Bad Examples

Thu Oct 12 11:32:33 CDT 1995

   Judy Winston's request for bad examples of species descriptions
has not really brought forth many. And any brought forward WILL
impugn a reputation of someone, living or not.
   Some DESCRIPTIONS *NOW* appear to be bad, because our ideas
about what descriptions should look like have changed. The ones
given by Linnaeus (1758) and Kirkaldy (1906) were en vogue in
their times, while at present some descriptions are so lengthy,
that the 'essential features' are drowned in the verbiage.
   Some TAXA are bad, because someone (maliciously?) mixed up
the material, e.g. Actinotinus Oliv. mentioned by Tim Ross,
while the Boerlagellaceae H.J. Lam, Stalagmitis Murray and
Papilionopsis van Steenis are three more examples of mixed-up
gatherings of flowering plants. The TAXA were bad, but the
descriptions not necessarily so.
   Falsifications are sometimes made on purpose, perhaps the most
famous one being the Piltdown Man; then there are the exsiccata series
of Arsene's sets of plants from Mexico into which European specimens
were included to make the sets 'complete' and satisfactory to the
buyers (Standley, P.C. in Science 1675, 1927, 130-133); some fictitious
taxa described by the German Muschler (I seem to remember he was
imprisoned or committed for this) and the Spanish Fernandez-Villar;
some falsified localities by the plant collector Lobb either to lead
his competitors astray, or to get more money from the Veitch company
that employed him and paid by the collection/locality. For a further
list see Van Steenis, Fl. Mal. I, 1 (1950) xxiii-xxix.
   BAD TAXA: Although not really falsifications, the recent spade of
taxa described in Australian herpetology by Wells & Wellington should
not be forgotten (reviewed by Monteith, G.B. 1985. Terrorist tactics
in taxonomy. Austr. Syst. Bot. Soc. Newsletter 44: 1-5; see also
Veldkamp, Fl. Mal. Bull. 9, 1985, 311-312).
   More humorous 'falsifications' are Golfballia ambusta Anon. ex
Dennis, a phalloid from Lancashire and East Africa (J. Kew Guild
8, 197*, 181-182), and Cocos lucifera Killman (Malayan Naturalist
46/4, 1993, 13-15) for a 'light-emiting palm' found in Malaysia,
Marsupilami Quintart (Nat. Belg. 73, 1992, 205-206), a famous
cartoon character in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and no doubt
elsewhere and las but not least the famous Rhinogradentia Stuempke
(see ! the review by G.G. Simpson in Science 140, 1960, 624-625),
the mass-extinction of which was even seriously discussed in the US
   I have a reference here I cannot further check: Nelson, E.C. Some
botanical hoaxes and Chinese puzzles. Kew Mag. 3, 1986, 178, cited
by Nelson, l.c. 4/2, 1987, 101, where Unowattia borealis (pollinated
by the Canadian goose) and U. australis (drives Eichhornia crassipes
from Canadian bogs) are mentioned.
   What Judy seems to be looking for are the more stupid errors,
like Calcophysoides balli, Brown's corn ear, and Yochelson's
sieve plate of a tunicate, but even then one has to take into account
what the circumstances of the supposed 'taxa' and authors were.
Personally, I like the ones given above better.
   P.S. Can anyone enlighten us outsiders with what a "Cape Cod
firelighter' might be? Something I saw in Spain used by fishermen
many years ago, 'machera', I think it was called, might be the same:
a metal tube in which a kind of fuse was stuck with a wheel-and-
flintstone attached to the top. The harder it blew, the better it
burned (and reeked). Very useful in the field for some years, after
which the fuse wouldn't burn anymore, the fuse was apparently
impregnated with some chemical that gradually had evaporated).

JeF Veldkamp

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