[Taxacom] do you use species descriptions?

Adam Cotton adamcot at cscoms.com
Thu Feb 24 12:33:57 CST 2011

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Andy Deans" <andy_deans at ncsu.edu>
To: <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Sent: Friday, February 25, 2011 1:22 AM
Subject: [Taxacom] do you use species descriptions?

>I guess a perhaps somewhat loaded follow-up question, related to your 
>response, Fred, would be: How many taxonomists actually read or use 
>original descriptions?
> Most of the species I work on (Hymenoptera: Evaniidae) were described 
> ante-1911, in French and German - languages I struggle to accurately 
> interpret. When I do translate the descriptions they are relatively 
> uninformative or even inaccurate, especially when I can simply borrow the 
> type specimens and observe them directly. So I am now in the habit of 
> largely ignoring the original description, in favor of direct observation 
> and imaging. Several colleagues of mine have similar habits.
> Another colleague, however, spends *hours* reading the original 
> descriptions of his taxon of interest - the species of which were mostly 
> described post-1950.
> Maybe species descriptions have improved over time, but how many of you 
> regularly use descriptions, even "modern" ones, to confirm determinations 
> or otherwise understand the species?
> Just curious. For the record I *strongly* believe that textual 
> descriptions are critical to the taxonomic process. Thanks for the replies 
> so far,
> Andy

Old original descriptions are often more useful for confirmation of the type 
locality and confirming that the specimen labelled as the type really is 
either the holotype or syntype. I have found several specimens with HT 
labels that are not types at all. In one case that comes straight to mind 
the single type specimen was easily identified from the description, but was 
labelled as a paratype (which of course couldn't be correct, when the taxon 
was named from a single specimen).

Good taxonomists should always check the original descriptions of the taxa 
they are working on.


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