critter names

Ron at Ron at
Thu Oct 11 02:50:06 CDT 2001

Doug Yanega wrote.
In 1983, Ron Hodges gave a unique taxon number to each
NA lepidopteran. It'd be very easy to take a database of Hodges'
original list, and automate the comparison between that and a new,
updated list that ALSO uses those same numbers. There is a precedent,
for all you naysayers - and no one has EVER complained that Hodges
numbers are a nuisance. We could easily expand that system to all
insects, and these problems with automating taxon information would
go away. I do, in fact, assign each taxon in my database a unique
number (e.g., Boisea trivittata is 62434), so I *can* update the
specimen record taxonomic information automatically - there's no
other way, since the genus name is not stable, the epithet is not
stable, and epithet-author combinations are commonly not unique.

I find the Hodges numbers to be pointless.  And over time they will become
more useless.  I have heard complaints of those numbers in this context:
when used in a book beside pictures of Lepidoptera as the sole caption
(i.e. Handfield, 1999).  This does not tell the observer anything.  In this
situation one has to then find another reference (in the same book or
elsewhere) where the  _same number_ is associated with a biological
identity (genus and species relationship).  Humans do not speak and
communicate in numbers, we do so in words.

The Hodges numbers aconpanying his checklist start at 1 and continue for
each species up to 11233.  In other words all these numbers do is indicate
the cronology of the scientific names he listed.  The taxa are listed in
his view of their evolutionary  asssent.  They only cover the North
American "names" as subjectively recognized at that point in time.  There
is no code as 2000 = X genus and 3000 = Y gneus.  It is just straight
cornology of occurance in his list. He deals with subspecies as a,b,c under
each number.  So subspecies have no numbers.

Number 4481 is Phyciodes tharos and 4482 Phyciodes batesii.  Today we know
that one of the synonyms he listed under tharos (cocyta) is actually a full
species. It can not be given the number 4482 as that number is already
taken.  Thus it has no whole number and can have no whole number in a
sequence that would indicate its relativity to tharos or batesii.  The next
available number is 11234.  It can be given 4481.1 but then why not 4482.1
if the number is to relay something of relationship?  Would not 4481 and
4481.1 and 4482 go against logic and form?  Why should some species be
listed as whole numbers and others by decimal points?  Hodges simply gave
the numbers as a list sequence for the list given.  If he had intended it
as a "system" then each genus should have been assigned a unique number
with X number of zeros to allow for plenty of additions.  As I said, I find
his numbers pointless.

And as taxa are moved and added per our understanding of their evolutional
relations, these numbers will not only become useless but confusing and
counterproductive.  Under 4482 (batesii) there have now been added several
subspecies since 1983.  Further, mtDNA  research has now indicated that
_some_ (not just one) of these recently described "batesii" subspecies are
likely full species.  How are these to fit logically (in a common
consistent form) with the rest of these whole numbers?  4483, 4484, and
4485 are all taken by campestris, pictus and vesta (which themselves should
now be omitted or changed due to better relational knowledge and or
nomenclatorial changes in some cases.

Numbering taxa is not The answer to stability.  Also, as I have said many
times before, the quest for "stability" is a futile effort to write in
stone the evolutionary process. 300,000,000,000 years what will any of the
current numbers or names relate to?  Not much.  Taxonomy is a fluid
science - not hard science.  Its only use in the far distant future will
have been as a kind of tracking device.  I have no interest  in
nomenclatorial stability as in the longggggg run it is a myth.  (to
PhyloCode or not to PhyloCode is proof of this myth.)  This does not mean I
favor chaos - which is why I favor calling all epithets nouns by virtue of
their being declared to be proper names and then left alone.

Last comments.  No, Doug, Hodges did not give "a unique taxon number to
each NA lepidopterana "  First, each NA taxon was not, and is not,  known.
Second, he simply placed the known names he accepted (which were in turn
taken directly from the  Miller and Brown Lep. Soc. names) ... he
simply placed the known names beside an ascending list of numbers that are
relative to nothing other then their sequence in his list.  If a new list
was written tomorrow employing his form -- put down a sequenced of numbers
and then place the known taxa beside each one -- 99% of the names on that
list would all have new numbers.  And thus, an updated list could not use
those same numbers for the same taxa -- the addition of just ONE new
species as a whole number would throw all subsequent number/taxon
associations in that list off.  The same holds true for names sunk -- when
species 4426 (zephyrus) is sunk to a subspecies of  4427 (gracilis), 4424
(hylas) is sunk to a subspecies of 4423 (faunus), and 4428 (oreas) is sunk
to a subspecies 4429 (progne) then numbers 4424, 4426 and 4428 are "lost"
to usage, or everything is shifted subsequently. So the lepidopteran
scientific names are infinitely more stable than their Hodges number

One can no longer say " one has EVER complained that Hodges numbers
are a nuisance."   I just did.

Ron Gatrelle
The International Lepidoptera Survey.

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