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Newtons parakeet

Newtons parakeet (Psittacula exsul), also known as the

Rodrigues parakeet or Rodrigues ring-necked para-
keet, is an extinct species of parrot that was endemic
to the Mascarene island of Rodrigues in the western
Indian Ocean. Several of its features diverged from re-
lated species, indicating long-term isolation on Rodrigues
and subsequent adaptation. The rose-ringed parakeet of
the same genus is a close relative and probable ancestor.
Newtons parakeet may itself have been ancestral to the
endemic parakeets of nearby Mauritius and Runion.
Around 40 centimetres (16 in) long, Newtons para-
keet was roughly the size of a rose-ringed parakeet. Its
plumage was mostly greyish or slate blue in colour, which
is unusual in Psittacula, a genus containing mostly green
species. The male had stronger colours than the female
and possessed a reddish instead of black beak, but de-
tails of a mature males appearance are uncertain; only
one male specimen is known, and it is believed to be im-
mature. Mature males might have possessed red patches
on the wing like the related Alexandrine parakeet. Both
sexes had a black collar running from the chin to the nape,
but this was clearer in the male. The legs were grey and
the iris yellow. 17th-century accounts indicate that some
members of the species were green, which would suggest
that there were both blue and green colour morphs, but John Gerrard Keulemans' 1875 illustration of the female
there is no denitive explanation for these reports. Little holotype specimen
is known about its behaviour in life, but it may have fed
on the nuts of the bois d'olive tree, along with leaves. It
was very tame and was able to mimic speech. 1 Taxonomy
Newtons parakeet was rst written about by the French
Huguenot Franois Leguat in 1708 and was only men- Newtons parakeet was rst recorded by Franois Leguat
tioned a few times by other writers afterwards. The spe- in his 1708 memoir A New Voyage to the East Indies.
cic name "exsul" is a reference to Leguat, who was ex- Leguat was the leader of a group of nine French Huguenot
iled from France. Only two life drawings exist, both of refugees who colonised Rodrigues between 1691 and
a single specimen held in captivity in the 1770s. The 1693 after they were marooned there.[2] Subsequent ac-
species was scientically described in 1872, with a fe- counts were by Julien Taoret, who was marooned on
male specimen as the holotype. A male, the last specimen the island in 1726, in his Relation de l'le Rodrigue, and
recorded, was collected in 1875, and these two specimens then by the French mathematician Alexandre Pingr,
are the only ones that exist today. The bird became scarce who travelled to Rodrigues to view the 1761 transit of
due to deforestation and perhaps hunting, but it is thought Venus.[3]
that it was nally wiped out by a series of cyclones and
storms that hit Rodrigues in the late 19th century. There In 1871, George Jenner, the magistrate of Rodrigues, col-
was unfounded speculation about the possible survival of lected a female specimen; it was preserved in alcohol
the species as late as 1967. and given to Edward Newton, a colonial administrator in
Mauritius, who sent it to his brother, the British ornithol-
ogist Alfred Newton. Alfred Newton scientically de-
scribed the species in 1872 and gave it the scientic name
Palaeornis exsul. "Exsul" (exiled) refers to Leguat, in
that he was exiled from France when he gave the rst de-
scription of the bird. Newton had tried to nd a more de-


