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About Shells 
Shell anatomy, terminology, classification, nomenclature, etc.

Holotypes, new species, museum deposits, A discussion from Conch-L

Jun 2, 2007

Marlo posted:  "I can't believe I did this, but here it is. All the posts in the subject thread up to the time of this post."

This discussion was so interesting I thought it should be preserved in a sequential reading. Each Conch-L email is preceded by the date, time and name of sender. I edited only slightly to correct spelling and grammar highlighted by WORD and put a few emails out of sequence for better understanding.

As far as I can tell it started with an email from Marcus Coltro.

5/30/2007  – Holotypes -
Marcus Coltro (Brasil):

Which are the rules regarding places to deposit Holotypes?

Can anyone deposit a Holotype on a private museum? If not (I hope not....), which are the rules to such museum to be a legalized institution?

I have seen paratypes in private collections but I wonder if a holotype not deposited on an official institution can invalidate the description of a new species.

5/31/2007 -
Andrew Grebneff:

I have numerous specimens (selfcollected) of undescribed species of both fossil & Recent shells from the southern parts of New Zealand in my collection. Many of these are unique, as far as I can tell. I have to admit that I am quite acquisitive, and hate giving-up specimens. However I have deposited specimens in two recognized holotype repositories, and will continue to do so when species are described from my material. My collections are open to any genuine professional researcher for examination or description.

Anyone can donate specimens to an institution (if the institution will accept them), but the specimens MUST have correct locality data, the more specific the better.

5/30/2007 –
Richard (Dick) Petit:

Unfortunately the Code does not require deposition. Recommendation 16C states that "authors should deposit type specimens in an institution that maintains a research collection, with proper facilities for preserving them and making them accessible for study ..." Recommendations are just that, they are not requirements.

It is unfortunate that many new species are being published by people who seem to be ignorant of the fact that a Code exists, and who are certainly do not have any "species concept." Some recently described "species" indicate that there are people naming "species" who do not realize that mollusks are not made with cookie cutters, but that species are variable.

Back to your original question, I do not know of any peer-reviewed scientific journal that will publish a new species if the holotype has not already been deposited in a recognized institution. That does not prevent species names published in other places from being available.

5/30/2007 -
Luiz Ricardo L. Simone (Ph.D. Museu de Zoologia da Universidade de São Paulo Cx., Brazil):

Wow! Richard. Congratulations to the clear arguments!
I hope the people listen to you!

5/30/2007 -
Marcus Coltro:

Thanks Dick,

Indeed it is a serious problem that new species have been deposited away from researchers.

Unfortunately, there are authors who own the publication and museum thus they do whatever they want with the holotype.

We are having lots of problems with shells from Brazil being described all over the places and the holotypes being deposited in private collections. But as you say there is nothing we can do to invalidate these papers....

5/30/2007 -
Joseph Prata:

Dear Marcus,

I believe there was a lengthy discussion on this "New Species & New Forms" initiated by John, a few weeks ago, and I agree that there are steps to be followed as suggested by Dick.


Since Brazil Snails are relatively unknown, my suggestion is that there should be serious changes in the naming system, as it is an old fashion and out of date system.

If not then this problem will never be solved and, Marcus as you suggested, collectors are free to do what they want..... I believe in the old theory "Finders keepers."

I would also like to add that back then in the old days they did not have DNA and relied solely on "Describe." Was DNA used by any of the scientist before 1960?

On the other hand I do agree with you that collectors finding anything "Described" differently from specimens found in the old days, whether in shape or color has a right to give it a new name.

I know a collector even published a book just to name snails he found.

Now that’s my 3 cents worth. Finders Keepers

5/30/2007 -
Richard (Dick) Petit:


What problem is it that will never be solved? It is perhaps unfortunate that collectors are "free to do what they want." However, it is not all that bad as many collectors (and shell dealers) have made material contributions to malacology and to the molluscan literature. It is those who are afflicted with the "I think it’s new so I want to name it" syndrome who are causing the problem. There are very few non-professional malacologists who are familiar enough with the existing literature to know, or even have the knowledge to find out, what species and or forms have been described even in a group in which they "specialize."

Why bring up DNA? DNA is no more a tool for determining species than are many others. For a time the buzz word was cladistics, another tool that was not an end in and of itself. The use of DNA is highly specialized and, depending on selective factors, can give some very strange results.

You state that you know a collector who published a book to name shells he found. Unfortunately that is still going on. What such people do not realize is that the new names they produce will probably, given our lax rules for publication, become part of the literature and will have to be contended with by serious scientists in the future. They think they are creating monuments to their memory, but in reality future malacologists will consider their publications to have come from monumental ignorance.

As for "finders keepers," that would depend on the laws. The last time I donated specimens to a museum I had to fill out a stack of forms attesting to the origin of the specimens and whether or not they had been legally collected and brought into the country. Regardless of the rules, anyone even thinking seriously about the subject will understand the need for type material to be available for study.

Your "3 cents worth" has bought you a response of about the same value ....

Good collecting!

