The genus “bufaciem,” commonly known as the North Island False Warblers, contains three species of small birds that were driven to extinction in 1899, 1917, and 1944 respectively as their island breeding grounds were subjected to invasive predators who destroyed the birds’ ground nests. However, “bufaciem” is perhaps more infamous today for one of the most mean-spirited taxonomic debates ever recorded.

Two wealthy amateur biologists, Franklin Rothstein and Abner Slverberg, were intensely competing with one another to describe the birds of New Zealand before the other. Rothstein submitted a description for another genus, the Stewart Island laughing owl, via telegram nearly a week after Silverberg had sent his own description by mail. The result was that Rothstein received credit for the description despite making a later submission.

As a result, Silverberg bribed the telegraph operator at the nearest office to hold Rothstein’s next message for two days, giving him time to wire in his own competing description. Adding insult to injury was the name, “bufaciem,” which was dog Latin for “toad-faced,” a favorite insult Silverberg threw against Rothstein.

Neither man, once the genus had been described, made any effort to secure it against extinction-they cared about the name more than the actual existence of any living examples.

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