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Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa

Although this species is widespread and has a large global population, its numbers have declined rapidly in parts of its range owing to changes in agricultural practices. Overall, the global population is estimated to be declining at such a rate that the species qualifies as Near Threatened.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: _the_WP15.xls.
AOU. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 1994. The taxonomy and species of birds of Australia and its territories. Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union, Melbourne.
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Dowsett, R. J.; Forbes-Watson, A. D. 1993. Checklist of birds of the Afrotropical and Malagasy regions. Tauraco Press, Li
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at:
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.
Stotz, D. F.; Fitzpatrick, J. W.; Parker, T. A.; Moskovits, D. K. 1996. Neotropical birds: ecology and conservation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Turbott, E. G. 1990. Checklist of the birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.

40-44cm. Large rather graceful wader, with long bill on a relatively small head, long neck and long legs. Colour of fore-body is dull pink-chestnut in summer, paler grey-brown in winter. In flight has a striking white wing-bar and rump. Similar spp. Unmistakeable in flight but sometimes difficult to separate from L. lapponica when on ground at distance. Told from the latter by its distinctive bill structure and much leggier and more erect appearance. Voice High-pitched, nasal, rather strident calls given during breeding season, most common of which is a weeka-weeka-weeka. Characteristic call of birds in flocks is a softer kip kip... or chut chut...

Distribution and population
Limosa limosa has a large discontinuous breeding range extending from Iceland to the Russian far east, with wintering populations in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Australasia (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It occurs as three subspecies, L. l. islandica, L. l. limosa, and L. l. melanuroides. Subspecies islandica breeds predominantly in Iceland, with much smaller numbers in the Faeroe Islands, Shetland (United Kingdom) and the Lofoten Islands (Norway). Significant numbers of this subspecies overwinter in France (Triplet et al. 2007). Subspecies limosa breeds across a wide area extending from Western Europe and central Europe to central Asia and Asiatic Russia, as far east as the River Yenisey. The European population of this subspecies migrates south through France and Iberia to winter in West Africa (Gill et al. 2007, Oomen 2008). Subspecies melanuroides breeds in disjunct populations in Mongolia, northern China, Siberia (Russia) and the Russian Far East. The species migrates across a broad front and has wintering grounds extending from the Republic of Ireland to Australia, encompassing the Mediterranean, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of the Middle East, India, Indochina, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Melanesia (Dutson 2011). The global population has recently been estimated at 634,000-805,000 individuals (Wetlands International in press). Population trends vary in different parts of its range. There have been large and well-documented declines in mainland Europe, e.g. in the Netherlands, where the population in has decreased dramatically from 120,000-135,000 pairs in 1969 and 85,000-100,000 pairs in 1989-1991, to just 46,000-62,000 in 2009 (Tucker and Heath 1994,  BirdLife International 2004a, EU Technical Report 19 2007, Oomen 2008, Höglund et al. 2009), and in the species's Australian wintering grounds (S. Garnett in litt. 2005), which hold c.50% of the wintering population of L. l. melanuroides (Watkins 1993). However, in central Asia the breeding population appears to be stable or fluctuating (L. Belyalova in litt. 2005), and in Iceland numbers are increasing, although at c.50,000-75,000 individuals, this subpopulation is only a small part of the global population (Gill et al. 2007, Wetlands International in press). Similarly, in West Africa, there have been notable declines in some countries (e.g. Senegal and Morocco), while trends elsewhere (Mali, Chad and north Cameroon) have remained stable (Lourenço and Piersma 2008b). A recent analysis based on published literature, survey data and expert opinions from throughout the species's range suggests that, overall, the global population may have declined at a rate approaching 30% over15 years leading up to 2005 (I. Burfield in litt. 2005).

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 162,000-183,000 in Western Europe; 90,000-165,000 in eastern Europe; 25,000-100,000 in west-central Asia; 150,000 in central Asia and Siberia (Asian Waterbird Census unpublished data); 160,000 in the rest of Asia and Australia, and 47,000 (subspecies islandica) in the Faroe Islands and Iceland.

