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Imaging type specimens

Oceans GalleryImportant components of our collections are the "type specimens". When a new species is described the researcher selects a series of specimens which show all the characters that make up that species.

One of these specimens becomes the primary type or holotype and the specimen which is wholly (holo) typical of the species. It “carries” the new name with it.  Although not primary types, the other specimens, or paratypes, remain part of the type series and are kept in case the primary type is lost or damaged.

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The holotype is the standard against which to measure similarities between related species as well as differences that may lead to recognition of new species. Auckland Museum has primary type specimens for more than 1,700 plant species, nearly 1,700 molluscs, 300 insects and spiders and nearly 100 other animals.

By definition, a holotype is unique, and care of types is an international responsibility. Institutions such as Auckland Museum are custodians of type collections which are made freely available for study. In the past it was common for type specimens to be loaned to other researchers on request. However, there is a risk that they may be lost or damaged in transit and many institutions will now allow them to be studied only on site. For researchers outside Auckland or New Zealand this may involve a lengthy and expensive journey.

For these reasons Auckland Museum is imaging its primary type specimens so that their details may be made available easily and safely through our website to a wider audience.  The new high-resolution digital images use the automontage technique where many photos are taken at slightly different levels of focus and are then merged electronically to give a single sharp image.

Type Specimens

This project has been supported by grants from the Digital Strategy Community Partnership Fund, Lotteries Environment and Heritage and the Auckland Museum Institute.