To answer Ty Hall's query -- "is there a governing body for the naming of fish
or the recognition of a species?" -- the answer is, sort of.
The International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) sets and
officiates a body of rules that all zoological taxonomists must follow in order
to properly describe new taxa, or subsume previously dscribed taxa into
subspecies or junior synonyms. The actual work itself, i.e., the science, is
self-policed, so to speak, through publication in peer-reviewed journals. When
an ichthyologist describes a new species a fish, he or she submits a manauscript
to a reputable scholarly journal, wherein a panel of referees (usually experts
in that particularly category) review the manuscript, offer suggestions, and
either accept the science and conclusions, or reject it. When a new species
description has survived this process, it usually holds up as a valid
The ICZN usually only steps in to clarify the rules. For example, recently the
ICZN has cracked down on new species descriptions done by aquarium hobbyists and
other wannabe taxonomists, which are usually published in non-peer reviewed
aquarium magazines. The science in these descriptions is often poor, and the
descriptions often do not follow the procedures set forth by the ICZN (e.g.,
proper deposition of type material in the country where the fish was caught).
The ICZN also serves as a referee in matters of nomenclatural stability. A
The name of the Topeka shiner was changed from Notropis topeka to N. tristis
when Mayden and Gilbert (1989) found in a Paris museum a specimen of N. tristis,
described by Girard in 1856 but subsequently lost and forgotten about.
Examination of the specimen revealed it to be identical to N. topeka, which was
described 27 years later. Since tristis was described first, its name had
priority. Thus, the name was changed. But a petition was filed with the ICZN in
the interests of preserving established nomenclatural usage. In 1995, topeka was
If Dave Neely's reading this, I'm sure he can clarify and/or elaborate on my
"The secret of life is to have a task....And the most important thing is -- it
must be something you cannot possibly do!"
Henry Moore, sculptor
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