative, and throughout his work he had, in regard to nomenclature, observed as far as possible the rule of “Quieta non movere.” For example, he had declined to follow Dr. Meyer, of Dresden, in substituting the name of Notornis hochstetteri for Notornis mantelli, because he did not consider that the differences shown to exist between the fossil and the recent birds were sufficient to warrant the change. On the other hand, he had not hesitated to expunge from the list of species Stringops greyi (so named by Mr. G. R. Gray in compliment to Sir George Grey) as soon as he had satisfied himself that it was a mere variety of the common Stringops habroptilus. He was very glad, however, of the opportunity afterwards of reconnecting Sir George Grey's name with the New Zealand avifauna by dedicating to him a new form of Ocydromus. Sir Walter Buller concluded his remarks by saying that in such matters as this people should not be thinskinned, for a scientist should have nothing before him but the elucidation of truth, and in the fixing or altering of names there can be no escape from the accepted rules of zoological nomenclature.

Mr. Maskell would like to know whether Sir Walter Buller considered size sufficient for specific difference in birds. He should not have thought that size was sufficient even to erect a variety upon. In his own observations of insect-life he did not consider size by itself as at all important.

Sir Walter Buller said that if the difference in size was sufficient and constant it was considered enough. In the present instance, however, there were other distinguishing features.

The President considered that, even if these birds were all of the same species, the fact of finding them so widely distributed and so different in size was most interesting.