What are woodpeckers?

Wikipedia reports:
“The Picidae [including woodpeckers] are just one of eight living families in the order Piciformes, the others being barbetstoucans, and honeyguides in the clade Pici, and the jacamars and puffbirds in the clade GalbuliDNA sequencing has confirmed the sister relationships of these two groups.”

Figure 2. Melanerpes, a woodpecker in the LRT, nests with dippers, swifts and wrens.

Figure 2. Melanerpes, a woodpecker in the LRT, nests with dippers, swifts and wrens, all derived from grackles, crows and jays. Nuthatches are sisters to woodpeckers.

Here
the large reptile tree (LRT, 1146 taxa) nests woodpeckers with another vertical bark clinging clade: the wren-sized nuthatches. Outgroups include grackles, crows and jays, several nodes away from deep-billed barbets and toucans.

That’s one more example
demonstrating that DNA fails to duplicate morphology, which literally has to trump DNA because phenomics is the only method that permits the identification of a gradual accumulation of derived traits… and includes fossil taxa. DNA works within genera (like humans), but fails at larger phylogenetic distances. And DNA works in the realm of trust. You hope the results are correct, because there is no way to check them…except by comparing with morphological results.

Figure 2. Sitta the nuthatch skull and in vivo. Pecking insects from tree bark is the first stage in drilling tree bark for insects.

Figure 2. Sitta the nuthatch skull and in vivo. Pecking insects from tree bark is the first stage in drilling tree bark for insects.

Woodpecker and nuthatch skulls are nearly identical
Slender laminations of the maxilla to the tip of the beak help strengthen it’s nail-like tip. Nuthatches do to rotate pedal digit 4 to the back (zygodactyly) like woodpeckers do, so nuthatches are the more primitive of the two clades.

Zygodactyly is convergent several times in neornithine birds.

Figure 3. Skull of the woodpecker, Melanerpes.

Figure 3. Skull of the woodpecker, Melanerpes.

And what about that hyper-hyoid?
The woodpecker’s tongue is anchored by a super-long Y-shaped hyoid. Here (Fig. 4) is the best illustration I have seen about how that works and how it develops.

Figure 4. The woodpecker tongue and hyoid and how it works to extend the tongue into wood to extract burrowing insects.

Figure 4. The woodpecker tongue and hyoid and how it works to extend the tongue into wood to extract burrowing insects.

On the question of DNA vs. Morphology:
A recent reviewer of Feduccia A (2017) wrote: “Conclusions from cladistic methodology
– easily misled by close evolutionary convergence (Ridley 1986) – have sometimes been overturned by its more prestigious younger sister, DNA phylogenetics, which is less
vulnerable to closely convergent evolution. I vividly remember the shocked disbelief of many biologists when DNA phylogenetics revealed that the tenrecs and shrew-moles of
Madagascar were more closely related to elephants than to Eurasian shrews or hedgehogs (Stanhope et al. 1998).”

Do you see how DNA was given more ‘prestige’?
How morphology was ‘easily misled’? How it was ‘vulnerable’ to closely convergent evolution? The author sets you for the big unbelievable (and in the LRT, untenable, unverifiable, unreasonable) relationship of tenrecs to elephants. Do not believe such rubbish. If you wonder about such things, test them yourself, like I did. You’ll find that even with objective scoring, close convergence and all the other evils that befall phenomics (morphology), the unbiased software will carry to past all that to the land of verifiable, repeatable results.

The attached YouTube video is way off topic,
except that I was listening to it as I worked on woodpeckers. Click the video to view (1:45 hours). The video is the story of two hapless motorists (in the same car), later picking up a dog companion, in the early days of automobiles who ventured the first drive across the USA. Too often they went down the wrong road (when there was a road), broke down and encountered horrible weather, loss of cash, gas, plagues of mosquitos, and still kept plugging on. It’s Ken Burns film, so has that familiar narrator and pace.

Somehow it seemed metaphorical.

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