When disaster strikes (or, what to do with manuscript names?)

When entomologist Lambertus Toxopeus died in a tragic motor accident in 1951, his ongoing research froze in time and the notes, labels and drawers he had been working on remained untouched for decades. He was planning a revision of a few butterfly groups, including some lace-wing butterflies and quite a few Nymphalid genera. In the Naturalis collection, many specimens bear his handwritten labels, with new species and subspecies names and the intended type status of those particular specimens. However, because Toxopeus never had the chance to publish any of these revisions, these manuscript names have caused a great deal of confusion since the 1950’s. How should we deal with this problem? 

Toxopeus was a Dutch entomologist specialized in Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae, worked as a professor at the Universities of Batavia and Bandung (now the Universitas Indonesia) after WWII.  Whenever he visited Europe, he intensively worked with the entomological collections at the RMNH in Leiden (now Naturalis Biodiversity Center) and the Wageningen University. His last visit was in 1949. He examined several groups that had caught his attention, labeling as he went on. He also rearranged the collections, leaving behind drawers ordered according his new insights. Here are two examples:

toxopeus2        kopie-van-20151209_150732

This has proved to be problematic on several occasions, especially because some of the specimens Toxopeus selected as types received at some point a printed red type label, even though the names were never published.

There are several ways to approach this problem.

The first one, is to just throw the darned labels away. Problem solved. However, that is not even an option I would consider. In the first place, the labels give insight into Toxopeus work and taxonomic views. Secondly, those specimens that received a red “type” label might have been photographed or referred to by other researchers, unaware of the history behind the labels. Therefore, the handwritten labels of Toxopeus, including type designations of unpublished names, are still attached to the specimens for curatorial and historical reasons (see also my earlier post Keep the labels).

I believe this leaves us with two options.

Whenever Toxopeus was right in describing a new species or subspecies, we might want to respect that and just finish what he could not. This is exactly what John Tennent, associate researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, and me have done with a little precious lace-wing from the island of Buru. Tennent recognized a series of specimens labeled by Toxopeus as sanane n. ssp [new subspecies] deposited in London and in the ZMA [Zoologisch Museum Amsterdam, now at Naturalis]. After confirming it was indeed a new subspecies, we decided to respect Toxopeus’ work and described it as Nacaduba cyanea sanane, keeping the name Toxopeus intended to give it (the paper has been published in Tijdschrift voor Entomologie 159(2): 81-88).

A different approach is to make the manuscript names known to avoid further confusion. This is what Takashi Yokochi and I have done in our catalog of type specimens of the Adoliadini tribe at the RMNH, published in Lepidoptera Science 672: 67-88, October 2016 (formerly, the Transactions of the Lepidopterological Society of Japan). The catalog includes a list of manuscript names and the specimens type status as written on the labels by Toxopeus. This is not without consequences. It means that these names are now nomina nuda, that is, without a proper taxonomic description accompanying them and therefore, these names are, acording to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, or ICZN, not available, but may be re-used later with a proper description.

labels Adolias Blumei Cat.No.12

Cynitia halcyon is now a nomen nudum and not available for zoological nomenclature.

Toxopeus’s accident proved him too optimistic regarding his future plans. He could not foresee such a tragic end. Other researchers, however, have also left manuscript names scattered through the collection, not being able to finally get on with it and actually describe the new species. If they are alive and working: please finish your manuscripts. Please.


A note by Rudolf van Eecke (entomology curator at the RMNH between 1916-1933): “Dr. L.J. Toxopeus has worked in this drawer, but he did not arrange the material, so now chaos prevails.”


3 thoughts on “When disaster strikes (or, what to do with manuscript names?)

  1. Hi, Regarding “therefore, these names are not available anymore. In other words, we cannot re-use any of these names like we did for sanane.” No, this is not correct. See the Code Glossary for Nomen nudum. If they are unpublished in the Code sense (Ie they failed the Article 13.1.1 requirement to have a description) you can re-use the names, and they then have your authorship as presumably does the subspecies. Not a problem. Whether this is advisable now is another question. Why did you publish a list of MS names. Also the problem arose because the museum marked the specimens as types before they were types. Best not to do that.


  2. True, thank you! I have changed the text.
    Concerning the publication of the manuscript names: not ideal, agreed. In this case we considered it was necessary, as the specimens had already been confused with “true” types.


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