Photo of the Day #21: Plains Zebra


There are some animals that seem to exist in a bit of taxonomic confusion (at least in the literature; I don't think zebras lose sleep over their species names), the Plains Zebra being one of these. The animals pictured above are from the Philadelphia Zoo and listed as being members of the species Equus burchellii, but recent work appears to show that this most common of Zebra species should really be called Equus quagga. Burchell's Zebra, then, is relegated to the status of a subspecies with the name Equus quagga burchellii, itself taking precedence over the subspecies Equus quagga antiquorum since it seems that what were once considered separate subspecies are actually one. You may also be wondering why the binomial for these horses is Equus quagga, as well, and that's because the extinct Quagga (Equus quagga quagga) is regarded as another subspecies of Plains Zebra, giving the group its species name. Indeed, the state of Zebra taxonomy can be a bit confusion, local or small-scale extinctions of populations once regarded as their own species or subspecies, only to reappear later elsewhere, can definitely give you a headache.

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That's really fascinating, I hadn't heard about the rearrangements, do you have any citations for the papers? Just curious, I'm interested to read more about it, thanks for mentioning this. Also, thanks for the great picture!

Thanks Anne-Marie; I actually hadn't heard about them until I started to look up what information I could put up about this picture. It seems like pretty complex stuff, local extinctions and migrating remnants making it hell for taxonomists, but the information I used here primarily came from;

Groves, C.P. & Bell, H.B. 2004. New investigations on the taxonomy of the zebras genus Equus, subgenus Hippotigris. Mammalian Biology. 69: 182-196.

Thanks for the citation, I appreciate it! Now that I've downloaded it I have a great excuse to further procrastinate a paper I'm supposed to be working on...
By the way, I am continually in awe of the number/quality of blog posts you produce while taking a full load of classes, you need to share your secrets with me sometime. ;)