Naming a New Mollusk Species
- By Thomas E. Eichhorst, March, 2000.
How does one go about naming a new species of mollusc, and can anyone
do this? To answer the second question first, yes, anyone can name a shell
or any other previously unnamed organism. Although few amateurs today
publish and name new species, this used to be quite common in the past,
especially during the heyday of amateur naturalists and collectors --
the 18th, 19th and first half of the 20th
centuries. Today it is most common if a layman discovers a new species
for that person to turn it over to a professional for the actual naming.
But this is not to say that an experienced amateur naturalist couldn't
follow the same process and name his own finding. So now to the first
question, how is it done? Before actually discussing the process of naming
a new species, let's look at the reasoning and history behind the use
of scientific names.
Scientific Names -- The Binomial System
The use of the scientific name for a mollusc (or plant or bird or any
living thing) was adopted out of necessity. What people in North America
call a robin is a completely different bird from the robin of Europe.
So too our abalone is called variously a sea ear, Venus ear, paua, mutton
fish, awabi, perlemelon, and ormer depending on where in the world you
happen to be. These common names could really be thought of as local nicknames
and the scientific name as the true common (as in "shared") name.
After all Haliotis asinina L., is commonly known around the world for
that particular species of abalone, or paua, or ormer, orÖwell you get
it. The benefit of eliminating confusion over names is obvious. So how
did this get started?
As you can imagine, prior to the widespread explorations of the 15th
and 16th centuries, local nicknames were quite sufficient.
The people of two separate villages in the same country pretty much experienced
the same things and what was a robin to one village was a robin to the
neighboring village. The fact that a red-breasted bird that was totally
different might exist thousands of miles away was not even seriously considered.
And then came the push for exploration and finding new lands. Ships began
bringing back literally thousands of never before seen (by the Europeans
anyway) animals and plants. Books were soon printed describing and cataloging
these new finds and names abounded. Strombus gigas (the Florida queen
or pink conch) was named Murex marmoreus by Rondelet, Murice Orecchiuto
per il gran labbro che aporge by Bounanni, Buccinum ampullaceum striatum
clavicula muricata apertura leviter purpurascente by Lister, and Marbled
Jamaica Murex with Knotty Twirls by Petiver. And you thought modern names
were tough! They were simply continuing a process of cataloging the natural
world that had begun long before them.
The Greek, Aristotle (384-322 BC) and later the Roman, Pliny (23-79 AD)
categorized, classified, and named the natural world as they knew it.
The idea of a plant and animal kingdom had its start here. All living
things fit into these two categories, a plant kingdom and an animal kingdom
-- an idea that held through the 1960s! There are now five (maybe six)
kingdoms (plant, animal, fungus, protista (primitive one-celled animals),
bacteria, viruses) but this does not change the scientific naming process.
The concept of species was invented by a quiet, introspective man in England
named John Ray (1628-1705). Ray basically said, a plant or animal species
was the name applied to a set of individuals who through reproduction
give rise to individuals like themselves. However, names for species were
still pretty haphazard until Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) published System
Naturae, and in the tenth edition in 1758 he used a system of genus and
species where organisms were each given a two-name label, the binomial
(or binominal, an older spelling and probably more correct spelling) system.
This is the system in use today after the First International Zoological
Congress met in 1889 and adopted a code for nomenclature that included
Linnaeus' binomial system. This code was revised in 1901 and a permanent
International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature was established, the
often cited ICZN.
Naming (or "describing") A New Species
Let's say you discovered some snails on your rose bushes that you are
convinced are a new species. No one has ever seen these critters before
and you want to name them. First you collect and preserve a representative
sample of the population. Now comes the most basic, straightforward, time
consuming, difficult, and most often done improperly, part of the naming
process. You must do a thorough and exhaustive research through publications,
periodicals, journals, monographs, books, etc. to determine if this is
indeed a new species. If it has already been described and named, then
the best you can do is name some of your snails with personal names like
John, George, Betty, and Robert. Someone beat you to the punch and you
will have to keep looking for that new mollusk. As you can imagine, this
first step is the toughest. Even after you search through all of the proper
publications on this type of snail, then through all of the studies and
research papers at the local university, then the same for other universities
and museum collections -- you still have a ways to go. What if this snail
was named in a foreign publication? Well, I think you get the picture.
