Paleonet: Holotype and author's mistakes

Jere H. Lipps jlipps at
Tue Aug 28 01:07:19 GMT 2007

At 09:54 PM 8/26/2007, you wrote:
>Dear All,
>from Jere's posts, one may get the impression that the author has the
>right to do anything she or he wishes and we have to accept his/her
>stance in any case.

The author must follow the Code in all respects.   The Code clearly 
gives an original author the right to choose what his specimens are 
(individuals, parts of individuals, casts, moulds, or what have you) 
and which one will be his holotype.   In these two regards only, does 
the author have the right to do anything (even this is 
restricted).  The nature of the name he chooses is regulated, the 
nature of publication is regulated, the deposition of the type 
specimens is regulated, etc., etc.  It is pretty hard for an author 
to make a mistake on a holotype, because all he has to do is 
designate the specimen.  That's not hard.   Looking up all the other 
stuff can be a pain, like making a name, checking its availability, etc.

>I believe this is not always true as the Code clearly states the
>contrary in some cases. In other words, the Code reserves the right that
>the author can be wrong.

The author is never wrong about selection of the specimen to be his 
holotype.   He may be wrong in that the name he has chosen is a 
homonym of another, hence is invalid, but this is about the name not 
the specimen that is the holotype.

>Just two examples from my experience in compiling our type catalogue:
>- A holotype is not a holotype, if the name that the author introduces
>is a junior objective homonym, hence invalid. I'm not listing such
>"holotypes" in our type catalogue.

A holotype of course is an actual specimen that follows the 
description and its homonymy.   If it is a junior homonym, the author 
or another author may establish a new name for the junior homonym but 
the original description and the holotype are still valid (Art. 
72.e).   Presumably you are not listing the holotype with the 
original author but since it is the holotype of the same species that 
now has a new name and a different author,  you still retain the 
specimen as the holotype of the newly renamed species. This would, of 
course, be in the synonomy of the renamed species, which should be a 
part of the museum record.   Let me give you an example that is close 
to my heart:

In 1963, I described a new limpet, designated a holotype and 36 
paratypes and named it Acmaea mitchelli..   A year later, another 
worker informed me that Acmaea mitchelli was a junior homonym of 
another Acmaea previously described in a Philippine journal.  I then 
had to rename it or someone else could do it.  I renamed it Acmaea 
edmitchelli in a note about two sentences long and with a reference 
to the original paper; the original description and holotype became 
the description and primary type for the new name.  Most homonyms are 
renamed or should be.  But this is about the names not the holotype.

>- In a revision study, a new name was introduced by Author B for a form
>that was previously described by Author A under an invalid name (again,
>an objective junior homonym). In the new publication,  Author B
>designates a lectotype for his newly named species, the specimen that
>was once considered by Author A as the type of the [invalidly named]
>species. In our catalogue, I classify this specimen as the holotype of
>the species of Author B. I think I justifiably corrected Author B's mistake.

A lectotype must be chosen from a set of syntypes.   Did Author A 
have such a set?  If he did, then your specimen is a lectotype, a 
primary type selected by  later author B from the original author's 
syntypes.  If there was only one specimen, then it was the holotype 
of the original author but now it becomes the holotype of the newly 
named species which would bear B as author and the date of his 
publication.  I think the latter is what you did, in which case you 
were right.  Good job.

>Note that my original question related to a case where I was uncertain
>whether I can make a judgement call about the status of the holotype's
>counterpart despite what can be literally read from the original
>publication, but somewhat supported by the author's original label
>(which also figures as a potential argument in some of the Code's clauses).

The Code is explicit about which specimen is the holotype, as I've 
said.  No judgement is required.  But I'd certainly note that it is 
the counterpart of the holotype and keep it with the holotype.

>When giving you the tally of opinions about my original question,of
>course I did not imply that this or any similar issues can be decided by
>vote - I simply thought it would be a good illustration that applying
>the Code may not be as straightforward as its authors may like to see.

I think the tally was very interesting.   I appreciate 
it.   Thanks.  I will use it in my class if you don't mind.

The Code is straightforward, after all it's the rules, but people 
often either do not read it, read it incorrectly, or think they know 
it without reference to it.   Sometimes we try to force our own 
interpretations onto it.  These are the sources of the confusion 
along with the words and placement of the rules in the text of the 
Code.  No doubt the Code can be confusing and may not be easy to use 
or figure out.  Every year I teach this stuff but I always have  a 
copy of the Code nearby to check on situations.

Thanks for bringing this up.    As I said, I find it fascinating, 
perhaps because I do have trouble from year to year or case to case 
in figuring it all out.


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