Anas Platyrhynchos - Mallard Ducklings | Center Moriches, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

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Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Genus: Anas
Species: A. platyrhynchos
Binomial name
Anas platyrhynchos

The mallard was one of the many bird species originally described by Carl Linnaeus in his 18th-century work Systema Naturae, and still bears its original binomial name. The scientific name is from Latin Anas, “duck” and Ancient Greek platyrhynchus , “broad-billed” ( from platus, “broad” and rhunkhos, " bill").

Mallard originally referred to any wild drake and it is sometimes still used this way.It was derived from the Old French malart or mallart for “wild drake”, although its true derivation is unclear. It may be related to (or at least influenced by) an Old High German masculine proper name Madelhart, clues lying in the alternate English forms “maudelard” or “mawdelard”. Masle (male) has also been proposed as an influence.

Mallards frequently interbreed with their closest relatives in the genus Anas, such as the American black duck, and also with species more distantly related, such as the northern pintail, leading to various hybrids that may be fully fertile. This is quite unusual among such different species, and apparently is because the mallard evolved very rapidly and recently, during the Late Pleistocene. The distinct lineages of this radiation are usually kept separate due to non-overlapping ranges and behavioural cues, but are still not fully genetically incompatible. Mallards and their domesticated conspecifics are also fully interfertile.

The genome of Anas platyrhynchos was sequenced in 2013.

Mallards appear to be closer to their Indo-Pacific relatives than to their American ones judging from biogeography. Considering mitochondrial DNA D-loop sequence data, they may have evolved in the general area of Siberia; mallard bones rather abruptly appear in food remains of ancient humans and other deposits of fossil bones in Europe, without a good candidate for a local predecessor species. The large ice age palaeosubspecies which made up at least the European and west Asian populations during the Pleistocene has been named Anas platyrhynchos palaeoboschas.

In their mitochondrial DNA, mallards are differentiated between North America and Eurasia, however, in the nuclear genome there is a particular lack of genetic structure. Haplotypes typical of American mallard relatives and spotbills can be found in mallards around the Bering Sea. The Aleutian Islands hold a population of mallards that appear to be evolving towards a subspecies, as gene flow with other populations is very limited.

The size of the mallard varies clinally, and birds from Greenland, although larger than birds further south, have smaller bills and are stockier. They are sometimes separated as subspecies, the Greenland mallard (A. p. conboschas). Read more

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