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Department of EE Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0334, USA (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Department of Psychology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0345, USA (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )


Recently, several long-accepted scientific names of numerous genera with world-wide or hemispheric distribution were split into two or more genera.  Although most of these better represent the intricate relationships among groups of species within a genus in the broad sense (sensu lato), many biologists (especially those lacking taxonomic training) become confused by new taxonomic changes and are now uncertain how or what nomenclature is acceptable.  An insurgence of new names has appeared with the increasing role of molecular genetic techniques and their inherent role in expressing phylogenetic relationships through genus-group names.

Examples of recent changes in nomenclature include revisions of  Eumeces (Griffith et al. 2000; Schmitz et al. 2004), Cnemidophorus (Reeder et al. 2002),  Elaphe (Utiger et al. 2002), and several changes in amphibian genera including  Bufo, Eleutherodactylus and  Rana (Frost et al. 2006).  Each of these examples demonstrates one or more occasions where a long-known generic name perforce was restricted to the populations of a relatively small area including the range of the type species.  The generic names of remaining new taxonomic subdivisions were either given new original names or provided resurrected ones from previous synonyms. 

Frost et al. (2006) is an excellent example and includes a number of nomenclatural changes among North American anurans (Table 1).  They split Bufo (sensu lato) into three genera, substitute Craugastor for  Eleutherodactylus and  Lithobates for some  Rana, and revive Syrrhophus.   Among these genera,  Bufo and  Rana have been previously accepted,  well-known, and regularly used for over two centuries.  During that  time, zoologists produced an enormous literature-base referenced  via these previously stable designations.  

Concomitantly, nomenclatural  changes have sometimes been widely disturbing to biologists,  and perhaps this consternation is not necessary.  More importantly,  many fields of biology (e.g., physiology, medicine) have been  accustomed to use of those names.  Now must they, as well  as field biologists, change all these names, especially when the change may have minor or nil importance to their fields? 

Here we offer an alternative. 

Taxonomic nomenclature serves the primary function of name recognition and a secondary function of phylogenetic relationship.  Taxonomic specialists are most concerned with the secondary function whereas other  biologists are more concerned with the primary function of these designations.  Splitting generic names in these cases serves only the secondary function of zoological nomenclature: to reveal  relationships of species at a finer level than which biologists have been long accustomed. It does not serve the primary function of zoological nomenclature: name recognition. 

Those two functions (relationship, name recognition) are  inherent in the official “binominal” classification system (actually binary) in the fourth edition of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (Ride  et al. 1999), hereinafter “the Code”.  The specific epithet (e.g.,  pipiens in the species name Rana pipiens) is attached permanently  to its taxonomic category and remains valid barring problems for priority, as well as uncertainty of application to a given species.  One name cannot be universally sufficient for name-recognition.  A minimum of one other word is necessary to group species by binominal nomenclature into manageable units.  The generic name serves that fundamental function, but  it lends additional meaning in assembling species according to their phylogeny. 

The degree to which phylogeny is reflected in generic names is subjective.  The Code says nothing about evolutionary origin because that is a zoological, not nomenclatural, decision.  Any of several generic names could be used in conjunction with a given specific epithet, without changing the latter’s role as the ultimate recognition name; only the grouping name has changed. Obviously the name that functions to group related species should be kept as stable as possible, so that name recognition is minimally disrupted.  As arbiters of nomenclature, taxonomists bear the responsibility of serving the needs for efficient name constancy of their fellow biologists and the needs of  phylogeneticists to show evolutionary relationships of species to a reasonable degree.

We recommend a compromise to serve the needs of both of these important groups.  The Code does provide for such a compromise, whereby the impact on stability of species names that result from the partitioning of any given genus can be greatly minimized by the optional subgenus category.  As stated in the Code, names of subgenera, when  used, follow in parentheses the generic name, providing the combination such as: the Marine Toad, Bufo (Chaunus) marinus. This option provides flexibility of the genus-group category without  upsetting constancy of the Species name. 

The proposal of names at the subgeneric level is optional for the partitions of genera sensu lato, and the subsequent use of them. Thus one may use the name Bufo marinus without challenging the validity of the subgenus Chaunus.  Although the partitions of Bufo and Rana in Frost et al. (2006) were  proposed at the generic level, that does not prevent future workers from regarding them as subgenera.  Thus the options exist, under the Code, to cite the names newly revived or created for the subdivisions of these two genera as genera or subgenera, and if the latter to use them only in circumstances where phylogeny is of concern, not necessarily in others.   

This is a long-needed compromise between nomenclature’s primary (name recognition) and secondary (phylogeny) roles.  A century or more has passed without need for this compromise because most biologists were taxonomists.  Today only a fraction of biologists are trained in systematics and even fewer conduct research in this area.  When most users of names are taxonomists, name-recognition is not a major concern.  When the primary users are non-taxonomists, as in modern times, name stability increases in importance. 

Unofficially, custom plays an important role in what is acceptable or not acceptable.  Customs stabilize, but also stultify. Subgenera have not been popular in the past, but changing times suggest that they could be an  important component providing both phylogenetic correctness and name stability in modern systematics. Those workers who prefer to retain current generic names in their broad sense are completely within their rights to do so, under the Code, and certainly no confusion is caused thereby.  However, approval by others of these individual rights is ultimately vital. The compromise here suggested is fully justified, in our opinion, but it is operative only if accepted by those most concerned with phylogeny and the most recent scientific discoveries, as well as by those most concerned with stability. Individual rights need general acceptance.

A broad-based survey of preference by all users of the names under consideration would undoubtedly  strongly favor stability. Taxonomic specialists have been slow to accept their responsibility to such users equally as well as to their responsibility to convey new knowledge of phylogeny. Acceptance of subgenera as a concession to all users is their part in the suggested compromise.

