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Paltry Tyrannulet Zimmerius vilissimus

Andrew W. Jones
Version: 1.0 — Published December 15, 2017


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Geographic Variation

Paltry Tyrannulet comprises five recognized subspecies (and several undescribed taxa), many of which may merit recognition as full species. Most authorities recognize at least two species from the taxa currently included in Paltry Tyrannulet. The highland populations of eastern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela are often split from the Central American populations, and further subdivision among these groups is recognized by many authorities. Based on Gill and Donsker (2017) and with two undescribed forms mentioned in Rheindt et al. (2013), the following taxa may be recognized within Paltry Tyrannulet sensu lato:

Paltry Tyrannulet (sensu stricto)

One subspecies, vilissimus, described as Elainia vilissima Sclater and Salvin 1859. Type locality "Central America". Sclater (1888) reported two specimens from Coban, Guatemala as syntypes, but Warren and Harrison (1971) note that one of these specimens was collected after vilissimus was described, and thus has no type status. Warren and Harrison (1971) mention "several" specimens in the British Museum (Natural History) that they accept as syntypes, at least one of which is from Guatemala.

Occurs in southeastern Mexico, southern Belize, much of Guatemala, and possibly northwestern Honduras

See Detailed Description.

"Mistletoe Tyrannulet"

One subspecies, parvus, described as Tyranniscus parvus Lawrence 1862. Type locality Isthmus of Panama ("presumably from Lion Hill, Canal Zone", Panama; Traylor 1979: 9)

Occurs in northern Honduras, eastern Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and a small part of Colombia bordering Panama.

Similar to nominate vilissimus, but "decidedly smaller and with the sides and flanks less strongly olive and yellow" (Ridgway 1907: 408).

"Mountain Tyrannulet" or "Specious Tyrannulet"

Polytypic, includes the following taxa:

Subspecies tamae, described as Tyranniscus vilissimus tamae Phelps and Phelps 1954. Type locality Páramo de Tamá, 2400 m, Táchira, Venezuela.

The range traditionally attributed to tamae includes the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (Magdalena, Colombia), the Sierra de Perijá on the Colombian/Venezuelan border, and the parts of the Andes of Venezuela (e.g. Traylor 1979). The geographic region encompasses three genetically distinct populations, however, and so may represent three taxa (Rheindt et al. 2013); consequently, the range of tamae sensu stricto is limited to the Eastern Andes of Colombia in Norte de Santander and the adjacent Andes of Venezuela (Táchira).

Subspecies tamae is most similar to improbus, but "differs in darker, more dusky crown; lores and superciliary stripe white, untinted with yellowish; breast grayer with less yellowish brown tinge; abdomen and under tail-coverts paler yellow" (Phelps and Phelps 1954).

Undescribed tyrannulet 1 (Zimmerius undescribed subspecies 1) - Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Magdalena, Colombia (Rheindt et al. 2013)

Undescribed tyrannulet 2 (Zimmerius undescribed subspecies 2) - Serranía de Perijá, of Colombia and Venezuela (Rheindt et al. 2013)

Subspecies improbus, described as Tyranniscus improbus Sclater and Salvin 1871. Type locality Mérida, Venezuela and Sierra de Ocaña, Colombia; restricted to Mérida by Sclater (1888; see also Warren and Harrison 1971).

Occurs in the Andes of Venezuela (except for the area occupied by tamae).

Subspecies improbus is "much larger than ... parvus, attaining or even exceeding ... the proportions of ... vilissimus ... and may be distinguished from either by dusky olive crown, pale yellowish throat, and wholly yellow abdomen, while the Central American forms have only the flanks and crissum light greenish yellow" (Hellmayr 1927: 471).

"Venezuelan Tyrannulet"

The subspecies petersi, described as Tyranniscus petersi Berlepsch 1907. Type locality Antímano, near Caracas, Districto Federal, Venezuela

Occurs in the coastal mountains of north-central Venezuela.

Similar to improbus, but "crown dark slaty gray; loral spot and auricular patch deep black, consequently more conspicuous; no white frontal edge; back somewhat darker; under parts much paler, the throat nearly white" (Hellmayr 1927: 471).

Notably, these taxa do not form a monophlyletic clade; see Related Species, and Vocalizations.

Related Species

All species of Zimmerius formerly were classified in Tyranniscus, but Traylor (1977) erected the new genus Zimmerius for these species. The genus Zimmerius is monophyletic (Tello et al. 2009; Rheindt et al. 2013).

Within Zimmerius, Z. vilissimus is polyphyletic, and is represented by at least three non-sister taxa. Zimmerius v. petersi is sister to Z. gracilipes (Slender-footed Tyrannulet). The Zimmerius v. improbus/tamae/ssp. nov. 1/ssp. nov. 2 group is sister to a group including Z. bolivianus (Bolivian Tyrannulet), Z. gracilipes, petersi, Z. chrysops (Golden-faced Tyrannulet), and Z. viridiflavus (Peruvian Tyrannulet). Zimmerius albigularis (Choco Tyrannulet) is closely allied with Z. v. parvus and nominate vilissimus (which are then sister to most of the genus Zimmerius). A major taxonomic revision is necessary for this complex, and could recognize anywhere from two to seven species within Paltry Tyrannulet. A proposal to the South American Classification Committee (SACC) to split Z. improbus (including all South American populations except for the small population in Colombia along the Panama border) from Z. vilissimus (Central American populations, including parvus) was rejected based on insufficient peer-reviewed evidence; a new proposal to recognize three species (Z. vilissimus, including parvus; Z. improbus, including tamae; and Z. petersi) currently is pending before SACC. See also Vocalizations.

Recommended Citation

Jones, A. W. (2017). Paltry Tyrannulet (Zimmerius vilissimus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.