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"birds" vs. Aves



I guess I don't understand why it's so important to have the vernacular term
"bird" match up precisely with "Aves". It's like trying to restrict "fish"
to Osteichthyes. Actually I have seen someone do that, but I refuse to look
at a shark and not think "fish". Why does a catfish get to be a "fish" and
not a dogfish? Or a lungfish? Or a hagfish (hehehe)? Or a jellyfish, for
that matter?

A "fish" is whatever I want it to be. Why can't a "bird" be whatever I want
it to be? If I want to restrict it to those "flying things that crap on my
car", fine. If I want to make Archaeopteryx the "first bird", cool.
Whatever. It doesn't matter in any remotely important way.

But precise definitions DO matter for scientists. Therefore, Aves should
only be one thing. We already have a serviceable definition for AVES (the
common ancestor of Archaeopteryx and that pigeon over there). Anything in
that group is an avian. Period. Easy, eh? Now we just have to figure out
what IS in that group. Not quite as easy. But at least there's a stable base
to stack things on top of.

"Bird" does not (necessarily) equal "avian". Unless you want it to. Or
unless someone names a group "Birdes", I guess.

Mike D.


PS - There's another alternative if you are anal about fuzzy definitions.
It's called... wait for it... "education". Teach every high school kid that
("bird" = Aves = MRCA of Archaeopteryx and Passer, plus all descendants) and
that (birds are modified theropod dinosaurs) and most of them will remember
it. Same as most people now know that whales are mammals (there are still a
few holdouts). Next on the agenda: penguins. I went to a penguin show at the
Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and about half the audience thought penguins were
mammals. Yikes! If we are going to teach people that penguins are birds,
then we might as well teach them that birds are dinosaurs, eh?