scriptive name, perhaps based on colouration, but found Asia. Features of that species gradually disappear in
it dicult. He refrained from publishing a gure of the species further away from its range. Subfossil remains
female in his original description, though the journal Ibisof Newtons parakeet show that it diered from other
had oered him the space. He instead wanted to wait Mascarene Psittacula species in some osteological fea-
until a male specimen could be procured since he imag- tures, but also had similarities, such as a reduced ster-
ined it would be more attractive.[4] The female, which num, which suggests a close relationship. Skeletal fea-
is the holotype specimen of the species, is housed in tures indicate an especially close relationship with the
the Cambridge University Museum as specimen UMZC Alexandrine parakeet and the rose-ringed parakeet (Psit-
18/Psi/67/h/1.[3] tacula krameri), but the many derived features of New-
Alfred Newton requested further specimens, especially tons parakeet indicates it had long been isolated on
males, but in 1875 he nally published a plate of the fe-
male, lamenting that no male specimens could be found. Many endemic Mascarene birds, including the dodo, are
Taorets 1726 account had been rediscovered the previ- descended from South Asian ancestors, and the English
ous year, and Alfred Newton noted that it conrmed his palaeontologist Julian Hume has proposed that this may
assumption that the male would turn out be much more also be the case for all parrots there. Sea levels were lower
colourful than the female. Newtons collector, Henry H. during the Pleistocene, so it was possible for species to
Slater, had seen a live Newtons parakeet the year be- colonise some of these less isolated islands.[11] Although
fore, but was not carrying a gun at the time.[5] On 14 Au- most extinct parrot species of the Mascarenes are poorly
gust 1875, William Vandorous shot a male specimen.[6] known, subfossil remains show that they shared com-
It may have been the same specimen Slater had observed. mon features such as enlarged heads and jaws, reduced
It was subsequently sent to Edward Newton by William pectoral bones, and robust leg bones. Hume has sug-
J. Caldwell.[7] This is the paratype of the species, num- gested that they all have a common origin in the radiation
bered UMZC 18/Psi/67/h/2 and housed in the Cam- of the tribe Psittaculini, members of which are known
bridge Museum.[3] as Psittaculines, basing this theory on morphological fea-
Edward Newton noted that he had expected the male tures and the fact that Psittacula parrots have managed [3]
would be adorned with a red patch on the wing, but colonise many isolated islands in the Indian Ocean. The
that the absence of this indicated it was immature. Psittaculini could have invaded the area several times, as
He still found it more beautiful than the female.[6] many of the species were so specialised that they may
These two specimens are the only preserved individu- have evolved signicantly on hotspot islands before the
Mascarenes emerged from the sea. Other members of
als of the species.[8] The mandible and sternum were ex-
tracted from the female specimen, and subfossil remains the genus Psittacula from the Mascarenes include the ex-
tant echo parakeet (Psittacula eques echo) of Mauritius,
have since been found in the Plaine Corail caverns on
Rodrigues. The genus Palaeornis was later declared a as well as the extinct Runion parakeet (Psittacula eques
eques), and Mascarene grey parakeet (Psittacula bensoni)
junior synonym of Psittacula, and all species within the [11]
former were transferred to the latter. The genus name of both Mauritius and Runion.

Psittacula is derived from the Latin words Psittacus, which

means parrot, and -ula, which is a diminutive sux.[3]

1.1 Evolution

Sternum and mandible extracted from the female specimen, 1875

Based on morphological features, the Alexandrine para- Statues in Hungary of Newtons parakeet and the also extinct
keet (Psittacula eupatria) has been proposed as the broad-billed parrot of Mauritius
founder population for all Psittacula species on Indian
Ocean islands, with new populations settling during the A 2011 genetic study of parrot phylogeny was unable to
species southwards colonisation from its native South include Newtons parakeet, as no viable DNA could be

extracted. The same paper found that the Mascarene par- back of the neck.[14] The general appearance of Newtons
rot (Mascarinus mascarin) of nearby Runion was most parakeet was similar to the extant Psittacula species, in-
closely related to the lesser vasa parrot from Madagascar cluding the black collar, but the bluish grey colouration
and nearby islands, and therefore unrelated to the Psit- set it apart from other members of its genus, which are
tacula parrots, disputing the theory of their common mostly green.[14]
origin.[12] A 2015 genetic study by Jackson et al. in-
cluded viable DNA from the toe-pad of the female New-
tons parakeet specimen. It was found to group within a
clade of rose-ringed parakeet subspecies (from Asia and
Africa), which it had diverged from 3.82 million years
ago. Furthermore, Newtons parakeet appeared to be an-
cestral to the parakeets of Mauritius and Runion. The
cladogram accompanying the study is shown below:[13]

