[Taxacom] geographic color code in collections

Ohl, Michael Michael.Ohl at mfn-berlin.de
Mon May 23 09:04:08 CDT 2016


Dear Taxacomers,

the Museum fuer Naturkunde in Berlin has used  and uses a color code for collection labels for the major geographic areas of the origin of collection specimens. This has been abandoned in many collections in the museum, but it still exists in entomology. The colors in use are:

white - Palearctic
yellow - Oriental
blue - Africa south of the Sahara
green - New World (sometimes bright green for North America and dark green for South America)
purple - Australasian
In Berlin, the colors date back at least to the very early 19th century and e.g. have been mentioned in a paper from 1816.

I have seen the same color code in many other entomological collections around the world, but I also know of museum collections with a slightly or significantly different code, e.g., by using black for Africa.

For a rather short period of time at the end of the 19th and in the early 20th century, the Berlin museum has mandatorily used a complex dichromatic system with 12 color combinations for terrestrial areas and 16 combinations for marine areas. I am currently writing together a paper on the history of this specific color code, but also more generally about the culture of coding geographic origin by color in natural history collections. I am currently compiling information from other collections.

So if your collection is using a geographic color code, even if not as specimen labels but on cabinets and drawers, I would appreciate if you could send me some information:


-        Which colors are used?

-        To what extent? Entomology only, specimens and/or drawers/boxes and/or cabinets)?

-        Are the colors mandatory according to your collection policy?

-        Who introduced the colors to your collection and when?

-        Is there any published information on this color code?

-        Any other information, which seems to be relevant.

Please reply offlist! If you are interested in the result of my Taxacom request, please contact me directly and I will be happy to send you a summary.

Best wishes, Michael Ohl


Museum fuer Naturkunde Berlin


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