The current classification of Ichneumonidae is the result of 50 years of research by Henry Townes. His catalogues of the World fauna, and his generic revisions, are landmarks which all subsequent research must take into account. Complicating matters, however, is his idiosyncratic classification system for family-group names, based upon his refusal to follow the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature or to recognize the validity of certain Opinions of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). Believing conventional nomenclatural rules to be too changeable and conflicting to be the basis of a stable classification, he instead based his family-group names on the oldest included genus. Although Townes argued his case rationally (Townes, 1969), it is difficult to see what he achieved by ignoring international conventions. In groups other than the Ichneumonidae, his family-group nomenclature is almost universally ignored (Proctotrupidae, Braconidae, Pompilidae and Chironomidae). In the Ichneumonidae, however, his work is so important that it has had a great effect on other workers. This becomes more apparent as several of his former students have published a great deal in their own rights and used the Townes system of nomenclature. A historical perspective on Townes’ nomenclatural system is provided by an unpublished note on the subject by the late W.R.M. Mason; it is in the library of the American Entomological Institute and reproduced here.

Whilst many of Townes’ family-group names are the result of being based on the oldest included genus in the taxon, the important subfamilies Ichneumoninae and Pimplinae use Townesian nomenclature that results from his belief that Opinion 159 (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, 1945b) was invalid (Townes, 1957; 1969: 15-18). Wahl & Mason (1995) presented evidence that Townes’ arguments were mistaken. Rejection of Townes’ arguments gives the following generic names:


Ichneumonini (= Joppini of Townes)

ICZN name: Ichneumon Linnaeus, 1758; Townes’ name: Pterocormus Förster, 1850

Heresiarchini (= Ichneumonini of Townes)

ICZN name: Coelichneumon Thomson, 1893;Townes’ name: Ichneumon Linnaeus, 1758

PIMPLINAE (= Ephialtinae of Townes)

Ephialtini (= Pimplini of Townes)

ICZN name: Ephialtes Gravenhorst, 1829; Townes’ name: Pimpla Fabricius, 1804

Pimplini (= Ephialtini of Townes)

ICZN name: Apechthis Förster, 1869; Townes’ name: Ephialtes Schrank, 1802

ICZN name: Pimpla Fabricius, 1804; Townes' name: Coccygomimus Saussure, 1892

It should be noted that Townes’ objections to Opinion 157 (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, 1945a) were correct. In 1945, the ICZN issued Opinion 157, in which Cryptus Fabricius, 1804 was placed on the Official List of Generic Names in Zoology. As a result of this and the ICZN’s earlier Opinion 135 (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, 1939) which suppressed the ‘Erlangen List’ which included Cryptus Jurine, 1801, the name Cryptus and family-group names based on it continued to be used in the Ichneumonidae, in spite of the fact that Cryptus Fabricius was a junior homonym of Cryptus Panzer, 1804 (published earlier than Fabricius’s work). The ICZN failed in its intention to suppress all uses of Cryptus prior to Fabricius, and consequently Cryptus and the family-group names based upon it could not be considered valid in the Ichneumonidae. Townes’ answer to this was to call the subfamily in question ‘Gelinae’ and refer to Cryptus Fabricius as Itamoplex Förster. Fitton & Gauld (1976, 1978) reviewed the situation and concluded that the correct name for the family was Phygadeuontinae. This solution, based upon recognized rules of nomenclature, was overturned in 1994 by Opinion 1757 (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, 1994): the ICZN suppressed all prior usages of Cryptus in favor of Cryptus Fabricius, 1804, and Phygadeuontinae reverted to being called Cryptinae. The tribe virtually universally known as Mesostenini for almost a quarter of a century reverted to its archaic (and at the time wrongly applied) European name Cryptini. Such unnecessary autocratic changes not only reflect badly upon the taxonomic community, who are often unjustly taunted for altering names other biologists have come to know, but they seem to be an endorsement of the actions of those who flagrantly ignore good scholarship in the interest of maintaining obsolete names.

Fitton & Gauld (1976, 1978) attempted to establish the correct family-group names in the belief that it was unsatisfactory for a single family to be nomenclaturally out of step with the rest of zoology. This list has been updated, reflecting both the changes mentioned above and recent research upon subfamily and tribal taxonomy, and is available here.

Today, Townes’ nomenclature is mostly eschewed by the research community, and we are not aware of any major ichneumonid collections that use his family-group names. However, the ichneumonid literature of the last half of the 20th Century is filled with a confusing mix of names and it behooves both the beginning student and zoologists from other disciplines to be aware of the potential pitfalls.


Fitton, M.G. & Gauld, I.D. 1976. The family-group names of the Ichneumonidae (excluding Ichneumoninae) (Hymenoptera). Systematic Entomology, 1: 247-258.

Fitton, M.G. & Gauld, I.D. 1978. Further notes on family-group names of the Ichneumonidae (excluding Ichneumoninae) (Hymenoptera). Systematic Entomology, 3: 245-247.

International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. 1939. Opinion 135. The suppression of the so-called “Erlangen List” of 1801. Opinions and declarations of rendered by the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature, 2: 7-12.

International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. 1945a. Opinion 157. Three names in the Order Hymenoptera (Class Insecta) added to the Official List of Generic Names in Zoology. Opinions and declarations of rendered by the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature, 2: 251-262.

International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. 1945b. Opinion 159. On the status of the names Ephialtes Schrank, 1802, Ichneumon Linnaeus, 1758, Pimpla Fabricius (1804-1805), and Ephialtes Gravenhorst, 1829 (Class Insecta, Order Hymenoptera). Opinions and declarations of rendered by the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature, 2: 275-290.

International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. 1994. Opinion 1757. Cryptus Fabricius, 1804 and Cryptinae Kirby, 1837 (Insecta, Hymenoptera) conserved. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature, 51: 74-75.

Townes, H. 1957. The name Psammochares versus Pompilus. Systematic Zoology, 6: 151-156.

Townes, H. 1969. The genera of Ichneumonidae, part 1. Memoirs of the American Entomological Institute, 11: 1- 300.

Wahl, D.B. & Mason, W.R.M. 1995. The family-group names of the Ichneumoninae (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae). Journal of Hymenoptera Research, 4: 285-293.

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