Trend justification
There is still some degree of uncertainty about the size and trend of some of the sub-populations. Nevertheless, looking at 'best' and 'worse' case scenarios, the available information suggests that the global population has probably declined by between 14% and 33% over the past 15 years (=3 generations). Assuming that the 'actual' trend lies somewhere between these extremes, it seems likely that the global population may have declined by c.25% since 1990. Thus the species's trend is currently best placed in the 20-29% band. This information is provided by I. Burfield in litt (2005), with reference to a spreadsheet of detailed calculations based on best-worse case scenarios using population estimates from Wetlands International (2006), and trend data from Birds in Europe 2, the Asian Water bird Census, Wetlands International and forum contributors. In Europe, trends since 1990 show that populations have undergone a moderate decline (p<0.01), based on provisional data for 21 countries from the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (EBCC/RSPB/BirdLife/Statistics Netherlands; P. Vorisek in litt. 2008).

Behaviour This species is highly gregarious and migrates on a broad front, making long-distance flights,often overland between relatively few staging and wintering areas (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It breeds from April to mid-June in loose, semi-colonial groups of up to 3 pairs per ha (Gunnarsson et al. 2006). Non-breeding birds remain in flocks, often near to the breeding colonies. As soon as the young fledge, breeding birds begin to congregate in loose flocks of up to 500 individuals (Cramp et al. 1983). The species migrates southwards between late-June and October. During the autumn migration it may roost in flocks of tens of thousands at favoured sites (del Hoyo et al. 1996), and many adults pause in north Morocco in July to moult. Huge flocks occur at some wintering sites, particularly in the floodplains of Lake Chad. Elsewhere (e.g. Morocco) flocks are smaller (Cramp et al. 1983). The return passage occurs between February and April (del Hoyo et al. 1996), and birds arrive at the breeding grounds in groups of 5-30 individuals (Johnsgard 1981). Many one-year-old birds remain in the wintering range during the summer. During the winter and migration the species usually forages gregariously (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Habitat Breeding In its breeding range it mostly inhabits areas with high grass and soft soil (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Johnsgard 1981), occasionally using sandy areas. Its preferred habitats include cattle pastures, hayfields (Johnsgard 1981), lowland wet grasslands, grassy marshland, raised bogs and moorland, lake margins and damp grassy depressions in steppes (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Subspecies islandica shows a distinct preference for large patches of dwarf-birch bog and marsh, particularly with abundant sedge-pools (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Gunnarsson et al. 2006). Extensive farmland habitats are of critical importance for breeding Western European populations (del Hoyo et al. 1996). After the young have fledged, adults and fledgelings often move to secondary habitat which more closely resembles that of their non-breeding range, including wet damp areas around fish-ponds and sewage farms, tidal marshes, mud flats and salt-water lagoons (Cramp et al. 1983, Tucker and Heath 1994). Non-breeding Subspecies limosa tends to winter in freshwater habitats, including swampy lake shores, pools, flooded grassland and irrigated rice fields. Subspecies islandica and melanuroides, however, often winter in brackish habitats (del Hoyo et al. 1996) such as sheltered estuaries and lagoons with large intertidal mudflats (Johnsgard 1981), sandy beaches, salt-marshes and salt-flats (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Despite these general differences there is considerable overlap in wintering habitat between sympatric populations of subspecies limosa and islandica (Various 2007).  Seasonally-flooded grassland is a critical habitat for the birds wintering in Ireland (Hayhow 2008). Birds on passage in Iberia make much use of rice fields (Lourenço et al. 2010). Diet Its diet consists of adult and larval insects (especially beetles), annelid and polychaete worms, molluscs, ragworms, crustaceans, spiders, fish eggs, and the spawn and tadpoles of frogs (Johnsgard 1981, del Hoyo et al. 1996). On the breeding grounds grasshoppers and other orthopterans are often prevalent in the diet (Johnsgard 1981). Particularly during the winter and on migration it will also take plant material including berries, seeds and rice grains (Cramp et al. 1983, del Hoyo et al. 1996). On its wintering grounds in Portugal, the bivalve Scrobicularia plana has been found to represent its primary food source (Moreira 1994); in the salinas of Spain, it mainly feeds on chironomid larvae (Estrella and Masero 2010). Breeding site The nest is placed on the ground in short, often luxurious vegetation (Johnsgard 1981, Cramp et al. 1983, del Hoyo et al. 1996). It consists of a shallow scrape 12-15cm in diameter, lined with a thick mat of stem grass, leaves and other available vegetation (Cramp et al. 1983). Breeding birds show a high degree of nest site fidelity (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and some degree of natal philopatry (Kruk et al. 1998).

