Type Specimens

What are type specimens?

When someone formally describes a new species for the first time they publish it in the scientific literature. They choose particular specimen (or sometimes group of specimens) to represent this new species. They are the true example of a species and are known as ‘types’ or ‘type specimens’.

Types are permanent reference specimens. They are the most important specimens in a museum. When taxonomists wish to revise names they must refer back to this original material. Zoological names of species are prioritised by their date of introduction. This means many of the names introduced by early naturalists, such as Carl Linnaeus, are still in use today.

Type specimens in RAMM’s care are available to view online. It is certain that most of the objects listed are types, others are possible types. Please contact RAMM if you have more information on these specimens.


Accordion content.


Ross’s trogon

Possible type: Trogon rossi Lowe

Lowe’s swiftlet

Possible type: Aerodramus maximus lowi (Sharpe)

Sword billed hummingbird

Possible type: Ensifera ensifera (Boissonneau) race caerulescens

Brown treecreeper

Possible type: Climacteris picumnus melanotus Gould

White-browed robin

Possible type; Poecilodryas superciliosa (Gould)

Captain George Montagu’s shell collection [link] includes 100 type lots. It is the most intact and taxonomically important collection of British shells of the early 19th century (1800-1816) anywhere in the UK. As a result the collection is a unique and essential international research resource for its subject.


Six moss specimens are believed to be syntypes. They are in George Brook Savery’s (1874-1937) collection and are likely to have come directly from Mr I H Burkill. Burkill was an Economic Botanist to the Botanical Survey of India and later Director of the Botanical Gardens in the Straits Settlements in Singapore.

In 1911 the British Crown launched an expedition to punish Indian people in the Abor region near the Assam border for killing a British government official and his party (India was under British rule at this time). Several of the government’s scientific staff, including Burkill, accompanied the military to survey the land and its resources. It was called the Abor Expedition.

Burkill sent the specimens to HN Dixon for identification who published his findings in 1914 in the Records of the Botanical Survey of India Volume VI, 3. Dixon sent specimens to the Natural History Museum in London and the Botanic Gardens in Kolkata (Calcutta).


The majority of RAMM’s type specimens are molluscs.

George Montagu: a Designated collection

Colonel George Montagu is one of the British naturalists who established the foundation of modern scientific study. One of his most important works was ‘Testacea Britannica: a Natural history of British shells, marine, land, and fresh-water, including the most minute: systematically arranged and embellished with figures’, 1803. There are 120 possible type lots in the collection at RAMM.

In January 2020 Arts Council England awarded the Montagu Collection Designated status. This mark of distinction recognises the collection’s international significance to the scientific community. It is the most intact and taxonomically important collection of British shells of the early 19th century (1800-1816)  anywhere in the UK.

Montagu’s type specimens are also available on the Mollusca Types in Great Britain project website.

Types in honour of Miss Linter

Juliana Linter’s shell collection also includes type specimens. Often these are species named in her honour:

Other invertebrates

Amakosa rocksitter butterfly

Possible type: Durbania amakosa


Holotype: Cosmasterias felipes

Feather star

Holotype: Heterometra crenulata (Carpenter, 1882)