2 Description

Jossignys other 1770s life drawing

The French naturalist Philibert Commerson received a

live specimen on Mauritius in the 1770s and described
it as greyish blue. Paul Jossigny made two illustrations
of this specimen, the only known depictions of Newtons
parakeet in life, unpublished until 2007.[3] Though both
existing specimens are blue, some early accounts from
Rodrigues have caused confusion over the colouration of
the plumage.[14] One of these is Leguats following state-

There are abundance of green and blew

Parrets, they are of a midling and equal big-
ness; when they are young, their Flesh is as
good as young Pigeons.[3]

If the green parrots Leguat referred to were not

the Rodrigues parrot (Necropsittacus rodericanus), they
might perhaps have been a green colour morph of New-
Keulemans plate from Walter Rothschild's 1907 book Extinct
tons parakeet, as Julian Hume has suggested. As Alfred
Birds, based on his 1875 illustration of the female specimen
Newton observed in his original description, some feath-
Newtons parakeet was about 40 cm (16 in) long roughly ers of the female specimen display both blue and green
the size of the rose-ringed parakeet.[11] The wing of the tinges, depending on the light. This may explain some of
male specimen was 198 mm (7.8 in), the tail 206 mm the discrepancies.[3] The green parrots mentioned could
(8.1 in), the culmen 25 mm (0.98 in), and the tarsus was also instead have been storm-blown members of Psittac-
22 mm (0.87 in). The wing of the female specimen was ula species from other islands, that survived on Rodrigues
191 mm (7.5 in), the tail 210 mm (8.3 in), the culmen 24 for a short time.[14]
mm (0.94 in), and the tarsus was 22 mm (0.87 in). The The two existing specimens were originally preserved in
male specimen was greyish blue (also described as "slatey alcohol, but though this can discolour specimens, it is not
blue) tinged with green, and darker above. The head was probable that it could turn green to blue.[3] Hume and
bluer, with a dark line running from the eye to the cere. Hein van Grouw have also suggested that due to an in-
It had a broad black collar running from the chin to the heritable mutation, some Newtons parakeets may have
nape, where it became gradually narrower. The underside lacked psittacin, a pigment that together with eumalanin
of the tail was greyish, the upper beak was dark reddish produces green colouration in parrot feathers. Complete
brown, and the mandible was black. The legs were grey lack of psittacine produces blue colouration, whereas re-
and the iris yellow. The female was similar but had a duced psittacine can produce a colour between green and
greyer head and a black beak. The black collar was not blue called parblue, which corresponds to the colour of
so prominent as that of the male and did not extend to the the two preserved Newtons parakeet specimens.[15]

Leguat's 1708 map of pristine Rodrigues; his settlement can be

seen to the northeast.

3 Behaviour and ecology

Almost nothing is known about the behaviour of New-
tons parakeet, but it is probable that it was similar to that
The related Alexandrine parakeet has red shoulder patches, as of other members of its genus. Leguat mentioned that
seen in this male. the parrots of the island ate the nuts of the bois d'olive
tree (Cassine orientalis).[3] It may have fed on leaves as
the related echo parakeet does. The fact that Newtons
parakeet survived long after Rodrigues had been heavily
Taoret also described what appears to be green New-
deforested shows that its ecology was less vulnerable than
tons parakeets, but the issue of colouration was further
that of, for example, the Rodrigues parrot.[11]
Leguat and his men were hesitant to hunt the parrots be-
cause they were so tame and easy to catch.[10] Leguats
group took a parrot as a pet and were able to teach it to
The parrots are of three kinds, and in quan- speak:
tity ... The second species [mature male New-
tons parakeet?] is slightly smaller and more Hunting and Fishing were so easie to us,
beautiful, because they have their plumage that it took away from the Pleasure. We often
green like the preceding [Rodrigues Parrot], a delighted ourselves in teaching the Parrots to
little bluer, and above the wings a little red as speak, there being vast numbers of them. We
well as their beak. The third species [Newtons carried one to Maurice Isle [Mauritius], which
parakeet] is small and altogether green, and the talk'd French and Flemish.[11]
beak black.[3]

