Birds of Belize - Bubba on Subspecies - by Elbert Greer

While passing a quiet afternoon in my hammock with Bubba fishing from the dock, the low roar of the reef was all the sound to be heard. I thought I would entertain myself by asking him something about the birds. Just to start a conversation I asked, "Why do you spend so much time studying the birds?"

He responded with "It helps me understand humans!"

"Maybe I should restate my question. Why do people study birds?"

He replied, "It helps them understand themselves."

"Well I guess I can see how behaviors can be similar and parallels can be drawn but all that classification stuff seems unrelated.

"No, you're wrong! All that classification 'stuff' as you call it has more value in understanding ourselves than behavior parallels. I'll give you a profound example. From what I've learned from taxonomy I have an understanding of what's happening in Kosovo between the Serbs and Albanians, and how that could never happen to us in Belize."

"I'm going to call you to task on that one Bubba; that's a little farfetched for me to believe!"

"I'll show you, let me first explain how classification began. A Swedish taxonomist, Carolus Linnaeus, invented a system of classifying living things into divisions. The first division was plant or animal; he called it the Kingdom. Then there was a class dividing creatures such as mammals from birds. Then came orders separating, heron from sparrows, and finally genus and species. The species was to be the smallest division; example: Buho Cornudo, Heliconia bihai, Homo Sapiens, etc. A subdivision of species was called race. He defined race as an isolated breeding population of a species that developed distinction or traits. A good example would be the Great Blue Heron and the Great White Heron. Peterson described the Great White Heron as the white race of the Great Blue.

Linnaeus published his theories and created a standard of divisions under which for centuries the world lived and believed. The demise of his theories validly came with assumptions he made about race. He declared that humanity fell into just four races and described characteristics of each that are considered humorous in today's societies, or most of today's societies I should say.

Our conversation seemed to be going just one way and getting a little dry so I asked, "How does a race get started in a species?"

"Ironically the most classic explanation uses birds as an example. The theory goes like this. There is a swamp where a species of birds live, eating crustaceans from the bottom of the water. Something causes the water to get a little deeper and those birds with a little shorter legs are forced to move elsewhere to survive. This effectively removes them from the gene pool leaving only those long legged birds, reinforcing even longer legs. In time the water rises again, strengthening the long legged gene even further, eventually resulting in a distinctly different bird of the same species."

"Bubba, are you saying this is true with humans also?"

"Brother Elbert, I'm saying it's as obvious to me as the nose on your face! Have you ever wondered why it's so long and skinny? Your ancestors more than likely evolved in a cold dry climate where having a long skinny nose moistened and warmed the air before you breathed it in giving you a health advantage over a broader shorter one used in moist warm climates."

"What about skin color?"

"That's easy. It's simply a reaction from harsh sun or no reaction from little sun."

Bubba pulled in his line and replaced the sardine something had stolen from the hook.

"OK Bubba, that all sounds very logical but I haven't forgotten you said you could explain the war in Europe and how Belize couldn't have those kind of problems from what you know about birds."

"Well, let's go back to those short legged birds that had to move from the swamp. Let's say for the sake of example, the new shallower swamp they moved to contained shrimp. As you know birds that eat a lot of shrimp retain the shrimp's pink color in their feathers. Imagine then, that some act of nature causes the two swamps to become one big swamp mixing the two, now very distinctly different flocks of the same species in a common feeding ground. One with extra long legs and gray the other short with pink feathers. They might not recognize one another as the same species and fight to defend their feeding ground, mistakenly from their own kind."

"Bubba you do amaze me! But what about Belize and how it could never happen here?"

"Well, in Belize we have Spanish, Mestizos, Creoles, Garifuna, Mayan, Mennonites, Arabs, East Indian, British, Mopan, Kekchi and Yucatec all living in a 6000 square mile area. And for hundreds of years we have been mixing like a box of crayons in the Caribbean sun, creating no majority and no minority. Who's going to throw a stone at whom?"

Suddenly Bubba's fishing pole bent violently with a strike. After a short fight he reeled a large fish onto the dock.

"What's that Bubba?"

He replied, "Epinephelus, Mycteroperca of the superclass Pisces, in the family of Sea Bass, commonly known as a Black Grouper."

I said, "Bubba, your taking this classification stuff all too serious, let's clean him and eat!"

Birds of Belize - Bubba on Subspecies - by Elbert Greer

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