Loss of nesting habitat owing to wetland drainage and agricultural intensification, and conversely, abandonment, are the most significant threats (A. Mischenko in litt. 2007). Detrimental activities include the conversion of wet meadows to arable land, increased fertilisation and drainage of grassland, artificial flooding of nesting habitats, earlier and more frequent cutting as farmers adapt to climate change, spring burning, overgrowing by scrub, land claiming by businesses and developers, the construction of roads and parks, and disturbance by walkers (Tucker and Heath 1994, A. van Dijk in litt. 2005,  A. Mischenko in litt. 2007, Hayhow 2008, Oomen 2008, Holm and Laursen 2009, Kleijn et al. 2010). Increasing populations of predators to possibly unnatural levels is a significant cause of mortality in the Netherlands, exacerbated by intensive farming reducing available cover for the godwits (Schekkerman et al. 2009). On intensively grazed pastures, trampling is a major cause of nest loss, and a switch to monoculture on arable land reduces the supply of insects that the species feeds on (Oomen 2008). Habitat fragmentation may cause particular problems for this species, which nests in dispersed colonies and sub-colonies as protection against predators and may be unlikely to breed successfully in small areas of habitat. The planned development of a new airport near Lisbon is likely to have negative implications on an important site for migratory birds (Gill et al. 2007, Masero et al. 2011). Hunting has been another significant threat, although France has now followed the rest of the European Union (EU) in implementing a five-year ban on hunting of the species, beginning in 2008 (I. Burfield in litt. 2008). Outside the EU, for example on the African wintering grounds, hunting is known to occur but its scale and impact is unknown. Water pollution is probably an issue in parts of the species's range (H. Hötker in litt. 2005), and drought in the West African wintering quarters may have had negative impacts on the mainland European population (Tucker and Heath 1994). Wetlands have been extensively drained in West Africa, for energy production, water storage and agriculture (Gill et al. 2007). The Icelandic population is potentially at risk from the policy of the Icelandic government to encourage afforestion of the lowland habitats where they breed (S. Nagy in litt. 2005). Threats on migration include pollution, human disturbance, habitat reclamation for tidal energy plants, aquaculture ponds, land conversion for agriculture, urban expansion and agricultural intensification at rice paddies. Invasive plants may also impose on wintering habitat in Australia (Garnett et al. 2011). Climate change may be having an effect (Oomen 2008). Juvenile birds which select good wintering sites also select good breeding sites (Gunnarsson et al. 2005), therefore maintaining high quality wintering sites is crucial to raising productivity on breeding grounds and slowing the rate of decline. There is a marked decrease in the density of breeding birds near to roads, particularly those with heavy traffic (van der Zande et al. 1980, Reijnen et al. 1996). Natal philopatry means that a decrease in local recruitment could prove catastrophic for individual breeding sites (Kruk et al. 1998).

Conservation Actions Underway
An EU management plan for 2007-2009 was adopted, and an AEWA action plan replaced it at the end of 2008 (Anon. 2008). Intensive management of breeding habitat has been carried out in some Western European countries (H. Hötker in litt. 2005), and a number of agri-environment schemes focus on this species, although results have been mixed (Musters et al. 2001, S. Nagy in litt. 2005, A. Mischenko in litt. 2007, Verhulst et al. 2007). It occurs in a number of protected areas. Conservation Actions Proposed
Obtain more quantitative data on status, population trends and conservation requirements outside Europe. Carry out research on survival, recruitment, breeding and migration (Gill et al. 2007). Critically evaluate the effectiveness of current conservation action. In the EU, use a mixture of agri-environment schemes, direct payments to wader-friendly farmers (Musters et al. 2001) and large reserves to secure protection and appropriate management of breeding habitat; the coverage of agri-environment schemes in Europe should be increased (Kleijn et al. 2010) and increases in groundwater depth should be prioritised as an outcome (Verhulst et al. 2007). Establish nature reserves on important breeding sites throughout the species's range. Manage existing reserves appropriately: prescriptions include avoiding drainage of existing wet meadows, raising water tables where necessary, low-level use of organic fertiliser, low intensity grazing, late mowing, and prevention of succession to bushy vegetation; winter flooding is sometimes recommended but may reduce numbers of invertebrate prey (Gunnarsson et al. 2005). On intensively farmed land, maintenance of unfertilised field margins has been shown to have positive effects (Oosterveld et al. 2009). Ensure that migratory staging posts and winter feeding habitats and roosts are conserved and monitored, and knowledge of them is improved (Estrella and Masero 2010). Designate a special protection area at Extremadura's rice fields, which is a key stopover site (Masero et al. 2011).  Manage artificial habitats appropriately, e.g. maintain low water levels in salinas such that they are available to foraging godwits (Estrella and Masero 2010), and block drainage to retain water in Iberian rice fields (Lourenço and Piersma 2008a). Protect important Yellow Sea tidal flats in China and South Korea. Engage with governments and local people throughout its migration routes. Effectively enforce the EU-wide ban on hunting until there is clear evidence that the population has returned to a favourable conservation status. Safeguard habitats in West Africa and Iberia, perhaps by offering support to rice producers (Gill et al. 2007). Collaborate with farmers and hunters, carrying out environmental education and outreach work where appropriate. Prevent afforestation of lowland breeding habitat in Iceland. Prevent a loss of key breeding areas due to abandonment of grasslands and meadows in east Europe and Russian Far East. Monitor human disturbance as a threat. Restore wetland sites in Australia (Garnett et al. 2011). Ensure recognition as a protected animal throughout range (Hancock 2008).

