As an international group of taxonomists who study a range of taxa, we consider that you misconstrued the case of a new insect species that was described on the basis of photographs (see Nature 535, 323–324; 2016).
The species was described without a preserved type specimen, the individuals having escaped before preservation (S. A. Marshall and N. L. Evenhuis ZooKeys 525, 117–127; 2015). The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature allows for this — the authors (included here as signatories) followed the letter and the spirit of the Code, giving a description and a formal species name. It was based on material that supported their conclusions and an explanation of the circumstances to justify naming a species without an extant type. Peer reviewers judged the data sufficiently reliable to anchor a species name.
As you point out, a physical specimen has features that might not be captured in a photo. However, types are name-bearers, not “standards for species delimitation” (D. S. Amorim et al. Zootaxa 4137, 121–128; 2016). Significant knowledge about a species may build up before we can properly preserve a name-bearing type. The Code allows for the naming of those species.
More than 90% of the planetary biota still awaits description. We need to adopt new technologies while recognizing that museum specimens and nomenclatural stability are crucial for taxonomy.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Pape, T. Species can be named from photos. Nature 537, 307 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/537307b
This article is cited by
Predicting the distribution range of a recently described, habitat specialist bee
Journal of Insect Conservation (2020)
ICZN Declaration 45: a remedy for the nomenclatural and typification dilemma regarding soft-bodied meiofaunal organisms?
Marine Biodiversity (2019)
Let me tell you ‘bout the birds and the bee-mimicking flies and Bambiraptor
Biology & Philosophy (2019)
Preserve specimens for reproducibility