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Samango, Blue, or Sykes Monkey (Cercopitecus
Credit & Copyright: Dr. Bruce G.
Explanation: Well, I'm just about as confused as this monkey looks! "Who is this?" the monkey seems to be asking as it is surprised by my camera. And I am equally thinking "Who is this?" as I try to identify this beast.
It is clearly a blue monkey. Also variously called Sykes monkey or Sykes blue monkey. Or white-throated monkey. Or Samango. Or many other common names. And its scientific position in taxonomy is even more confused.
This is actually a good lesson on taxonomy, adaptive radiation, evolutionary history, and how our Linnaean classification system of organisms sometimes falls short in describing systems in dynamic flux and change.
Many field guides of mammals of Africa (such as Stuart and Stuart 1997, and Withers and Hosking 2000; see Information below) simply refer to this species as blue or Sykes monkey, and cite the scientific name as Cercopithecus mitis. The end.
However, Estes (1999) refers to the species as belonging to Cercopithecus (nictitans) mitis. The name nictitans refers to a superspecies complex of closely-related forms, including the spot-nosed monkey (Cercopithecus nictitans and C. mitis), with numerous subspecies. More definitively, Kingdon (1997) refers to a "blue monkey cluster" of subspecies -- which includes the star of this week's EPOW -- under the species name of "gentle monkey," Cercopithecus (nictitans) mitis. Kingdon also separates out a "white-throated monkey cluster" of subspecies that includes Sykes monkey, and the white-throated subspecies of Cercopithecus mitis albogularis.
Confused yet? See what I mean?
Further, the white-lipped monkey or Samango is sometimes shown as Cercopithecus albogularis, as is the Sykes monkey itself.
And the numerous species and subspecies throughout this taxonomic quiltwork are found distributed through many habitats, environments, and geographic locations in central and southern Africa.
The upshot of all this is that here we have a very confusing array of monkey taxonomy, but tracing their geographies and habitats and life histories reveals much about their potential evolutionary origins, and the forces of adaptation.
For example, in his wonderful 1989 book "Island Africa," Kingdon pictured the array of "cephus" monkeys, including many species and subspecies of Cercopithecus, throughout central Africa. The supposition is that arrays of closely-allied species and subspecies have developed over time as climate changed, precipitation and temperature levels ebbed and flowed, and forests spread wide and retracted to riverine corridors and spread again. In time, some monkey populations became isolated and some isolates developed unique pelage (coat) colors, or diverged into different subspecies or even species.
so we leave our confused friend for now, confident in the fact that nature
will continue to stump and amaze us!
Next week's picture: Malachite Kingfisher Jewel
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