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Anon. 2008. New action plans for the Black-tailed Godwit and the Eurasian Spoonbill. AEWA Newsletter: 11.

Bamford, M.J.; Watkins, D. G.; Bancroft, W.; Tischler, G.; Wahl. J. in prep. Migratory shorebirds of the East Asian-Australasian flyway: population estimates and important sites. Wetlands International.

BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Cramp, S.; Simmons, K. E. L. 1983. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic vol. III: waders to gulls. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Dutson, G. 2011. Birds of Melanesia: Bismarcks, Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Christopher Helm, London.

Estrella, S. M.; Masero, J. A. 2010. Prey and prey size selection by the Near-threatened Black-tailed Godwit foraging in non-tidal areas during migration. Waterbirds 33(3): 293-299.

Garnett, S.T., Szabo, J.K. and Dutson, G. 2011. The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.

Gill, J. A.; Langston, R. H. W.; Alves, J. A.; Atkinson, P. W.; Bocher, P.; Vieria, N. C.; Crockford, N. J.; Gélinaud, G.; Groen, N.; Gunnarsson, T. G.; Hayhow, B.; Hooijmeijer, J.; Kentie, R.; Kleijn, D.; Lourenco, P. M.; Masero, J. A.; Meunier, F. 2007. Contrasting trends in two Black-tailed Godwit populations: a review of causes and recommendations. Wader Study Group Bulletin: 43-50.

Gunnarsson, T. G.; Gill, J. A.; Appleton, G. F.; Gi´slason,H.; Gardarsson, A.; Watkinson, A. R.; W.J. Sutherland, W. J. 2006. Large-scale habitat associations of birds in lowland Iceland: Implications for conservation. Biological Conservation 128: 265-275.

Gunnarsson, T. G.; Gill, J. A.; Newton, J.; Potts, P.M.; Sutherland, W.J. 2005. Seasonal matching of habitat quality and fitness in migratory birds. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B 272: 2319-2323.

Hancock, P. 2008. Black-tailed Godwit. In: Hancock, P. (ed.), The status of globally and nationally threatened birds in Botswana, 2008., pp. 25. BirdLife Botswana.

Hayhow, B. 2008. Food for the gods. I-Webs News: 2.

Höglund, J.; Johansson, T.; Beintema, A.; Schekkerman, H. 2009. Phylogeography of the Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa: substructuring revealed by mtDNA control region sequences. Journal of Ornithology 150(1): 45-53.

Holm, T. E.; Laursen, K. 2009. Experimental disturbance by walkers affects behaviour and territory density of nesting Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa. Ibis 151(1): 77-87.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1981. The plovers, sandpipers and snipes of the world. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, U.S.A. and London.

Kleijn, D.; Schekkerman, H.; Dimmers, W. J.; Van Kats, R. J.. M.; Melman, D.; Teunissen, W. A. 2010. Adverse effects of agricultural intensification and climate change on breeding habitat quality of Black-tailed Godwits Limosa l. limosa in the Netherlands. Ibis 152: 475-486.

Kruk, M., Noordervliet, M.A.W. and Ter Keurs, W.J. 1998. Natal philopatry in the black-tailed godwit Limosa limosa l. and its possible implications for conservation. Ringing and Migration 19(1): 13-16.

