The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) has always permitted descriptions of new species without a preserved type specimen, but only under strict conditions (see ICZN Bull. Zool. Nomen. 73, 96–97; 2017). Now that this is more common, the taxonomic community must safeguard the system from abuse.
If researchers plan to release a captive specimen that might be a new species, they should take high-definition photographs from all angles, concentrating on possible diagnostic characters. They must compile video, audio and geographical reference data, take blood or tissue samples and make precise measurements. Ideally, they should also analyse the specimen's DNA and compare it with that of putative sister taxa.
Taxonomists must consult peers on the authenticity of the new taxon and avoid species complexes of similar-looking related animals. Once the taxon is confirmed, they should describe one observed individual as the type (see go.nature.com/2qsatj), and explain why they could not secure a name-bearing type specimen.
Before publishing in a peer-reviewed journal, researchers need to ensure that their work complies with the ICZN Code and that the name is not already taken (see also Bull. Zool. Nomen. 65, 265–275; 2008). All data and raw photos must be placed in a public repository (such as Morphbank) and any physical evidence held in a museum.
Ethically responsible taxonomists do not alter photos, use others' photos without permission, or pre-emptively publish names for taxa others are working on.
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Nazari, V., Yanega, D. Rules for new species from live specimens. Nature 546, 210 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/546210c