Three things I always wanted to know

Thomas G. Lammers lammers at FMPPR.FMNH.ORG
Fri Feb 20 09:19:25 CST 1998

At 01:04 PM 02-20-98 -0300, Thomas Schlemmermeyer wrote:

>       Question Number 2: What is the meaning of the holotype?
>       Especially: Is it a mere piece of a living organism only to
>       fix a scientific name or has it anything to do with the biological
>       reality out there?

A type specimen is merely a standard of reference to which a name is
permanently attached.  It serves much the same function as the kilogram bar
or liter volume at the Bureau of Standards.  Types permit us to answer the
question, "Just what did that person have in mind when they described that
species and validated its name?"  It has nothing to do with "biological
reality", i.e., it is not necessarily "typical" in any statistical sense.
In fact, it may be highly aberrant. The type of the grass Tridens flavus has
yellow spikelets (hence the name) ... despite the fact that this is a rare
mutant and 99.9% of all individuals have purple spikelets.

Thomas G. Lammers

Classification, Nomenclature, Phylogeny and Biogeography
of the Campanulaceae, s. lat.

Department of Botany
Field Museum of Natural History
Roosevelt Road at Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60605-2496 USA

e-mail:    tlammers at
voice mail: 312-922-9410 ext. 317
fax:                312-427-2530

"There are no uninteresting things;
 there are only uninterested people."
                                  -- G. K. Chesterton

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