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Specimen Spotlight -- Green Jay
(Cyanocorax yncas)

ZRH 676 Photo © Anna Hiller

Over the past year I had the opportunity to participate in research under Rauri Bowie, Ted Papenfuss, and Dave Wake's (et al.) NSF grant documenting biodiversity in nuclear Central America. So far this project has contributed 1819 bird and many hundreds of mammal and herp specimens to the collection.

This Green Jay specimen was collected by Zach Hanna during the Chiapas Mexico trip last August, and was stuffed by me as a part of ongoing work for the grant.

The cloud forest habitat where this Green Jay specimen was collected Photo © Anna Hiller.
Campamento in Chiapas Photo © Sean Rovito

I also had the chance to participate in fieldwork under Sean Rovito during the same trip and spent an exhausting but rewarding two weeks trapping mammals in the cloud forest! Note: if you put your tent in the wrong place in Chiapas huge millipedes will chew holes in the bottom of it.

One of the ~8in long millipedes found where we were working Photo © Anna Hiller

This specimen (ZRH 676, depicted in the first photo) sparked my interest when I stuffed it because of its bright yellow-green feathers and facial markings. While Green Jays are members of the family Corvidae along with species like Steller's Jays and Western Scrub-Jays (the species I studied for my 104 field project), their plumage looks extremely different.

Green Jay Photo By Alan WIlson ([1]) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

To research Green Jays for this piece I looked through our collection. Thanks to MVZ's extensive historic collection and continuing fieldwork, we have Green Jay specimens from 1888 to 2013. They are endemic to the New World tropics and MVZ has specimens from a large portion of their range. Based on stomach content records they eat small seeds and insects like beetles. This omnivorous diet is typical of Corvids.

Map of MVZ Cyanocorax yncas specimens. Photo courtesy of Arctos and Google Maps

MVZ's bird collection is organized taxonomically down to subspecies and then geographically, following the original arrangement designed by Joseph Grinnell who studied geographic clines. While this makes installing specimens (putting them into the drawers in the collection by taxonomy) more of a pain it allowed me to open all the Green Jay trays and instantly see a pattern of plumage variation when I pulled out the trays.

Plumage variation in Green Jays. Photos © Anna Hiller

Birds towards the North have more green ventral feathers and blue heads while birds towards the South have more yellow feathers and white heads. Subspecies also have varying amounts of tufts of feathers above their bills. In fact, Green Jay subspecies show so much plumage variation that some databases have split the group; Green Jays in Central American and Inca Jays in South America.

While researching I also discovered that former MVZ researchers Ned Johnson and Bob Jones (Johnson and Jones 1993) also documented temporal plumage color change in Peruvian populations of Green Jays due to sun bleaching! Similar plumage research is currently being conducted by Carla Cicero and a team of undergrads at the MVZ to examine geographic variation in the plumage of Steller's Jays, another member of the Corvid family.

Isn't biology cool!?!

—Anna Hiller
MVZ Curatorial Assistant

Anna Hiller with the MVZ Green Jay collection. Photo ©2014 Katharine Corriveau

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