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Desert Diary


With over a million species described and probably 10 million yet undescribed, there's plenty of room for confusion. We see the potential for this with common names, where often the same name is applied to different kinds and different names to the same species; thus in science, elaborate sets of rules have been set up to try to assure that each kind of organism has a unique name. Naming is part of what's called "describing a species", and a description that separates the new species from all other known species is necessary.

Another part of the process includes selecting a single, preserved specimen, called the holotype, to which the new name will be bound. If the holotype later is shown to be of the same species as one already described, the new name becomes a synonym and invalid. Furthermore, the description must be published in a publication easily available to other researchers. And of course, the publication must designate a name for the organism—and with about 1.2 million names already used, this in itself is no small chore.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a production of KTEP, National Public Radio for the Southwest at the University of Texas at El Paso.