As the kind of parrot mentioned here by Leguat is not

specied, it has been identied as either Newtons para-
It has been proposed that the last two types mentioned keet or the Rodrigues parrot by dierent writers.[3][14]
were male and female Newtons parakeets and that the
dierences between them were due to sexual dimor- The authors of the 2015 study which resolved the phy-
phism.[16] Alexandre Pingr also mentioned green birds, logenetic placement of the Mascarene island parakeets
perhaps with some red colours, but his account is par- suggested that the echo parakeet of Mauritius would be a
tially unintelligible and therefore ambiguous. A red suitable ecological replacement for the Runion parakeet
shoulder patch is also present on the related Alexandrine and Newtons parakeet, due to their close evolutionary re-
parakeet.[3] None of the existing Newtons parakeet spec- lationship. The echo parakeet was itself close to extinc-
imens have red patches. The single known male speci- tion in the 1980s, numbering only twenty individuals, but
men may have been immature, judged on the colour of has since recovered, so introducing it to the nearby [13] islands
its beak, and this may also explain the absence of the red could also help secure the survival of this species.
patch.[14] When Psittacula are bred by aviculturalists, blue Many other species endemic to Rodrigues became extinct
is easily produced from green; the production of blue may after humans arrived, and the islands ecosystem remains
suppress red colouration, so blue morphs may have lacked heavily damaged. Forests had covered the entire island
the red patch.[3] before humans arrived, but very little forestation can be

seen today. Newtons parakeet lived alongside other re- owing to the birds small size.[14] Pingr stated:
cently extinct birds such as the Rodrigues solitaire, the
Rodrigues parrot, the Rodrigues rail, the Rodrigues star- The perruche [Newtons parakeet] seemed
ling, the Rodrigues owl, the Rodrigues night heron, and to me much more delicate [than the ying-
the Rodrigues pigeon. Extinct reptiles include the domed fox]. I would not have missed any game from
Rodrigues giant tortoise, the saddle-backed Rodrigues gi- France if this one had been commoner in Ro-
ant tortoise, and the Rodrigues day gecko.[11] drigues; but it begins to become rare. There
are even fewer perroquets [Rodrigues parrots],
although there were once a big enough quantity
4 Extinction according to Franois Leguat; indeed a little
islet south of Rodrigues still retains the name
Isle of Parrots [Isle Pierrot].[3]

According to government surveyor Thomas Corby, New-

tons parakeet may still have been fairly common in 1843.
Slater reported that he saw a single specimen in south-
western Rodrigues during his three-month stay to observe
the 1874 Transit of Venus, and assistant colonial secre-
tary William J. Caldwell saw several specimens in 1875
during his own three-month visit. The male that he re-
ceived in 1875 and gave to Newton is the last recorded
member of the species. A series of cyclones struck the
following year and may have devastated the remaining
population.[3] Further severe storms hit in 1878 and 1886,
and since few forested areas were left by this time, there
was little cover to protect any remaining birds. The male
could, therefore, have been the last of the species alive.[11]
There were unfounded rumours of its continued existence
until the beginning of the 20th century.[11] In 1967 the
American ornithologist James Greenway stated that an
extremely small population might still survive on small
oshore islets, since this is often the last refuge of en-
dangered birds.[17] Hume countered that these islets were
probably too small to sustain a population.[3]

5 References
[1] BirdLife International (2016). "Psittacula exsul".
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2016:
e.T22685465A93074571. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-
Frontispiece to Leguats 1708 memoir, showing his settlement on 3.RLTS.T22685465A93074571.en. Retrieved 17
Rodrigues February 2017.

