William L at
Tue May 20 16:46:22 CDT 1997

With regard to the current thread on morpho-typing

First, it should be understood that I am an Invertebrate Zoologist,
mostly an Entomologist.

All of us who deal with the sorting of bulk collections in speciose
groups engage in morpho-typing. There is no time to identify each
specimen as it comes out of the sample. Rather, we sort things out by
appearance. Then we examine each segregate for homogeneity. Then we move
on to the next such segregate. And generally then move on to the next
collection. At some later time we clean the alcohol stains off our lab
table, sweep away the bits and pieces of accumulated habitat, and spread
out the appropriate literature to identify all the representatives of
some particular group (family, order, whatever) in a set of related
samples.  Then we move on to the next one.

Assuming we can locate the literature for it. And that appropriate
literature exists. It is probably not chance that groups for which a
reliable generic-level manual for a region exists undergo a sudden jump
in published studies in that region. Vertebrate zoologists, except maybe
Ichthyologists, have no real understanding of the problem, because
fairly good species-level manuals exist even for most areas of the
tropics. This gets them into trouble when they undertake a study
involving inverts, because they tend to assume the existence of similar
manuals, until they come up with a batch of insects and try to find
someone to identify them.

It is the lack of good identification literature that creates massive
problems even in the North American temperate zone. I am an Orthopterist
(a specialist in the crasshoppers, crickets, and related groups). I have
no trouble at all identifying Diptera (flies), because there is an
excellent manual available for the nearctic region. I have
unsurmountable problems with most Homoptera (leaf-hoppers and such),
because there are no such manuals. The botanists handle this much
better: take a look at Gray's Manual of Botany (8th ed)(Fernald, 1950),
outdated though it may be, or the new Jepson's Manual, Higher Plants of
California (Hickman, 1993). A similar manual on insects of California,
or the northeastern US & eastern Canada, could certainly carry the
entire insect fauna to genus. There is a project to produce such
manuals, at species level, for Coleoptera (beetles), but nothing else
that I'm aware of. Maybe producing such manuals would be the project
that would attract general support. There are certainly a lot of people
doing biodiversity studies who'd cheeerfully mortgage their souls for

Best to everyone,

Will Pratt
Dr. William L. Pratt, Curator of Invertebrates
Marjorie Barrick Museum of Natural History
University of Nevada, Las Vegas Box 454009
Las Vegas, NV 89154-4009
(702)895-1403, fax (702)895-3094 e-mail prattw at

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