The scientific name Sorex niger Ord, 1815 (Mammalia, Soricidae) was originally applied to a North American species that George Ord called the “Black Shrew.” The origin of the name “Black Shrew,” however, was obscure, and Samuel Rhoads subsequently wrote that the species represented by this name could not be determined. The names Sorex niger Ord and Black Shrew have since been mostly forgotten. Two of Ord's contemporaries, however, noted that Ord's use of these names probably alluded to Benjamin Smith Barton's Black Shrew, whose discovery near Philadelphia was announced by Barton in 1806. Examination of two unpublished illustrations of the Black Shrew made by Barton indicates that the animal depicted is Blarina brevicauda (Say, 1822). Had the connection between Ord's and Barton's names been made more clearly, one of the most common mammals in eastern North America would bear a different scientific name today. This connection also would have affected the validity of Sorex niger Horsfield, 1851. While Sorex niger Ord remains a nomen nudum, the animal it referenced can now be identified.
Additional Publication Details
The identity of the enigmatic "Black Shrew" (Sorex niger Ord, 1815)
Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington