To name it? Or not to?

I was recently sent a pdf of a paper that I found both highly interesting but also presented some nomenclatural difficulties on interpretation. The paper is on a new lizard species produced in a lab as a second generation parthenogenic form that was the result of hybridization (Cole et al. 2014). First I think the results are fascinating and the results of the experiments are a worthy addition to science. However, what is not so clear is whether or not this should have been named as a new species. Parthenogenesis is reproduction, effectively cloning, in single sexed populations of an organism. It is rare in vertebrates but a number of reptiles do this. But those results have nothing to do with nomenclature. Here I am just looking at the nomenclatural decision to name it. I must reiterate as I have mentioned before, I cannot make nomenclatural acts in a blog, so I am making no changes to the taxonomy here. That is for those working on these species to do and publish appropriately.

In their paper Cole et al. (2014) cite the Code, Article 1.3.3, as prohibiting the naming of hybrids, and further they refer to Article 17.3, where parthenogenetic forms are not excluded by the code. They use this as justification for the naming of this form. This is correct the code does state this but it states a few other things as well. I am using this as an example of interpretation of the code. It is written in words in both French and English, hence it does take some careful consideration when reading it.

To interpret the code you must look at the entirety of a sentence, and you must follow through its links to other parts of the code. You must also consider all possible sections that may apply to the given situation. For example this form was produced in a lab is it a hypothetical form? If it is article 1.3.1 would apply, also excluding it from being named. However, I think the authors could argue successfully against that and I would agree with them. The main section of the code that does apply to this scenario is article 1.3.3 so we need to look at it in its entirety; there are 7 parts to article 1.3 I will only list the relevant ones. I am presenting both the French and English versions here, some people insist on using both, though to me in this case they read the same.

1.3. Exclusions. Sont exclus des dispositions du Code les noms propsés

1.3.3. pour des spécimens hybrides nommés comme tels; [pour les taxons d’origine hybride, voir Art 17.2;]

1.3. Exclusions. Excluded from the provisions of the Code are names proposed

1.3.3. for hybrid specimens as such (for taxa which are of hybrid origin see Article 17.2);

Basically article 1.3 is dealing with forms that are excluded from nomenclature, that is cannot be named. Article 1.3.3 is including hybrids in this list and forms of hybrid origin. The important words here are hybrid origin. This form is an F2 generation from a hybrid origin. So this would seem to state that because the parthenogenic form arose because of a hybrid cross in its recent lineage that it is precluded from being named. You need to then follow through to article 17.2 of the code which states:

17.2. it is applied to a taxon known, or later found, to be of hybrid origin (see also Article 23.8); or

17.3. it is based on only part of an animal, or one sex, or one stage in the life cycle, or one of several dissimilar generations, or one morph or caste of a polymorphic species, or a parthenogenetic form, or a specimen which is an unusual example of the taxon (for exclusions see Articles 1.3 and 45.6).

Certainly parthenogenic forms can be named as is outlined in 17.3, but this is referring to wild forms of unknown heritage, if hybrid origin is known it is still precluded by 1.3.3. It is quite possible that those species of reptiles that have parthenogenesis in the wild got there by hybridization events in their history, it is also possible there are other factors involved. Each case would have to be tested. But for this case, it is known that it is from hybridization, the offspring, including the clones of the offspring are still hybrids and should be referred to as such.

Although not actually required by the code, though it is a recommendation, this form also has no type locality. How can a form that only occurs in a laboratory have one? My personal view is that much like the process of domestication, human created forms of other species, be it through hybridization or selective breeding or even other means should not be appearing in the zoological record of the species on this planet. That should be reserved for the species that have occurred naturally. Taxonomy and the Nomenclature that supports it are used to conserve, protect etc the species in their natural environments. As I have said I think the experiments that developed this form and what it tells us about evolution etc is brilliant. But it does not need a formal name to do all that.


2 thoughts on “To name it? Or not to?

  1. John Scanlon

    It’s an interesting example, but I don’t think 1.3.3 precludes naming of a self-perpetuating population even if it is formed (repeatably) by hybridization. The critical words are ‘specimens… as such’. The name was proposed for a taxon (and is hence available), not just for a single specimen or discrete set of specimens. In the latter case 1.3.3 would apply and invalidate the name.
    Similarly, Henneberg et al. recently claimed that Homo floresiensis is an invalid name because (they think) the type specimen has been shown to have some pathologies. This turns on their understanding of 1.3.2 referring to “teratological specimens as such”, and for the same reason I’m positive theirs is a misreading of the clearly intended sense of the Code. (Discussion in comments at


    1. Scott A. Thomson Post author

      I remember seeing their argument on the Flores humanoid, I persoonally do not think a name should stand for what is a malformity. After all apart from the malformity it is after all human. I was trying to make an example of over reading the code and not following it through. I am not going to sink this species I do not work on lizards. I just wonder at the value in actually describing it.



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