| European herring gull: 1 – 1.5 kg, Great black-backed gull: 1.8 kg|
European herring gull: 60 – 67 cm, Great black-backed gull: 64 – 79 cm
European herring gull: 1.2 – 1.6 m, Great black-backed gull: 1.5 – 1.7 m
European herring gull, Lesser black‑backed gull, Great black‑backed gull, Common gull, Yellow‑legged gull
Larus is a large genus of gulls with worldwide distribution (although by far the greatest species diversity is in the Northern Hemisphere). The genus name is from Ancient Greek laros (λάῥος) or Latin Larus which appears to have referred to a gull or other large seabird.
Many of its species are abundant and well-known birds in their ranges. Until about 2005–2007, most gulls were placed in this genus, but this arrangement is now known to be polyphyletic, leading to the resurrection of the genera Ichthyaetus, Chroicocephalus, Leucophaeus, and Hydrocoloeus (this last had been recognized more often than the other genera) for several species traditionally included in Larus.
They are in general medium to large birds, typically grey or white, often with black markings on the head or wings. They have stout, longish bills and webbed feet.
The taxonomy of the large gulls in the herring and lesser black-backed complex is very complicated, different authorities recognising between two and eight species.
Pacific gull, Larus pacificus
Belcher's gull, Larus belcheri
Olrog's gull, Larus atlanticus
Black-tailed gull, Larus crassirostris
Heermann's gull, Larus heermanni
Common gull or mew gull, Larus canus
Ring-billed gull, Larus delawarensis
California gull, Larus californicus
Great black-backed gull, Larus marinus
Kelp gull, Larus dominicanus (called "southern black-backed gull" or "karoro" in New Zealand)
Cape gull, Larus dominicanus vetula
Glaucous-winged gull, Larus glaucescens
Western gull, Larus occidentalis
Yellow-footed gull, Larus livens
Glaucous gull, Larus hyperboreus
Iceland gull, Larus glaucoides
Kumlien's gull, Larus glaucoides kumlieni
Thayer's gull, Larus thayeri
Herring gull, Larus argentatus
American herring gull, Larus smithsonianus
Yellow-legged gull, Larus michahellis
Caspian gull, Larus cachinnans
East Siberian gull, Larus vegae (or Vega Gull)
Birula's gull, Larus vegae birulai
Armenian gull, Larus armenicus
Slaty-backed gull, Larus schistisagus
Lesser black-backed gull, Larus fuscus
Heuglin's gull, Larus (fuscus) heuglini
Fossils of Larus gulls are known from the Middle Miocene, c.20-15 mya; allocation of earlier fossils to this genus is generally rejected nowadays. Biogeography of the fossil record suggests that the genus evolved in the northern Atlantic and spread globally during the Pliocene, when species diversity seems to have been highest as with most seabirds.Larus sp. (Grund Middle Miocene of Austria)
Larus sp. (Middle Miocene of Romania)
Larus sp. (Late? Miocene/Early Pliocene of Lee Creek Mine, USA) - several species
Larus elmorei (Bone Valley Early/Middle Pliocene of SE USA)
Larus lacus (Pinecrest Late Pliocene of SE USA)
Larus perpetuus (Pinecrest Late Pliocene of SE USA)
Larus sp. (San Diego Late Pliocene of SW USA)
Larus oregonus (Late Pliocene - Late Pleistocene of WC USA)
Larus robustus (Late Pliocene - Late Pleistocene of WC USA)
Larus sp. (Lake Manix Late Pleistocene of W USA)
"Larus" raemdonckii (Early Oligocene of Belgium) is now at least tentatively believed to belong in the procellariiform genus Puffinus. "L." elegans (Late Oligocene?/Early Miocene of St-Gérand-le-Puy, France) and "L." totanoides (Late Oligocene?/Early Miocene of SE France) are now in Laricola, while "L." dolnicensis (Early Miocene of Czech Republic) was actually a pratincole; it is now placed in Mioglareola.
The Early Miocene "Larus" desnoyersii (SE France) and "L." pristinus (John Day Formation, Willow Creek, USA) probably do not belong in this genus; the former may be a skua (Olson, 1985).
The circumpolar group of Larus gull species has often been cited as a classic example of the ring species. The range of these gulls forms a ring around the North Pole. The European herring gull, which lives primarily in Great Britain, can hybridize with the American herring gull (living in North America), which can also interbreed with the Vega or East Siberian herring gull, the western subspecies of which, Birula's gull, can hybridize with Heuglin's gull, which in turn can interbreed with the Siberian lesser black-backed gull (all four of these live across the north of Siberia). The last is the eastern representative of the lesser black-backed gulls back in northwestern Europe, including Great Britain. However, the lesser black-backed gulls and herring gull are sufficiently different that they cannot interbreed; thus the group of gulls forms a continuum except in Europe where the two lineages meet. However, a recent genetic study has shown that this example is far more complicated than presented here, and probably does not constitute a true ring species.