critter names

Ron at Ron at
Thu Oct 11 10:52:09 CDT 2001

----- Original Message -----
From: "Kenelm Philip" <fnkwp at AURORA.ALASKA.EDU>
Sent: Thursday, October 11, 2001 6:04 AM
Subject: critter names

>         Ron Gatrelle just posted re the use of numbers in checklists and
> catalogues. He appears to find no use for the numbers in the MONA (Hodges
> et al) checklist of NA lepidoptera. Since I have been spending the last
> weeks with that checklist, I would like to reply to his post, at the risk
> of preaching to the choir.

No, I posted re the numbers in the Hodges catalogue _because_ Doug said he
had not heard any one "..EVER complained that Hodges numbers are a
nuisance."   I was posting to primarily address my subjective view on

> 1) Numbering checklists and catalogues has been standard practice for a
> _long_ time. The McDunnough catalogue (1938) and the Dyar catalogue
> are numbered. The numbering of species allows one to find any given
> in the catalogue _much_ faster than by looking up the name in the index,
> and thus is a material aid to use of the list.
Actually, this was a point I thought of bringing up, but my initial post
was long as it was. I have many of those checklists. And the numbers are
worthless to me in dealing with organisms.  First, I have memorized names
(words) not numbers (numerical sequences) in correlation with organisms.
If I want to find the species in the butterfly genus Phyciodes I go to that
word.  I know nothing of plant checklists let alone any numbers in them.
But I know what Quercus is and look for that word.  No one has memorized
numbers to visual recognition of taxa. But we have all memorized thousands
of names to visual recognition. (I have memorized over 2000 bible verses
too - including several entire books, like Hebrews.)  Humans can memorize
millions of words - yet very few of us can memorize a 12 digit number.
This is because our brains communicate in words not numbers.  Thus, one has
to know the organic name first, look up ITS number and then find the number
elsewhere and revert (translate) it back into a word again.  I never use
checklist numbers for anything - I find it an extra and needless step.
Others may do just the opposite - that is fine - for them.

> 2) Ron appears concerned that all species do not have a _whole_ number.
> is also standard practice to add new taxa between whole numbers by using
> decimals. This allows last-minute revisions of the catalogue without
> to reset type for all the subsequent numbers. It also allows individual
> users of the catalogue to add new taxa and be able to find them by
> There is no magic numerology associated with whole numbers.

Which simply shows the flaws with check list numbers which are usually only
in sequence without regard to biotic relationship.  IF I did a check list I
would assign a base number for each genus etc.  In a computer file, all
world genera known and unknown would have to have a base number asigned or
available. 10000 = genus A, 10001 genus species, 10001.1 genus species
subspecies. Permanency by uniformity  -- which was what Doug was actually
dirrecting us to -- not numbers for the sake of numbers.

> 3) With the use of computer files, the ability to sort by catalogue
> is priceless. I have been inputting determined specimens of Alaskan moths
> into a database file for a couple of weeks now--and the specimens
> are unsorted although they have determination labels from a number of
> specialists. I can keep a file in specimen-within-Schmitt-box order
> allows me to add additional information from any given specimen to the
> at any time) and yet instantly produce a taxonomically-arranged list of
> species. I will also, later, be able to place these specimens into taxo-
> nomic order without having to keep referring back to the catalogue.
So what?  All this only shows is that you have employed a numbering system.
Computers work just as well with words, codes, what ever one sets up a
program to do.  How do we think spell checks work?   Computers are very
flexible if one knows how to manipulate them.  Otherwise programmers would
not be working toward artificial intelligence via them.  Most of us don't
know enough about computers and their capabilities to utilize 5% of that
potential.  They now have multi gigabyte hard drives the size of quarters.
Scanner programs that can input and arrange thousands of words in a micro
second.  Vergbal recognition is getting pretty good too.

>         Ron added a comment re the Handfield book:
> > I have heard complaints of those numbers in this context: when used in
> > book beside pictures of Lepidoptera as the sole caption (i.e.
> > 1999).
>         That is only a very minor inconvenience, since the Hodges numbers
> are used in the text portion of Handfield throughout. It's simple to
> have the plate out while the text is open, and see instantly which figure
> goes with the species of interest.

Minor or not, it was totally avoidable by simply putting the name under
each picture or a single caption number and correlating scientific name at
the bottom of ( or on a page next to) each plate -- like all other books
do.  No matter how one cuts it the use of Hodges numbers on the plates
requires that one take the time to go to the text, find the same 5 digit
number, and get the name.  Numerous people have complained about that.
(This is otherwise one of the best and most useful books on North American
moths one can have.)

Ron Gatrelle

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