Cape Rockjumper Chaetops frenatus Scientific name definitions

Krista N. Oswald
Version: 2.0 — Published May 17, 2021


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Systematics History

Initial taxonomy placed the Rockjumpers within the Thrush family (Turdidae) in 1867 (18 : page 126; see also 19 : page 28). They were then moved to the Babblers (Timaliidae) in the 1980s (20), before genetic work in the 1990s placed them in their own family (or sometimes subfamily) of Chaetopidae. The Chaetopidae are grouped with their sister-family the Rockfowl (Picathartidae), and more distantly the Rail-babblers (Eupetidae) of southeast Asia (21; 22; 23). This relationship is still of interest, as the Picathartidae and the Chaetopidae form a sister pair that is placed in an unresolved clade with the Petroicidae, Callaeidae and Eupasseri (24). In the mid-to-late 2000s, the Picathartidae were considered the sister taxa to the clade made up of the Eupetidae and Chaetopidae together (25), but further study found the Picathartidae and Chaetopidae to be grouped together in the same family/superfamily with the Eupetidae one step removed (26; 27).

The Rockjumpers, along with their sister-family the Picatharthidae, are part of an early radiation of a basal group of oscines within the infraorder Passeri; together these two constitute the deepest branch of Passerida for African species (23). Initial genetic work placed the split of these families from other oscine passerines at 44.5 million years ago (22), or even as recently as ca 18 million years ago (26), but more recently it has been reassessed at 20–22 million years ago (27). The family Chaetopidae contains only the one genus, Chaetops. The Picathartidae also consists solely of a single genus, Picathartes, and is found in the forests of West Africa.

Until the 1980s, the Cape and Drakensberg rockjumpers were considered subspecies within Chaetops frenatus, but since then have been established as two separate species (28; 14; 17). The two rockjumpers differ in appearance, distribution, and vocalizations (see Appearance: Similar Species).

Geographic Variation

The Cape Rockjumper has a restricted distribution (mountain fynbos, found within the 90 000 km2 Cape Floristic Region) (29), and there is no known variation in appearance or behavior across this range.


The Cape and Drakensberg were considered subspecies until the 1980s, but more recently they have been established as their own monotypic species.

Related Species

The only closely related species to the Cape Rockjumper is their sister species the Drakensberg Rockjumper (Chaetops aurantius).


Malurus frenatus Temminck 1820; type locality South Africa

This is the type species of the genus Chaetops (30: page 486).

The Latin epithet frenatus refers to the "bridled" or black-and-white head pattern found in both species. The Cape Rockjumper is sometimes referred to as the Rufous-breasted Rockjumper or Rock-jumper, and the Drakensberg Rockjumper (Chaetops aurantius) is sometimes referred to as the Orange-breasted Rockjumper (e.g., see Avibase).

Recommended Citation

Oswald, K. N. (2021). Cape Rockjumper (Chaetops frenatus), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (T. S. Schulenberg and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.rufroc1.02