Saddle-billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis Scientific name definitions
Version: 2.0 — Published June 25, 2021
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The species was first described by Shaw in 1800 (11) as Mycteria senegalensis, albeit from a degraded skin that had passed through several hands. Shaw noted the specimen's similarity to two other species, which were then placed in the genus Mycteria at the time, Jabiru (now Jabiru mycteria) and Black-necked Stork (now Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus). The taxonomy of the species has varied over time, and it has variously been placed in the genera Ciconia, Ardea (14), and Xenorhynchus (together with Black-necked Stork; 15) before finally being placed in Ephippiorhynchus (16).
There is no phenotypic geographic variation, and genetic variation across the range has yet to be investigated.
None described and no evidence to indicate there are subspecies.
It shares a genus only with the Black-necked Stork of southern and southeastern Asia and Australia, which is the only other stork to show sexual dimorphism in iris color (16). An early analysis based on comparative ethology originally hypothesized that Saddle-billed Stork and Black-necked Stork, together with Jabiru, grouped with the genus Leptoptilos in the tribe Leptoptilini (17). A phenetic analysis by Wood (18) found Jabiru to be more closely related to Ephippiorhynchus than recognized from the behavioral study (16, 17). A genetic analysis of Ciconiidae that used sequence data of mitochondrial DNA and DNA-DNA hybridization supported this hypothesis, finding that the two Ephippiorhynchus were sister to Jabiru with strong support (19). Outside of these three species, relationships are less clear, with some analyses showing a close relationship with Ciconia, and others not showing any well-resolved relationship (19).
When Shaw described the type specimen in 1800, it was said to be native to Senegal, hence its specific epithet, senegalensis (11). Bonaparte was the first to classify it in the genus Ephippiorhynchus (20), for which the Greek ephippos means 'saddle' and rhynchus means 'bill.'
Fossils similar to Ephippiorhynchus, or close relatives, have been found in northern Egypt from the Oligocene (21, 22) and from the Miocene in France (23, 24), Libya (25), and Chad (26). Authors have spent much time arguing for certain taxonomic placement of these fossil specimens or their similarities with modern Ephippiorhynchus, all the while maintaining the untestable assumption that they are genetically distinct from the modern Saddle-billed Stork. Mlíkovský (25), for example, acknowledged the Oligocene Palaeoephippiorhynchus dietrichi (21) and Miocene P. (= Grallavis) edwardsi (23) as osteologically identical but cautioned against synonymizing them purely on the basis of their assumed disparate ages. Ultimately, however, limited knowledge about osteological characteristics of storks has confounded meaningful and reliable analysis (27).
The Ephippiorhynchus fossil described from Chad is one of the tallest known non-ratite bird, estimated at 2–2.2 m tall (26).