Paleonet: question about holotype specimens

Jere H. Lipps jlipps at
Fri Aug 24 02:00:02 GMT 2007

Ah yes, John P., and this would be the best way to do it.  But if it 
was not done this way, then you are stuck with whichever part was so 
designated by the original author.   Actually, the part and 
counterpart may not be valid as holotypes, since a holotype must be a 
single name-bearing specimen.   Some might argue that part and 
counterpart represent a single specimen (as John P. did and so 
designated, and as John L. and Dr. Kruse state) while others might 
argue that only one of them counts.  Depends on the definition of a 
"specimen" and the desires of the original author.   Peter argues 
that the counterpart cannot be considered a paratype, but, as this is 
another specimen (i.e., a separate fossil, perhaps of the same 
individual), even if it is a mould, under the rules, it could be a 
paratype if the author so designated it.   No one else can make it a 
paratype.  A reason for this is that there is always a possibility 
that the counterpart really does not belong with the part or so it 
could be argued.  One single specimen prevents argument about what 
the characteristics of that species, as named, boil down to, whereas 
two specimens open up debate on a fundamental aspect.  It does not, 
of course, prevent arguments about whether or not the species is 
valid or not (I don't mean in a nomenclatorial way, but in whether or 
not the species is biologically meaningful), but that's an interpretation.

In any case, a holotype must be designated by the original author in 
her/his original publication.  In the present case, I gather that the 
author did not designate the mould, therefore it has no standing as a 
holotype for sure.  Did he designate it as a paratype or a 
syntype?  If not, then it has no nomenclatorial standing.  If you 
believe with some certainty that more than one specimen came from the 
same individual (as in a bird captured alive, then all the bones, 
feathers, skin, and organs are part of the holotype), an original 
author can designate them as the holotype collectively.  If the bird 
were a fossil with the bones scattered all over, then an author would 
be well advised to pick her/his holotypes carefully.  The most 
careful way to do that is to select only one specimen, for example 
the skull of the fossil bird.  However, another person or even the 
original author cannot add another specimen to a validly designated 
holotype later on.  None of us, including the original author under 
consideration here, can change the originally published designations 
of what constitutes the holotype (or paratypes or syntypes).   All of 
this discussion really has no bearing on that.  What some of us are 
saying is that it would be sensible to include it and some (me, at 
any rate) think it is more practical retain only a single specimen as 
a holotype.  It makes no difference under the Code what any of us 
think, however, because only the original paper matters.

Article 73.1.5 states only that a holotype consisting of many 
elements, which is clearly possible if the author wants to do it, may 
have some of those elements removed from holotypic status by later 
investigators if they determine that those elements represent another 
taxon.  This of course is another good reason for picking a single 
specimen as the holotype.  Although Dr. Kruse thinks it is crazy not 
to designate a mould or cast of a specimen as part of the holotype, 
that is still up to the author.  In other words, he could do that and 
I could designate a single fossil and we are both correct under the 
rules.  But he could not add to my holotypic designation nor I to his 
unless I claimed that the mould was a different taxon (which is 
always possible, even if it's not reasonable) and wanted to exclude 
it from the holotypic series he chose.  An author has choice in the 
matter of designation of a holotype, and one could make the skull of 
the living bird (above) the holotype, even though everything else is 
there.   The designation of one part of an individual as a holotype 
does not make the remaining parts holotypes, if they were not 
originally designated by the author.  Holotypes, no matter what that 
term includes, can only be designated by an author publishing the 
information correctly.   Later authors cannot make or eliminate 
holotypes.  They can choose a lectotype from a designated set of 
syntypes or a neotype from another set of specimens if the holotype 
is lost, or they can put the species (and its holotype) in synonymy 
with another species.    The 4th Edition ICZN (on-line version) does 
not recognize isotypes.

I understand the desire and the logic, as Dr. Kruse noted, of 
including these various things together as the holotype.  But the 
species concept of the original author is her/his to define and if he 
did not include the mould, it has no standing other than as a 
topotype.   If it were me doing the original work, I'd designate the 
part the holotype and the counterpart a paratype, even if I was 
certain that they came from the same individual just to avoid any 
other possible interpretations.   Or both of them as syntypes, if you 
believe that such a designation is helpful--I think this is not the 
way to go because we never know what future studies may turn 
up.   That's why we have single holotypes as name bearers.

Now don't hit me with the idea that this is unrealistic, because I 
know that, but we are not dealing with reality anyway when we 
consider  a single specimen or even 10 dozen specimens as adequately 
representing a species.  Species descriptions are hypotheses offered 
by authors and they are subject to disproof and revision.   Sooner or 
later, having a single specimen may become necessary in order to 
clearly define certain characteristics that the named hypothesis 
(species) represents and to separate it from other such 
hypotheses.  The names are another matter and the rules are the way 
we do the book-keeping, hopefully not the science.

It's really not a big deal biologically; it's just a way to keep 
things clear.  Sort like the way the Motor Vehicle Code works to keep 
us from driving in chaos (at least in some places).   Rod has 
interpreted a rule, which cannot be done.   It would be like saying 
that it's ok to go through a red light under certain logical 
conditions one believes makes it ok, but it is still a violation of 
the Code.  The ICZN, like Motor Vehicle Codes, tells us not where we 
want go but only how to move in an orderly fashion.  The 
interpretation is in where to go or the path to take, not in how we 
do it.   It's not about science or biology or species, it's about the 
rules.  We should follow the rules.  The rules were set up to keep 
things orderly so we know what was used and for what, to name a 
species.   I hope that any reasonable paleontologist or biologist 
would recognize that all the specimens are important in trying to 
understand what constitutes the species hypothesis under 
consideration, hence museums should preserve both the part and 
counterpart, as well as a bunch of paratypes and topotypes, no matter 
how they were designated.


At 09:47 AM 8/23/2007, you wrote:
>I agree with Rod Feldmann's interpretation, and I have published the
>part and counterpart of the same specimen as the holotype--See Pojeta,
>et al., 2003, Journal of Paloentology, p.646-654.
>John Pojeta, Jr.
>-----Original Message-----
>From: at
>[ at] On Behalf Of Jozsef
>Sent: Thursday, August 23, 2007 10:58 AM
>To: paleonet at
>Subject: Paleonet: question about holotype specimens
>Dear All,
>I'm still working on the type catalogue of our museum.
>I've bumped into the following problem:
>A decapod crustacean species was described and its holotype designated
>as a carapax, declared in the publication to be deposited in the Vienna
>Nat Hist Museum, whereas the paratypes were deposited in our museum in
>Budapest. When checking all the paratypes, I have noticed that we also
>have in our holding the external mould of the holotype carapax.
>Would our specimen, the external mould, also qualify as holotype, as it
>constitutes the fossil record of the same individual? Or should the
>holotype be understood as a unique physical fossil specimen, or solely
>the one that was stated originally by the author?
>I have browsed through the relevant sections of the ICZN but remained
>ambiguous. I appeal to your collective wisdom - thanks for any help in
>interpretation or comments you may have.
>Jozsef Palfy
>Senior Research Scientist
>Research Group for Paleontology
>Hungarian Academy of Sciences-Hungarian Natural History Museum
>POB 137, Budapest, H-1431 Hungary
>Phone: +36 1 210-1075/ext. 2310 or +36 1 338 3905
>Fax: +36 1 338 2728
>E-mail: palfy at
>Paleonet mailing list
>Paleonet at
>Paleonet mailing list
>Paleonet at
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