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Nature & Environment

Natural history specimens have wrong names

By T.K. Randall
November 17, 2015 · Comment icon 6 comments

Many specimens are incorrectly named. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 4.0 Mike Peel /
Researchers have revealed that half of all natural history specimens in museums are incorrectly labeled.
Identifying which species a specimen belongs to among the countless thousands that exist in the world can be a daunting task, especially when more of them are being discovered all the time.

Now according to a new study by scientists at Oxford University and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, around 50% of all the plant and animal specimens in natural history museums around the world have been incorrectly identified.

"Many areas in the biological sciences, including academic studies of evolution and applied conservation, are underpinned by accurate naming," said Dr Robert Scotland .
"Without accurate names on specimens, the records held in collections around the world would make no sense, as they don’t correspond to the reality outside."

Part of the problem is that in many cases specimens are distributed to several museums where different experts take on the task of identification - often making errors in the process.

"We think a conservative estimate is that up to half the world’s natural history specimens could be incorrectly named," said study lead author Zoë Goodwin.

Source: Yahoo! News | Comments (6)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by freetoroam 8 years ago
Oh dear, looks like a few "experts" need some training, if they are not sacked first.
Comment icon #2 Posted by Taun 8 years ago
So that's why no one can find bigfoot... He's been misnamed!...
Comment icon #3 Posted by Aitrui 8 years ago
This would be a perfect 'citizen science project'. Like project Zooniverse.
Comment icon #4 Posted by AustinHinton 8 years ago
So that's why no one can find bigfoot... He's been misnamed!... I wouldn't be surprised. I've heard stories of "new" species being discovered in museum collections, having been wrongly classified as a known species.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Sundew 8 years ago
I have a fair amount of knowledge of certain plant species and have seen them mislabeled at botanical gardens in the U.S. and U.K. but the reality is there are many families of organisms with thousands of genera and thousands of species and "experts" are few and far between. Cataloging the plant and animal life of planet Earth, especially when dealing with huge, diverse groups like Orchids, Grasses, Beetles and so forth is a daunting task.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Frank Merton 8 years ago
I suppose it's judgmental and certainly not easy to say whether one has a new species or just a variation at hand, and I think probably the bias is in favor of new species. This would tend to lead to their multiplication, so that we hear of thousands of virtually identical species, adding to the difficulty of the poor museum people who are expected to be up to date on all of it. I remember paleontology class and trying to distinguish between reptiles that later became dinosaurs and those who became extinct and were more closely related to crocidilians -- the difference had to do with foot arti... [More]

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