Friday, 27 January 2012

…#1: Triceratium forresterii

“…before his eyes someone reads a book that,
as his later bibliographical researches prove, does not exist…”

Specimens are like books. Some are plentiful, others rare. Others, still, disappear…maybe they never existed at all.

Frederick Samuel Charles Reed died on the 25th March 1995 in Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand, 11 days after his 86th birthday. Reed developed an early interest in fossil diatoms but never published much on this activity.

Late in his life (in 1991, when he was 82!) he produced an atlas of diatoms for the New Zealand Geological Survey publication ‘The Oamaru Diatomite’. His atlas was a series of images of diatom valves: 279 in all, 27 of them attributed to species in the genus Triceratium.

Missing from those 27 names was Triceratium forresterii. An odd omission, as Reed had named that species himself in an extraordinarily brief one page note in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand for 1947 (his account was delivered to that society on October 2nd, 1946). He didn’t mention Triceratium forresterii in his 1958 summary of the diatoms of Oamaru published in The Microscope either. That’s surprising too. After all, most of us have a certain amount of pride in discovering something new.

“Triceratium forresterii Reed x 35”

Unbeknownst to Reed, when he was assembling the details for his Oamaru atlas another two were occupied with a similar task. Desikachary and Sreelatha were preparing their own account of the diatoms of Oamaru, which ended up a massive 330 page book with 145 plates having more images than is easy to calculate. And they did include a reference to Reed’s Triceratium forresterii. They noticed a problem with the name: Jean Clodius [Joannes Albert] Tempère (1847—1926) had beaten Reed to it. Back in 1890, for a few specimens also found in the Oamaru (Williams Bluff) deposits, Tempère gave a completely different species the name Triceratium forresterii. To solve the problem of having two species with the same name, Desikachary and Sreelatha simply gave Reed’s Triceratium forresterii a new name. The diatom Reed named was to bear his own name, poetic justice of sorts: it became Tricertium reedi. But what did Desikachary and Sreelatha make of Reed’s diatom, what did they think it to be? They didn’t; they couldn’t tell: “…this taxon has not been recorded in the present investigation” (Desikachary and Sreelatha 1989, p. 264). They didn’t find it so they simply reproduced Reed’s original drawing (Desikachary and Sreelatha 1989, pl. 143, fig. 9) and left it at that.

Hunting for examples of Reed’s Triceratium forresterii, his own Tricertium reedi, has not been fruitful. None seem to be present in the Natural History Museum’s collection, which is a bit of a surprise, but two specimens emerged from elsewhere. The first, the most significant, come from the New Zealand collection Reed left, the type – the original – specimen (CHR 617491: Allan Herbarium, Landcare Research, New Zealand; as noted above, Reed delivered his report October 2nd, 1946; the slide is dated 17th August 1946); the other is in the California Academy of Sciences diatom collection, a specimen from the Seychelles, from DODO expedition dredgings. Now, Oamaru and the Seychelles – geographically, not exactly neighbours. Reed’s Triceratium forresterii is obviously not a Triceratium in any accepted sense. So: What is it? Well, other might have ideas on that. Are there more species related to whatever Reed’s Triceratium forresterii is? No doubt. Where did they come from? Well, that would be nice to know. But, even so, it does exist…

As it happens, a search for Tempère’s Triceratium forresterii is equally mystifying, yielding few good examples. In Albert Mann’s account of the Marine diatoms of the Philippines (more on that later), he offers a description of another new species, one of his own Biddulphia cycloides. Here Mann mentions Triceratium forresterii (he attributes the name to Pantocsek rather than Tempère but corrects this minor error in the errata). Triceratium forresterii, Biddulphia cycloides, round and round it goes…until the next time…


Sue Gibb (CHR), Sarah Mansfield (CAS) and Jean DeMouthe (CAS) made this possible.

Items You May Like to Read

On F.S.C. Reed:
Cassie Cooper, V. & Harvey, M. 2003. Frederick Reed: Pioneer New Zealand diatomist 1909–1995: An account of his life and collections. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 33: 571—581

By F.S.C. Reed:
Reed, F. S. C. 1947. A new diatom from the Oamaru diatomite. Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 76(3): 294.
Reed, F. S. C. 1958. The diatomite of Oamaru, New Zealand 1874-1958. The Microscope 12: 3—6.
Reed, F. S. C. 1991. An atlas of Oamaru Diatomite diatoms. In: Edwards, A. R. (ed.) The Oamaru Diatomite. Paleontological Bulletin 64: 127—169.

On Pride and Discovering Things New:
Evenhuis, N.L. 2008. The “Mihi itch”—a brief history. Zootaxa 1890: 59–68;

On Oamaru:
Desikachary, T. V., and P. M. Sreelatha. 1989. Oamaru diatoms. Bibliotheca Diatomologica, 19, 330 pp.
Edwards, A. R. (ed.) The Oamaru Diatomite. New Zealand Geological Survey Paleontological Bulletin 64: 1—260.
Schrader, H. J. 1969. Die pennaten diatomeen aus dem obereozän von Oamaru, Neuseeland. Beihefte zur Nova Hedwigia 28, 124 pp.

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