Monday, 12 August 2013

The Eponym Dictionary of Amphibians: Where’s Conrau?

Starting in 2003 with Whose Bird?, the Eponym Dictionary series (mammals following birds, then reptiles and, this year amphibians) has provided interest and amusement in epi-zoology. As the series has gone on, information from earlier volumes is often repeated, as a necessity since collectors, benefactors and museum workers often have birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians named after them. There is particular overlap with reptiles and amphibians and I was often miffed to find I had already read an entry in one of the other volumes. I took three double pages at random and found that a third of entries were repeats from earlier volumes.

I found a few omissions. The most remarkable I noted was the absence of Gustav Conrau who collected in the Cameroons in the closing years of the 19th century. He does appear in the volume on reptiles for the gecko, Lygodactylus conraui. Conrau should appear in the volume on amphibians for the genus Conraua, now comprising six species including that famous amphibian, the Goliath Frog, Conraua goliath. The genus was erected by Fritz Nieden in 1908 for G. robusta (Die Amphibienfauna von Kamerun. Mitteilungen des zoologischen Museums Berlin 3, 489-518) and the Goliath Frog, described by Boulenger in 1906 as Rana goliath, was moved into it by Nieden.

The story of Conrau, a German trader and labour recruiter in Cameroon is told in the Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. He had recruited labour from the Bangwa people for a plantation to the south. When he returned, the Bangwa thought their labourers must have died since they were not with him. The Bangwa held him hostage against their men’s return. He was wounded while trying to escape. He probably killed himself to avoid being captured although he may have been shot by his pursuers. The Germans sent two punitive expeditions as a consequence.

Fritz Nieden (1883-1942), incidentally, does appear – for the caecilian Boulengerula niedeni described in 2005.

The Eponym Dictionary of Amphibians. 2013. Beolens, B., Watkins, M., Grayson, M. Exeter: Pelagic Publishing