5/31/2007 -
Kevin Kutolowski (Locust NC):

Very well Spoken Dick. I agree wholeheartedly

Thu 5/31/2007 2:42 PM - Andrew Grebneff:

That couldn't have been worded better, Dick!

5/31/2007 –
Anna Robinson:

I apologise in advance if this is a rather ignorant question, but I thought a new species name had to be accepted by the ICZN before anyone else would give it credence? Who has the final decision?

5/31/2007 –
Pete Krull:

Dick; I think the “problem” that everyone has alluded to is that scientists and collectors have never had the same goals and yet each is at the mercy of the other in many instances. Much of the material that scientists study comes from collectors. Collectors have had to rely on scientists to name shells. Collectors have trouble identifying shells. They don’t have easy access to scientific literature. Popular shell books only include a fraction of known species. Also, there are not enough scientists to study and name new forms.
Further, collectors need a level of naming that is more detailed than what the scientific community recognizes. Scientists see all Liguus fasciatus snails as the same. Yet collectors of Liguus could not discuss their hobby without another level of naming that distinguishes different color forms from one another.

5/31/2007 -
Richard (Dick) Petit:

Pete: There is no problem if collectors will be content to name these forms as "forms", or "varieties". It is when such are named as species or subspecies that they cause problems as they then become part of the systematic literature. I do not think I have ever expressed any objection to providing form names. There is certainly a need for collectors to be able to differentiate distinct forms of species but that can be done without introducing a species or subspecies name. Reference has frequently been made to the "old timers" (probably referring to Pilsbry and others) who often named many color forms as subspecies. Science progresses!

5/31/2007 -
Pete Krull:

Dick; Having answered the “form” issue, it seems there is still much resentment among collectors and dealers who may invest large sums of money to collect in new or out of the way places. Or, maybe they dive or hire divers, or pay fisherman to come up with “new” species but then not have enough interest or resources from the scientific community to have them researched and named. A newly named species may bring a high price while a new shell without a name is not so easy to sell.

5/31/2007 -
Richard Goldberg:

I guess I can be classified as one of the old timers, even though I'm not that old (relatively). In close to thirty years of being an active conchologist and also dealer, I do remember the days when obtaining shells was to build an aesthetic and/or scientific collection. Involvement in classification was left to the science community. That was then. This is now.

Yes, there was and still is a shred of ego if someone has a species named for them, but I cannot remember one instance where the motive was "I must find a new species to make this worth my while." We were out there because we loved the shells and want(ed) to build our collections. If we had a species named for us in the process, all the better. The satisfaction came with helping the malacological community advance the science.

We all learned a lot back then about how and where to collect shells using new techniques and as travel to remote locations became easier, brought back a wealth of knowledge and material for the scientific community to chew on.

During the past two decades, a resurgence of conchologists (much like the Sowerby family did in the 19th century) turned their energies into malacological pursuits. It became more common with new avenues of knowledge (the Internet), ease of access to new material (field collecting), the advent of vanity publishing on our desktops, and the greater willingness of the new generation of malacologists to work with conchologists. The latter point is very important.

All this has been a major positive for the hobby and science, until the perceived monetary pressures surfaced. It has always been expensive to travel and collect shells. Let's face it, natural history collecting hobbies involve spending money, whether you are an arm-chair collector, or trek to the farthest points on the globe to collect shells or rocks. We all have our own little niche in this hobby. With greater means sometimes come greater contributions. But are those contributions always needed or well researched?

And, do we need a name on every shell we acquire? Probably not, unless you are overly exacting in your cataloging methods. If forced to make a choice, I'd rather have a shell with exacting locality and habitat data, rather than a verifiable name. The drawer of unidentifiable shells, for me, is more intriguing than the perfectly laid out drawer of shells.

Fortunately we can identify many more species than we have in the past due to the wealth of new taxonomic monographs and the ability to disseminate information quickly via the Internet.

As more is learned, more information flows to the public quickly. The rapidity of this information has overshadowed a process, which is becoming a forgotten science. The motivation for placing a name on a shell should be scientifically driven with a series of processes that will lead to a more verifiable outcome. We are going down a controversial road if monetary motivation and the ability to publishing instantly is why we describe species.

There is and should be no instant gratification in research. It has taken some of our most prestigious and knowledgeable conchologists years to become intimately familiar with the literature of their particular area of expertise (taxonomic or geographical). It used to take years to get a new species described in a juried scientific publication. The ability to self publish or distribute small runs of a publication has changed all of that. Today many conchologists have never been privy to the extended process of research, collaboration and juried publications. I am not commenting on non-juried publications since many today are extremely well done and a positive addition to the science, but a quarter of a century ago few if any existed. To get something published as new was difficult if not impossible for an amateur.

Also, it is not researching everything one can about a particular species they think is new. It is about learning everything that can be learned about the taxonomic group in which the species is taxonomically placed; the distribution and relationships between similar species; and a thorough search and understanding of the relevant literature. That is where our most accomplished conchologists have distinguished themselves. Collaboration is another important aspect. Who else is researching a particular group; what have they learned. The process is continuous and fluid.

