critter names

Doug Yanega dyanega at POP.UCR.EDU
Thu Oct 11 11:24:26 CDT 2001

Ron Gatrelle wrote:

>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.

This is the MOST flawed example of logic I've seen posted here in a
long time. Your system is, by the very principles you define above,
NOT permanent. If a species changes genus after you have assigned its
number, your system requires that the number be changed. If a
subspecies is elevated to species in your system, it can no longer
remain as a decimal, but has to be given a whole number value, and
the converse applies if a species is reduced to a subspecies. How can
you not see how unstable that is?
The ONLY stable unique numbering system is one that *is* totally
arbitrary, because that's the only way the numbers can be left alone
when the name changes. In order to remain stable, the numbers must
explicitly NOT be intended to convey information about relationships
- that's why we have (and would continue to use) ranks and
binomials!! The system you're describing is one to *replace*
binomials, and I already explained that I don't believe that's a
productive or useful approach.
Stop worrying about people using ONLY numbers - that is not what any
of us are advocating, and I'd agree that Handfield could easily have
had captions like "H4482: Phyciodes batesii" and everything would
have been fine. Nonetheless, I think you are probably alone (though
maybe Kenelm would, also, if he wants numerical sequence to reflect
taxonomy) in feeling that having a taxon listed as "H11234: Phyciodes
cocyta" related to "H4482: Phyciodes batesii" would be a bad and
confusing thing. That's no more confusing than having "Potamocoris
parvus Hungerford" being sister taxon to "Potamocoris nieseri Van

One detail - Derek Sikes wrote:

>If we could assign arbitrary, unique numbers to every original combination
>(I suppose synonymies would involve combining these numbers; such that if
>species 10 is a new syn. of species 11 then the number of species 11 would
>become [11,10] etc. ) then this problem would at least be reduced

That would be pretty burdensome if applied in the literal sense you
describe (unless I misunderstand you); what I'm advocating would be
little different from present notation. If we now write "Papilio g.
glaucus Linnaeus" it's not much extra work to write "345856: Papilio
g. glaucus Linnaeus" (and that number would help when someone else
prefers to call it "Pterourus glaucus (L.)," wouldn't it?? A fixed
taxon number allows for alternative classifications without
confusion). However, we don't, in ordinary use, bother to give the
litany of synonyms for P. glaucus, nor would we string out all the
numbers representing those synonyms. They would be part of the
catalogs, but not in common use, which seems to be what you're

Finally, Una wrote:

>Actually, botanists have Index Kewensis, which attempts to list all
>botanical taxonomic names ever published.

Then I envy you the relative ease with which botanists will be able
to deal with their electronic catalogues and authority files. We
entomologists should be so fortunate.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521
phone: (909) 787-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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