We appeal to the compilers of checklists that serve as name standards to recognize the need for the suggested compromise and incorporate subgeneric names in their listings, thereby validating the option of use of them, or not, by writers of every variety.

TABLE 1.  Examples of prior and new names for North American anurans as proposed by Frost et al. (2006)
Earlier Name New Combination
Eleutherodactylus augusti Craugastor augusti
Eleutherodactylus guttilatus Syrrhopus guttilatus
Bufonidae - True Toads  
Bufo americanus Anaxyrus americanus
Bufo boreas Anaxyrus boreas
Bufo marinus Chaunus marinus
Bufo alvarius Cranopsis alvaria
Ranidae - True Frogs  
Rana catesbeiana Lithobates catesbeianus
Rana chiricahuensis Lithobates chiricahuensis
Rana aurora Rana aurora [no change]
Rana boylii Rana boylii [no change]


1. Frost, D.R., T. Grant, J. Falvovich,  R. Bain, A. Haas, R. de Sá, A. anning, M. Wilkinson, S. Donnellan, C. Raxworthy, J.Campbell, B. Blotto, P. Moler, R. C. Drew es, R. Nussbaum, J. Lynch, D.  Green, and W. Wheeler. 2006. The amphibian tree of life. Bulletin American Museum Natural History 297:1-370.

2. Griffith, H., A. Ngo, and R. W. Murphy. 2000. A cladistic evaluation of the cosmopolitan genus  Eumeces Wiegmann (Reptilia, Squamata, Scinci dae). Russian Journal of Herpetology 7:1-16.  

3. Reeder, T.W., C.J. Cole, and H. C. Dessauer. 2002. Phylogenetic relationships of whiptail  lizards of the genus  Cnemidophorus (Squamata: Teiidae): a test of monophyly, reevaluation of karyotypic evolution, and review of hybrid origins. American Museum Novitates 3365:1-61. 

4. Ride, W.E.L., H.G. Cogger, C. D upuis, O. Kraus, A. Minelli, F.C. Thompson, and P.K. Tubbs. 1999.  International Code of
Zoological Nomenclature.  4 th Edition. The International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature,  The Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom. 

5. Schenk, E.T., J.H. McMasters, A.M. Keen, and S.W. Muller. 1948. Procedure in Taxonomy. Revised Edition. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, USA.

6. Schmitz, A., P. Mansfeld, and  D. Embert. 2004. Molecular studies on the genus  Eumeces Wiegmann, 1834: phylogenetic relationships and taxonomic im plications. Hamadryad 28:73-89.  

7. Utiger, U., N. Helfenberger, B. Schätti, C. Schmidt, M. Ruf, and Z. Zisweiler. 2002. Molecular  systematics and phylogeny of Old and New World rat snakes, Elaphe auct., and related genera (Reptilia, Squamata, Colubridae). Russian Journal of Herpetology 9:105-124.Herpetological Conservation and Biology 1(1):6-8  

Hobart Muir Smith was born Frederick William Stouffer in Stanwood, IA on  26 September 1912, the sixth child of Harry and Blanche Stouffer, farmers who soon moved to Ohio.  After Harry was killed in WWI, the children were orphaned and young Frederick was adopted by  Charles and Frances Muir Smith, postal worker and teacher, respectively, who changed the boy’s name  to Hobart and took him to Oklahoma (Shawnee and Okmulgie) and later to Bentonville, Arkansas,  where Hobart went to high school.  He was sent to  Kansas State University in 1928, where he majored  in entomology, graduating with that major in 1932.   During this time, Hobart met an older student, Howard Gloyd, and accompanied him on several summer field trips, discovering a new fascination  with herps as well as a new intellectual orientation which included Gloyd telling HMS to look up a  young professor, Edward Taylor, at the University of  Kansas.  The rest of Hobart’s career from his  Ph.D. in 1935 is generally well known, as is his hyperscrivenous reputation, with 1602 titles on his vita  and some ten more in press, including two books with  Julio Lemos-Espiñal.  Asked to identify his most  important publications, he quickly pointed to the  Handbook of Lizards (1946) and the three checklists  to Mexican herps (1943, 1948, 1950).  With a smile  and a raised eyebrow he also mentioned that the  Golden Nature Guide has sold over a million copies.  (Contributed by David Chiszar).

David Alfred Chiszar was born at a military base in Sergeant’s Bluff, IA, 21 October 1944, to Alfred and Florence Chiszar, but the  birth was officially recorded in Sioux City.  He  was moved to the family home in Perth Amboy, NJ,  when Alfred was shipped to Europe as an Army  Air Corps aviator.  After WWII, Alfred worked for General Motors Corp. and later operated a Gulf filling station and mechanic shop, while Florence operated a confectionary store.  The family continued  these businesses for many years, but moved to Woodbridge, NJ, where David went to high school.  Degrees in psychology came from Rutgers (BA 1966, Ph.D. 1970) and it was in 1970 that he met Hobart at the University of Colorado.  Collaborative field and laboratory work followed, continuing to  the present.  Experiments on strike-induced chemosensory searching in rattlesnakes occupied much of  their time, but they managed to make numerous  field-collections trips within Colorado, surrounding  states, and Mexico.

Herpetological Conservation and Biology 1(1):6-8
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This site has information on the following genera of Ratsnakes ... Spilotes, Spalerosophis, Ptyas, Zamenis, Elaphe, Rhinechis, Senticolis, Pseudelaphe, Pantherophis, Bogertophis, Orthriophis, Gonyosoma, Oreocryptophis, Oocatochus, Euprepiophis, Coelognathus, Archelaphe