This is a difficult process and all too often something is missed and
we end up with another synonym (ie, "same name") on the books. There are
a number of molluskan species in existence that have been named dozens
of times. For instance, Conus ventricosus Gmelin, 1791 from the Mediterranean
has at least 75 other names or synonyms- which means that a LOT
of folks didn't do their homework very well! Another example would
be Epitoniumtennuicostata Michaud, 1829 which is really the juvenile form
of Epitonium turtonis Turton, 1819.
Let's say your exhaustive search turned up nothing on your new find; now
for the next step. You should select a holotype and some paratypes to
be deposited at a museum where they will be preserved so someone else
can verify your description or do research using the original specimens.
The "holotype" (which comes from the greek word "holo" which means
"whole" or "Entire", and type, which means an example chosen to represent
a group of something) is the specimen used to represent the entire species:
in the publication which establishes a new species' name, it is described
in detail, and often compared to simailar species, to aid in identification.
Therefore, it should be a) fully adult (plenty of synonyms are created
by people describing juvenile specimens! (as in the above example),
b) intact, so that all aspects and parts of it can be detailed, and c)
a typical, representative, average specimen of its kind - if you describe
a dwarf, freak, giant, or otherwise odd, unusual or atypical example of
the species, then you are certain to cause confusion later on!!
The "paratypes" (from the Greek "para", which means "along side
of" or in addition to) are additional specimens of the species, usually
but not nessessarily from the same population as the holotype.
They are used to demonstrate some of the variability of the species -
most are quite variable, so a single specimen is inadequate to represent
an entire species! Also, having paratypes helps diminish the possibility
that you are in fact describing a non-typical specimen. It is advised
that you use several paratypes when describing a species - more if they
show extreme variability. Sometimes, an "author" (i.e., the person
describing the new species) will use several specimens instead of one,
for the holotype - in this case, these are called "syntypes", from the
Greed word for "together". Any sample of the material (ie, group
of specimens) that is used when describing a species, is called a "type
lot" - so when you are comparing the species you think might be undescribed
(ie, new to science), you must seek out Type Lots of species which are
similar, for direct comparison - this could be the holotype, any of the
paratypes or syntypes, or other specimens which the author used
while describing the species. In cases where the type material
has been lost, or where the syntypes contain different species, an experienced
researcher may designate a lectotype (and paralectotypes) to replace the
So now you have your holo- or syntypes, and paratypes selected (you
must deposit the holotype or syntypes in a major, recognized institutional
collection (museum, university, taxonomic research intitute, etc.), so
people can have easy access to it). Now you must write up a thorough description
of your new species and this should include the soft parts of the animal
as well as the shell. Oh no! You forgot to preserve the animals and only
saved the shells. Well this will work, but if at all possible, the animal
should also be preserved and described. Who cares? Isn't the shell more
important? In a word, no (well, most older type lots are shells only,
and some species even today are described from the shell only, but this
is becoming less and less acceptable). There are actually some species
that can not be differentiated by the shell alone. More and more work
is now being done using the anatomy of the animal, and even biochemical
and genetic (ie, DNA) techniques are being used by many researchers.
At one time a description of the shell or a drawing was all that was required
-- no actual specimen had to be designated as a type. Holotypes have only
been widely used in the last 100 years or so. // So you have your type
specimens, now write up your description. You've seen them in shell publications
- not simple, but do-able. If you haven't seen one, check out a few shell
publications. Not all publications are suitable for naming a new species.
For your description to be accepted it should go through a "peer review"
(one or more experienced scientists who have good familiarity with the
family or genus your new species ("species Novum" or "sp. Nov.)
belongs to , are designated by the publication you choose to publish the
species description in. They are carefully chosen, since the reputation
of the publication is at stake every time it puts an arcticle into "the
litererature", which is the totality of published scientific knowledge.
If a discovery is not "in the literature" (ie, if it hasn't been published
via the peer-review process), it is as if it doesn't even exist!!)
and be published in a journal that is permitted to offer new species descriptions.
