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Tuatara: Volume 4, Issue 2, December 1951

Type Terminology

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Type Terminology

Sooner or later the student of natural sciences will come across taxonomic papers that will require his attention, and almost invariably type terminology will crop up. This paper has been prepared to indicate the terms most commonly used, and where more details are to be found.

A great deal of literature is available on this subject, but there are two papers that are especially helpful. These are Frizzell (1935) and Schenk and McMasters (1948). Frizzell's paper gives a list of type terms and indicates those that, in the opinion of the author, are most useful, and a considerable number that could be dispensed with. Schenk and McMasters' book follows Frizzell very closely, and though it does not include nearly as many terms as Frizzell, it contains a great deal of interest to the non-specialist student, and of importance to the specialist. Both papers together form a convenient summary of the whole field of type terminology.

The list of terms given below is from Schenk and McMasters using Frizzell's definitions, as these are slightly fuller and are self-explanatory. Schenk and McMasters conveniently divide type terms into three headings, which will be followed here. The terms listed are a selection only of the large number that are, or have been, in use, and there are many more that are used in the very specialized taxonomy of certain groups of plants and animals.

None of the material presented here is original; the paper is merely a compilation designed to help students and to list the most widely known sources of information, and what is probably the most authoritative. Reference to the original papers will be necessary on occasions, or before any taxonomic work is undertaken. All literature cited is available in or through the principal libraries in New Zealand.

For further information on the question of type terms in general and their value, the bibliography given by Frizzell should be consulted.

Table of Type Terms

Schenk and McMasters say of primary types: ‘They are of the greatest importance in evaluating species. They are the tangible objects upon which the concept of the species have been based and are the reference points for the interpretation of morphology and variability. Secondary types are useful as comparative material not only in the identification of specimens but also in the verification of previous identifications. Plastotypes have the same functions as the primary or secondary types from which they are taken.

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They make possible the wide distribution of accurate replicas of rare specimens and, if carefully made, are nearly as useful as the specimens they represent.’

Types of Families

  • Type-genus: the genus upon which a family is based.

Types of Generic Categories

  • Genostype: the single species upon which a genus is based.
  • Genosyntype: one of several species included within a genus at the time of its proposal, if none was designated as genotype.

Types of Specific Categories

Primary Types

  • Holotype: a single specimen (or fragment) upon which a species is based.
  • Paratype: a specimen, other than the holotype, upon which an original specific description is based.
  • Syntype: any specimen of the author's original material when no holotype was designated; or any of a series of specimens described as ‘cotypes’ of equal rank.
  • Lectotype: a syntype chosen, subsequently to the original description, to take the place which in other cases a holotype occupies.
  • Neotype: a later selected type of a species necessitated by loss of the original type material; the neotype must come from the original locality. (Provisional — not yet formally recognized by the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature.)

Secondary Types

  • Hypotype: a described or figured specimen, used in publication in extending or correcting the knowledge of a previously defined species.
  • Topotype: a specimen from the original locality from which a species was described. Topotypes are of great importance as they are often the only clues to the identity of a ‘lost’ or doubtful species.
  • Homeotype: a specimen compared by a competent observer with the holotype, lectotype, or other primary type material of a species and found to be conspecific with it.


  • Plastotypes: any artificial specimen moulded directly from a type.


Chamberlain W. J. (1946) — Entomological Nomenclature and Literature, 2nd ed. U.S.A.: Edwards Bros.

Frizzell, E. T. (1935) —American Midland Naturalist. 14, 637.

Schenk, E. T., and McMasters, J. H. (1948) — Procedure in Taxonomy, rev. ed. London: Oxford University Press (including a reprint in translation of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature with opinions rendered to 1947).