Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Temminck.....What's in a Name?

Temminck, Coenraad Jacob (1778-1858)

C.J.Temminck was born in Amsterdam and at the age of seventeen became an auctioneer with the Dutch East India Company with whom his father was the treasurer. Temminck therefore had no early scientific training. His father had assisted Francois Levaillant, the French explorer of southern Africa, in the production of Histoire naturelle des oiseax d’Afrique, and he had acquired a number of Levaillant’s specimens. As a young man Temminck was able to study these specimens, and others belonging to collector friends of his father, and in his own work met with seafarers from around the world who later proved to be good contacts with regard to his own collecting. When the East India Company dissolved in 1800, Temminck decided to devote himself to natural history and his home in Amsterdam became filled with various specimens. He became a skilled taxidermist of birds and even more so, fishes.

After a number of publications including Histoire naturelle generale des Pigeons at des Gallina-cees, Temminck became a leading Dutch ornithologist. He was honoured with the Order of Union by King Louis, the brother of Napoleon, who had been created ruler of Holland after its French occupation.

Prior to taking up the directorship of the Leyden National Museum of Natural History, Temminck had been Director of the Academy of Science and Arts at Harrlem. Temminck remained director at Leyden for almost forty years and under his directorship the museum rapidly grew in importance. This was a result not only of the quality and number of specimens and the system of arrangement, but also because of the quality of Temminck’s influential publications.

Temminck’s friend, a Dr J. P. A. Leisler named a small wader after him. This was Tringa temminckii (now Caladris temminckii) or Temminck’s Stint. The breeding and parental care of this bird is interesting…….. ‘Temminck's Stints have an intriguing breeding and parental care system in which males and female parents incubate separate clutches, typically in different locations. Males establish small territories and mate with a female who lays a first clutch of eggs. She then moves to a second territory and mate, and lays a second clutch that she incubates herself. Concurrently, her first male may mate with an incoming second female, who lays her second clutch on his territory. The male thereafter incubates his first mate's first clutch alone.’

Another Western Palearctic bird named after Temminck is the Temminck’s Horned Lark. There are many more birds, mammals and fishes from around the world named after Coenradd Jacob Temminck


I became interested in the naming of birds several years ago when I used to visit the BBC Bird Forum. The forum became defunct several years ago and in hindsight I’d have to say it was very poorly moderated during the time I was involved. I knew far less about birds and many other things when I joined it (I’d have probably thought Caladris a pop group then). Some may think that I haven’t advanced that far:-) What I did find inspiring was the knowledge of an experienced birder on there by the name of Bill Moss. I’ve never met, nor will I ever meet Bill, but he used to organise quizzes on occasion and always included a question concerning the naming of birds. I learnt a lot through the quizzes and I learnt a lot from some of Bill’s posts. I seemed to remember that Bill himself was introduced as a boy to the joys of natural history by his uncle. I know Bill doesn’t get far now because of age and infirmity and he certainly won’t read this, but I thank him none the less for putting me on a pathway that I probably would not have followed without his direction.

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