Your shell club newsletter will usually not suffice, although many fit
the ICZN criteria and some have been used in the past to name new species.
A publication such as "La Conchiglia" or "The Veliger" or any of a number
of scientific journals is the best choice.
|Another challenge is the Latin or scientific name you choose. There are a few rules you will have to follow. Genus names are always nouns, or at least are always treated as such. Species names may be either nouns or adjectives. Latin is gender specific: all nouns (which represent real or abstract objects or concepts) are designated as Masculine, Feminine, or Neuter, and adjectives (which describe or modify a noun) must agree with their genus-nouns in gender. If the genus of your new species is masculine, then your species name must also be masculine. This is not always clear because modern convention occasionally ignores this rule. For instance, some people (especially dealers, for convenience) lump most of the volutids (ie, family Volutidae - Volutes) in a catch-all genus "Voluta," even though we all know there are many valid genera within the family. The name Voluta is feminine, but some of the genera within Volutidae may be masculine or neuter, so the proper citation should have the species name match the genus name.|
|So, how do we know what gender the genus name is? Fortunately, most of the names fall into three major groups, called "declensions," which have characteristic endings. For our purposes, the first two groups are the same:|
|*usually; sometimes the masculine has a completely random ending.|
of the three main genera in the family Naticidae, Natica is feminine, Polinices
is masculine, and Sinum is neuter. The species names in most books would
reflect this: Polinices duplicatus. On the other hand, many malacologists
now consider the subgenera of Polinices to be of generic rank. In that case,
our friend becomes Neverita duplicata--note the change of ending to match
|But what about those annoying -i and -ii and -ae endings? Those are called patronyms (Latin for father or sponsor, and name), and are meant to honor someone - a colleague, benefactor, collector, or friend (or in some cases, the family cat!!). Here, the ending reflects the gender of the honoree, not the gender of the genus name--and neuter doesnít apply. With patronyms, the endings do not change, even if the species gets moved to another genus. These endings are:|
So all hurdles behind you, you get your article published and everyone now
accepts your new species or family realignment or elevation of a subgenus
to a genus. Well, maybe. Anyone can name, rename, realign, etc. but that
does not mean their work will be accepted. Even after passing all of the
hurdles and getting your article published, you may still see the entire
thing slowly wash down the drain. Someone may write an article opposing
your views, your views may be thought of as too radical or not properly
developed, or you may be stepping on someone's toes who has respect in the
community (hey - scientists are people too!!). Any or all of these can cause
your article to vanish into oblivion. What about the previously mentioned
ICZN, don't they sit in judgement of scientific names and decide if a name
is valid or not? No, they do not. The ICZN establishes the rules for taxonomy;
rules like the earliest name takes precedence (with some exceptions only
the ICZN can allow), there must be a photograph accompanying a new species
description, and it has to be published in hard copy, publicly available
and in sufficient copies. ICZN judgement of your article is pretty much
limited to the validity of the name and will not be applied to the validity
of your research. For instance, the ICZN ruled that the name Conus anabathrum
had been used enough to take precedence over Conus floridanus, IF the names
were determined to be synonymous. They did not rule on whether or not the
two names were synonymous for the same shell. For the most part, they can
be thought of as the group that makes the rules and then lets others play
the game. Supposedly this leaves research to be judged on its own merit
by peer review.
The key to naming a new species is very careful research and preparation
before putting pen to paper. If you decide to do it yourself instead of
turning your find over to a professional, then proceed slowly and try to
get some editing help from a professional before you submit your article.
A poorly researched article will quickly fade into oblivion.
In the future, such articles may be published on the Internet. The ICZN
as adopted rules for partial electronic publication by allowing that a work
may be valid if it is deposited on a disk or CD at five different libraries
and is thus "permanent" and accessible. This is the first time such scientific
works have been allowed in a purely electronic medium and in the future
the "accessible" part may involve the Internet. There are any number of
issues to be resolved, but the questions have at least been raised.
(with minor alterations by Ross Mayhew).(To the arcticle, not Tom !)
This is a new counter system set up by Globel on
December 01, 2002