Li, Z.W.D, A. Bloem, S. Delany, G. Martakis & J.O. Quintero. 2009. Status of Waterbirds in Asia - Results of the Asian Waterbird Census: 1987-2007. Wetlands International, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Lourenço, O. M.; Kentie, R.; Schroeder, J.; Alves, J.A.; Groen, N. M.; Hooijmeijer, J. C. E. W.; Piersma, T. 2010. Phenology, stopover dynamics and population size of migrating Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa limosa in Portuguese rice plantations. Ardea 98(1): 35-42.

Lourenço, P. M.; Piersma, T. 2008. Changes in the non-breeding distribution of continental Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa limosa over 50 years: a synthesis of surveys. Wader Study Group Bulletin 115(2): 91-97.

Lourenço, P. M.; Piersma, T. 2008. Stopover ecology of Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa limosa in Portugese rice fields: a guide on where to feed in winter. Bird Study 55(2): 194-202.

Masero, J. A.; Santiago-Queseda, F.; Sámchez-Guzmán, J. M.; Villegas, A.; Abad-Gómez, J. M.; Lopes, R. J.; Encarnação, V.; Corbacho, C.; Morán, R. 2011. Long lengths of stay, large numbers, and trends of the Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa in rice fields during spring migration. Bird Conservation International 21(1): 12-24.

Moreira, F. 1994. Diet, prey-size selection and intake rates of black-tailed godwits. Ibis 136: 349-355.

Musters, C.J.M., Kruk, M., De Graaf, H.J. and Ter Keurs, W.J. 2001. Breeding birds as a farm product. Conservation Biology 15(2): 363-369.

Oomen, P. 2008. Save the king! Alula 14(1): 22-29.

Oosterveld, E. B.; Van Lierop, S.; Sikkema, M. 2009. Use of unfertilised margins on intensively managed grassland by Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa and Redshank Tringa totanus chicks. Wader Study Group Bulletin 116(2): 69-74.

Perennou, C. P.; Mundkur, T.; Scott, D. A. 1994. The Asian Waterfowl Census 1987-1991: distribution and status of Asian waterfowl. IWRB and AWB, Slimbridge and Kuala Lumpur.

Reijnen, R., Foppen, R., Meeuwsen, H. 1996. The effects of traffic on the density of breeding birds in Dutch agricultural grasslands . Biological Conservation 75(3): 255-260.

Schekkerman, H.; Teunissen, W.; Oosterveld, E. 2009. Mortality of Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa and Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus chicks in wet grasslands: influence of predation and agriculture. Journal of Ornithology 150(1): 133-145.

Stroud, D. A.; Davidson, N. C.; West, R.; Scott, D. A.; Haanstra, L.; Thorup, O.; Ganter, B.; Delany, S. 2004. Status of migratory wader populations in African and Western Eurasia in the 1990s. International Wader Studies 15: 1-259.

Triplet, P.; Mahéo, R.; Le Dréan-Quénec'dhu, S. 2007. La Barge à Queue Noire Limosa limosa islandica hivernant en France - Littoral Manche-Atlantique, 1977-2006. Alauda 75(4): 389-398.

Tucker, G. M.; Heath, M. F. 1994. Birds in Europe: their conservation status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Van der Zande, A. N., Ter Keurs, J. & Van der Weijden, W. J. 1980. The impact of roads on the densities of four bird species in an open field habitat -- evidence of a long distance effect. Biol. Conserv. 18: 299-321.

Various. 2007. Workshop on the conservation of the Black-tailed Godwit populations of NW Europe [Abstracts]. Wader Study Group Bulletin: 12-16.

Verhulst, J., Kleijn, D., Berendse, F. 2007. Direct and indirect effects of the most widely implemented Dutch agri-environment schemes on breeding waders. J. Appl. Ecol. 44: 70–80.

Watkins, D. 1993. A national plan for shorebird conservation in Australia. Australasian Wader Studies Group, Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union and World Wide Fund for Nature, Canberra.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Khwaja, N., Mahood, S., Malpas, L., Temple, H.

Belyalova, L., Burfield, I., Garnett, S., Gill, J., Hötker, H., Krüse, H., Mischenko, A., Nagy, S., van Dijk, A.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Limosa limosa. Downloaded from on 17/04/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 17/04/2014.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and allies)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1758)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 7,180,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species