Of the roughly eight parrot species endemic to the Mas- [2] Leguat, F. (1891). Samuel Paseld Oliver, ed. The voy-
carenes, only the echo parakeet has survived. The others age of Franois Leguat of Bresse, to Rodriguez, Mauritius,
Java, and the Cape of Good Hope. 2. London: Hakluyt
were likely all made extinct by a combination of exces-
sive hunting and deforestation.[3] Leguat stated that New-
tons parakeet was abundant during his stay. It was still [3] Hume, J. P. (2007). Reappraisal of the parrots (Aves:
common when Taoret visited in 1726, but when Alexan- Psittacidae) from the Mascarene Islands, with comments
dre Pingr mentioned it in 1761, he noted that the bird on their ecology, morphology, and anities (PDF).
had become scarce. It was still present on southern islets Zootaxa. 1513: 429.
o Rodrigues (Isle Gombrani), along with the Rodrigues [4] Newton, A. (1872). On an undescribed bird from the is-
parrot. After this point, much of Rodrigues was severely land of Rodriguez. Ibis. 14: 3134. doi:10.1111/j.1474-
deforested and used for livestock.[3] 919X.1872.tb05858.x.
According to early accounts praising its avour, it appears [5] Newton, A. (1875). Note on Palaeornis exsul".
visitors commonly ate Newtons parakeet.[11] Several in- Ibis. 17 (3): 342343. doi:10.1111/j.1474-
dividuals would likely be needed to provide a single meal, 919X.1875.tb05978.x.

[6] Newton, E. (1876). XXVII.-On the psittaci of

the Mascarene Islands. Ibis. 18 (3): 281289.

[7] Hume, J. P.; Steel, L.; Andr, A. A.; Meunier, A.

(2014). In the footsteps of the bone collectors:
Nineteenth-century cave exploration on Rodrigues Is-
land, Indian Ocean. Historical Biology. 27 (2): 1.

[8] Rothschild, W. (1907). Extinct Birds. London: Hutchin-

son & Co. p. 65.

[9] Mayr, G. (2010). Parrot interrelationships morphology

and the new molecular phylogenies. Emu. 110 (4): 348.

[10] Hume, J. P.; Walters, M. (2012). Extinct Birds. London:

A & C Black. pp. 175176. ISBN 1-4081-5725-X.

[11] Cheke, A. S.; Hume, J. P. (2008). Lost Land of the Dodo:

an Ecological History of Mauritius, Runion & Rodrigues.
New Haven and London: T. & A. D. Poyser. pp. 4656.
ISBN 978-0-7136-6544-4.

[12] Kundu, S.; Jones, C. G.; Prys-Jones, R. P.; Groombridge,

J. J. (2011). The evolution of the Indian Ocean par-
rots (Psittaciformes): Extinction, adaptive radiation and
eustacy. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 62
(1): 296305. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2011.09.025. PMID

[13] Jackson, H.; Jones, C. G.; Agapow, P. M.; Tatayah, V.;

Groombridge, J. J. (2015). Micro-evolutionary diversi-
cation among Indian Ocean parrots: temporal and spa-
tial changes in phylogenetic diversity as a consequence
of extinction and invasion. Ibis. 157 (3): 496510.

[14] Fuller, E. (2000). Extinct Birds. Oxford: Oxford Univer-

sity Press. pp. 225227. ISBN 0-670-81787-2.

[15] Hume, J. P.; van Grouw, H. (2014). Colour aberrations

in extinct and endangered birds. Bulletin of the British
Ornithologists Club. 134: 168193.

[16] Cheke, A. S. (1987). An ecological history of the

Mascarene Islands, with particular reference to extinc-
tions and introductions of land vertebrates. In Dia-
mond, A. W. Studies of Mascarene Island Birds. Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 589.
doi:10.1017/CBO9780511735769.003. ISBN 978-0-

[17] Greenway, J. C. (1967). Extinct and Vanishing Birds of

the World. New York: American Committee for Inter-
national Wild Life Protection 13. pp. 107108. ISBN

6 External links
Media related to Psittacula exsul at Wikimedia
Data related to Psittacula exsul at Wikispecies

7 Text and image sources, contributors, and licenses

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Newtons parakeet Source:{}s_parakeet?oldid=765934301 Contributors: William Avery, Jdfor-
rester, Charles Matthews, JohnCastle, Smallweed, Hadal, UtherSRG, Abigail-II, Curps, Dsmdgold, Quadell, MistToys, Kelson, Xez-
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