Paris Types??

Barry M. OConnor bmoc at UMICH.EDU
Sat May 9 10:33:22 CDT 1998

At 9:42 AM +0200 5/9/98, Sven O Kullander wrote:
>At 10:13 08 05 1998 +0100, Barry M. OConnor remarked that everything except
>the US of A is not where it should be:

I was surprised to be flamed by several respondants to this thread.  My
original response was meant to be explanatory to the originator who had
made a disparaging remark about a European museum "preventing progress in
systematics."  In trying to defend the museum, I didn't mean to imply that
either the French postal service was bad (the experience with damaged
specimens I related could have easily originated with inspectors in the
USA), or that I wanted all types in my own museum.  Exactly the opposite!
Museums must take all necessary precautions to safeguard type specimens.
And, I strongly believe that type specimens of newly described taxa should
reside in a museum in the country from where they were described, assuming
such a museum exists.
        For the present, there are two difficulties.  First, there is the
matter of history - all those 19th century types from everywhere that are
in European (or American) museums.  I don't advocate repatriation of those
specimens; it would be far too disruptive to investigators working with the
original literature.  So the European (or American) Museum Tour will still
be an integral part of revisionary systematic studies (certainly to the
benefit of the student, as has been pointed out).  Comments that local
investigators can always go into their backyard to collect new specimens
miss the point that one only needs to look at type specimens if the
identity of a species is in doubt; i.e. if you know what is in your
backyard, you don't need to see the type!
        The second problem is that many countries do not yet have adequate
facilities for permanent storage and curation of type specimens.  Certainly
many more do now than did during the heyday of descriptive taxonomy.   A
good working solution to this is exemplified by agreements made between the
Smithsonian Institution and the government of Madagascar such that insect
species being described by Smithsonian systematists have their types
deposited in the USA "in trust for the people of Madagascar."  At some
unspecified future date when an adequate facility is available in
Madagascar, the types will presumably be repatriated.
        And, yes, I do get annoyed when investigators do not distribute
specimens when they have the opportunity.  A case in point involves a
recent study in my own group where a European investigator described a
number of new species from North America and kept the types and all other
specimens in his own museum.  No specimens were deposited in any North
American museum.  I don't need them in my own museum, but if a specimen
were deposited somewhere on this side of the world, access to it would be
easier for those in whose backyards the species resides!
        As for photographs of type specimens, this should be encouraged,
although it won't always help.  The late T. H. Hubbell of our museum
photographed all type specimens of the orthopteroid family Gryllacrididae
in European museums.  We are in the process of transferring these
photographs to our web site.  However, if important characters are not
visible on a photograph (e.g. undissected genitalia), direct examination
will still be necessary.

Barry M. OConnor                phone: (734) 763-4354
Museum of Zoology               FAX: (734) 763-4080
University of Michigan          e-mail: bmoc at
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1079  USA

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