The Genesis of the Townes' Rules

(As seen by a student during the Forties)

By W.R.M. Mason

Henry Townes formed his ideas on ichneumonid nomenclature during the early 40's while he was in Philadelphia writing his Nearctic catalogue. At this time there was indifference or antagonism toward the International Commission in North America, combined with a generally positive attitude toward using absolute priority. During the 30's and early 40's the Commission seemed to be especially ineffective, because it appeared to have been doing so little for so many years. The situation came about from a combination of several unfortunate coincidences: before 1935 the decline in health of the long-serving secretary, Dr. Stiles, had almost stopped the normal business of the Commission, and petitions (including that by Dr. Bradley) had been stalled for years; after the appointment, in 1936, of another secretary, there were difficulties and delays in transferring to London, and the reorganization by the new secretary, Mr. Hemming, of files that had been neglected for many years; finally just as the new secretary was able to get on with the job, World War II broke out, taking Hemming quite away from Commission business for some years, disrupting communications and financing, and causing serious delays in publishing the many accumulated Opinions. So from the viewpoint of an ordinary taxonomist, the Commission had become almost irrelevant, leaving zoologists to apply the then somewhat vague Code as best they might. Small wonder that the vigorous and impatient young Townes began to make his own nomenclatural decisions and later, to rewrite and clarify parts of the Rules that appeared to him ambiguous or unworkable. It should be noted that the rule changes Townes made were well thought out and logical. They would certainly have improved the code as it was then written, had they been adopted.

Henry Townes was not alone among American Hymenopterists of that era in despairing of help from the Commission and applying strict priority. K.V. Krombein and V.S.L. Pate had similar views. Many other American Hymenopterists in the years approximately 1920-1935 followed strict priority before the passage of Nomina Conservanda that took place in Lisbon, 1935, but followed the rulings of the Commission later (if they were still publishing). Dr. Townes gradually became alone in his nomenclatural practices after about 1950, except for a few students of Ichneumonidae who accepted and followed his nomenclature, but he never deviated from following his own rules until his last publication. His outstandingly large production of catalogues and major revisionary works have resulted in his personal nomenclature being widely implanted in the literature.

During his long and very productive career Henry Townes published major contributions in other families than Ichneumonidae. He revised and catalogued Pructotrupidae (Serphidae) of the world (1981), Nearctic Pepsinae, Ceropalinae; Pompilidae (Psammocharidae) (1951 & 1956), and in early work parts of the dipterous family, Chironomidae (Tendipedidae). In all these cases he used family-group names contrary to Opinions of the International Commission. Specialists working in these families have not followed Townes nomenclature, but the question of the validity of nomina conservanda pertaining to them have also been challenged by Townes and should be considered in relation to the names in Ichneumonidae.

Finally, but not the least worrisome factor, are the many decisions made at generic and species level using his idiosyncratic rules while making his catalogues and revisions. The best summary of Townes' rules was given by him in part I of his "Genera of Ichneumonidae" 1969, pages 18-20. Workers of the future, making revisions of groups that Townes dealt with, should be aware of these differences in the rules under which the Townes publications were made and check accordingly. Although there have rarely been any bibliographers as thorough and careful as Henry Townes, his idiosyncrasies may occasionally have led to usages contrary to the International Code and Opinions.

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