Given the means, yes, all of this can come together quickly now days. The commercial end should not motivate the science. If it does, we leave our hobby open to extreme criticism from those in the scientific community whom we need to support us in our pseudo-scientific endeavors, and leave a taxonomic morass of for future generations to unravel.

Okay, so I still am an idealist!

5/31/2007 - Dr. David Campbell (University of Alabama):

The ICZN has established laws. Any proposed new name has to obey those laws. However, the ICZN does not review each name. It only reviews in cases where there is a problem. For example, I need to write a notice to the ICZN to request that an obscure and largely but unfortunately not entirely overlooked genus name be suppressed in favor of one of the most frequently cited genera of south Asian unionids. As far as I can tell, no one (including the original
author) has ever recognized that the older name applies to Asian species because the type species locality was wrong. However, the older name has been identified as a validly proposed name in a few modern publications.

My impression is that the ICZN is generally reluctant to suppress legally published names, even if it can be shown that the quality of work was deficient.

>maybe they dive or hire divers, or pay fisherman to come up with
"new" species but then not have enough interest or resources from the scientific community to have them researched and named<

Resources are sparse for the researching and naming of new species.
As other posts have alluded to, it's a lot of work to track down all the previous literature on a group to check for previous names. Often it's necessary to travel to museums and examine specimens to verify types. For example, Dall named the new genus and species Eucymba ocalana based on material from the Ocala limestone of Florida, which he figured, but selected as type specimen a shell from the Moodys Branch Formation in Mississippi. Unfortunately that specimen turns out to represent a very well-described and figured species named much later than Dall's, and the younger accurately descriptive name must be abandoned in favor of Dall's geographically misleading name. Then there's the task of confirming that the form is actually different from all known species, which may require DNA and anatomy as well as shell features. Obtaining a large enough population to characterize the variability (to demonstrate that the new form is not merely a variety of a known one) may be a challenge. There's also the problem of maintaining funding long enough to complete the task of getting names published for one group before you have to get a new source of funding.

DNA is not sure-fire for a few reasons. Like any other feature, different organisms show different degrees of variability in different parts of DNA. Sometimes weird things can happen, such as hybridization, maintenance of divergent alleles in a population, etc.
Contamination can also be a problem.

5/31/2007 - John Abba:

I would like to add, that even new " Forms " that come into the market sells, of course depending on the beauty of the specimen, interest of the collector or dealer purchasing the specific " Family " in question.

" Holotypes " on the other hand, goes for at least 10 time the amount, and again, depending on the beauty of the specimen, and interest concerned.

Anybody out there coming across any " holotypes ", of any sort, in future, please contact me, as I do collect these.

5/31/2007 - Bill Fenzan (Norfolk, Virginia, USA):

John Abba,

I am bothered by your statement:

"Anybody out there coming across any " holotypes ", of any sort, in future, please contact me, as I do collect these."

The folks that are trying hard to regulate nomenclature strongly encourage depositing holotypes, and other name-bearing types (e.g. Syntypes, Neotypes, and Lectotypes, etc.) in established institutions where researchers can find these shells and study them. Institutions are being strongly encouraged to publish type catalogs of their holdings. It seems counter-productive for any private individual to accumulate these objects. In many cases, types in private collections have been lost forever when heirs do not recognize the value of shells found in the collection of a collector who has just gone to the great beach in the sky. This happens much less frequently to shells deposited in an institution that can conserve them properly and host visiting researchers.

Please reconsider your choice of collecting activity and immediately deposit any holotypes you have accumulated with an appropriate repository.

If you meant to say topotypes (shells from the type locality), hypotypes (shells figured in books), or some other non-name bearing type, please clarify your statement.


5/31/2007 - John Abba:

Dear Bill and Everyone,

Good point, and I do apologize to all, for not, and would clarifying more on this, Bill. In my poind of view a:

Holotypes : Would be the original specimen found, or specimen used in the Discription of which a " New Species " is made.

Paratypes are specimen's deposited in museums.

I am not too familiar with Topotypes but a good guess would be species found in a specific area. I could be wrong on this, however, I did Google up the name Topotypes and came up with Liguus blainianus Poey, 1851 Topotypes.

Hypotypes are probably as you stated. Probably specimens in figured in books

Coming back to my initial email -- I know of a few dealers & collector friends, a shell book writer/publisher, who have named specimens, in the past, and I have bought their Holotypes off them, long after the specimen have been used in the discription process. (Please, Bill and All, I rather not name these people as I don't have authorization from these people, to put their names on line. Please understand.) For a price. Not many, but I have collected a few Holotypes over the years and would be interested in more. Hard to come by.

I hope this will clarify my initial email on me purchasing and collection Holotypes. Hard to come by, as its the specimen used in the " Discription " of a new species. Usually donated to museums, but in the cases that I came across, kept and over time sold.

Also I would like to contact any collectors who collect " Holotypes " and also a first in " Form Types " Easier for " Form Types " as I usually take the seller word for it or if he has a web site and it is shown.

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