Scientists at the Academy have a long history of contributing specimens not only to the collections of their primary field of study, but also to other collections throughout the museum. For example, Edward Drinker Cope is best known for his contributions to paleontology, but he was also an early driving force behind the creation of the Academy’s Ichthyology and Herpetology collections.
It remains common today for our researchers to bring back specimens from collecting expeditions for their colleagues in other departments. They may collect some mollusks while gathering fish or pick up some interesting specimens for sale in a market. Every so often their efforts may be rewarded with a new species named in their honor.
This is what happened in 1939 when Ichthyology Curator Henry Weed Fowler described a new species of lizardfish from Jamaica and named it Synodus bondi. The specimens used in the description were collected by an ornithologist from the Academy by the name of James Bond, a name made famous by Ian Flemming when he borrowed the moniker for his spy novels.
In his paper describing the new species, Notes on Fishes from Jamaica with descriptions of three new species, Fowler wrote:
“The fishes from Kingston were all obtained in the markets by Mr. James Bond in January of 1935. They comprise 47 specimens representing 34 species, one of which is described as new.”
This wasn’t the first time Bond had acquired specimens for Fowler, nor was it the first time Fowler named a species in his honor. Nine years earlier, Fowler named the species Ariomma bondi and Malacoctenus bondi for Bond in the aptly titled, The Fishes Obtained by Mr. James Bond at Grenada, British West Indies, in 1929.
“In the winter of 1929 Mr. James Bond secured a collection of upward of 130 specimens of fishes representing eighty species. Two of these appear to be new and several others are of special interest. Figures and descriptions are given of the supposed new species. The Academy is indebted to Mr. Bond for this collection as well as for his other numerous contributions to its Department of Vertebrate Zoology.”
Unlike Flemming’s character, not every fish name survives the test of time. Upon further study, the name Malacoctenus bondi died in the synonymy of the already described Gobioclinus guppyi. Synodus bondi was similarly synonymized with Synodus foetens, but recently resurrected by Ben Frable, collection manager at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and co-authors on the basis of morphology and genetics.
So for now, Synodus bondi has No Time to Die, but yet another study could cause the name S. bondi to Die Another Day.
As scientists, our understanding of the organisms we study is forever changing. As collections grow, the number of individual specimens we can compare and study also grows. When a species name is pronounced “dead” (i.e., synonymized), it is not necessarily because the original study methods were poor. More specimens and better techniques (e.g., genetics) allow for a better grasp of species diversity.
When Fowler was describing new species in the 1930s, he relied on measurements, counts and other physical comparisons for his research. He didn’t have access to important international collections, vast digital libraries, or the molecular sequencing techniques we use today.
By Kyle Luckenbill, Academy Research and Curatorial Assistant/ Imaging Specialist
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In the Academy’s “Spotlight on the Collections” series, we tell stories about specimens chosen by our scientists and also how researchers and others around the world depend on our collections for issues involving climate change, water quality, evolution, and biodiversity and extinction.
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