Ponderosa Enigma – The Flammulated Owl

The Flammulated Owl

The Flammulated Owl

Say goodbye to Otus flammeolus and hello to Psiloscops flammeolus.

Flammulated Owls have always been an enigma. They are tiny, secretive, and quite easy to overlook. Take the Flammulated Owl’s historical status in Montana, where the birds went largely undetected until the 1980s. The little, and I mean little, owls tend to live higher in the canopy of dry ponderosa pine forests. They hunt mostly insects in the pitch black of the summer nights.

The Flammulated Owl is so secretive that we are still debating its taxonomic status and genetic relationships to other owls. Now it has been suggested the Flammulated Owl belongs within its own monotypic genus, Psiloscops. But this is not the first taxonomic leap for the little owl.

When the Flammulated Owl was originally describe to science, it was given the scientific name of Megascops flammeolus, which suggested that it was closely related to the New World Screech-owls. But then in 1910, the Flamm was moved into the genus Otus, the Old World Scops Owls. There it remained…until. Recently a paper has been published that suggests that the Flammulated Owl is not closely related to the other members of the Otus genus, but rather it related to the New World Megascops owls, but it is basal to that lineage in its own unique genus, Psiloscops. These findings were, once again, the result of molecular genetic analysis, and, more specifically, mitochondrial DNA. This all means that the Flammulated Owl shares a common ancestor with the Screech-owls, but it split from lineage in the distant. The Flammulated Owl is also a genetic enigma as well.

Written by Radd Icenoggle

I am a native Montanan, who has spent a lifetime as an outdoors and wildlife enthusiast. I earned a degree in biology with an emphasis on habitat relations. During my studies, I had the great fortune to research and compose a thesis that explored the effects of slope aspect on...
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