Open main menu

Distinguished author

Georges cuvier narrow.png

Georges Cuvier
1769–1832. Standard IPNI form: Cuvier

Georges Léopold Chrétien Frédéric Dagobert Cuvier (most often published simply as "Georges Cuvier") was a French naturalist and zoologist. He is sometimes referred to as the founding father of paleontology. Cuvier was a major figure in natural sciences research in the early 19th century and was instrumental in establishing the fields of comparative anatomy and paleontology through his work in comparing living animals with fossils. Cuvier's work is considered the foundation of vertebrate paleontology, and he expanded Linnaean taxonomy by grouping classes into phyla and incorporating both fossils and living species into the classification. Cuvier is also known for establishing extinction as a fact: at the time, extinction was considered by many of Cuvier's contemporaries to be merely controversial speculation.

He is also remembered for strongly opposing theories of evolution, which at the time (before Darwin's theory) were mainly proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. Cuvier believed there was no evidence for evolution, but rather evidence for cyclical creations and destructions of life forms by global extinction events such as deluges (outburst flooding).

Cuvier wrote hundreds of scientific papers and books. His most famous work is Le Règne Animal (1816–1817, four tomes; English title The Animal Kingdom). It sets out to describe the natural structure of the whole of the animal kingdom based on comparative anatomy, and its natural history. Cuvier divided the animals into four embranchements ("Branches", roughly corresponding to phyla), namely vertebrates, molluscs, articulated animals (arthropods and annelids), and zoophytes (cnidaria and other phyla).

He is the author of thousands of new taxa, among them well over 5,000 species of fish and molluscs. In 1800 and working only from a drawing, Cuvier was the first to correctly identify in print, a fossil found in Bavaria as a small flying reptile, which he named the Ptero-Dactyle in 1809 (later Latinized as Pterodactylus antiquus).

When the French Academy was preparing its first dictionary, it defined "crab" as "A small red fish which walks backwards." This definition was sent with a number of others to the naturalist Cuvier for his approval. The scientist wrote back: "Your definition, gentlemen, would be perfect, only for three exceptions. The crab is not a fish, it is not red, and it does not walk backwards." In 1819, he was created a peer for life in honour of his scientific contributions and is thereafter known as Baron Cuvier.

See also: Distinguished authors of previous months.

Species of the month

Pileated Woodpecker

Dryocopus pileatus

Dryocopus pileatus

Some facts on this bird:

Head and body length: 41 to 48 cm.

Wingspan: 66 to 76 cm.

Weight: 250 to 350 gr.

Habitat: Prefers primary, native montane and lowland Atlantic forest.

Range: Across Canada, the eastern United States and parts of the Pacific coast.

Diet: Insects, preferably carpenter ants; occasionally fruits and nuts.

Conservation status: Least Concern (IUCN 3.1).

First described: By Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus in 1758.

Hammering sounds in the forest may not be wood-cutting. It may be Dryocopus pileatus searching for food. The knocking which it produces carries a long distance and is also used to attract mates, to establish territorial boundaries and to warn off other males. This bird uses its beak to peck and dig under bark to find carpenter ants, beetle larvae, and other insects which are captured using a long, barbed tongue and sticky saliva. Some holes are so big that they weaken young trees, especially if the trees are small. Generally, however, pileated woodpeckers help keep a forest healthy by eating wood-boring insects and keeping insect populations under control. The females usually lay four eggs at a time. It takes about two weeks for the eggs to hatch. The young birds are ready to fly after about a month. Pileated woodpeckers are important to forest ecology. Their abandoned nest cavities provide homes for other animals such as birds and small mammals. Woodpeckers, which include about 180 species worldwide, are near passerine birds of the order Piciformes. They are one subfamily-Picinae in the family Picidae, which also includes the piculets and the wrynecks.

See also: Species of previous months

Read in another language