Specimen Labels

Doug Yanega dyanega at pop.ucr.edu
Tue Sep 14 19:48:47 EDT 1999

Cris wrote:

>Dates - I always use the first three letters of the month on the label. Then
>there is absolutely no question of what month is intended. There is little
>space taken up, so why not?

        Because not everyone in the world speaks english, nor are they
guaranteed to be doing so 100 years from now. However, I suspect that it's
more likely that there will still be 12 months in the year 2099, and if
Roman numerals haven't died out yet, then I doubt they ever will.

Similarly, Chuck Harp wrote:

>New Mexico:Luna Co.
>1 mi n Deming/Hwy 180
>on Baileya multiradiata
>August 1, 1999  4330'

        This label doesn't indicate the country. How would you feel about
the following specimen, which I have in front of me:

Marceba, Q.
Feb. 1-78
Coll. Cunningham

        That one took a while to figure out, which it would not have had
the person making the label written "Australia" somewhere (he also made a
typo; the town's name is "Mareeba"). I'm sure he might have an equally
difficult time if he looked at your label and he'd never heard of New
Mexico, or if he saw "NM: Luna Co.", or 1 mi N Demming" on a similar label.
        I also think it more likely that "miles" and "feet" will be archaic
in 100 years, and they are already not universal; every other country in
the world uses km for distance and m for elevation. Science is an
international and cross-generational enterprise, and we should take that
into account.
        I also note that in over 20 years' experience, the ONLY people I've
ever met who use the "leg:" notation on their labels are people trained as
lepidopterists. It is by no means a standard notation for insect labels.

        Victor Naveau wrote a lot, much of it quoting me (from some time
ago), and I can boil my response down to a few brief comments. The YYYYMMDD
system is presently used by few people, and then almost *exclusively* in
rigid data fields. It is NOT suitable as a general format for label data if
people from every country cannot examine it and understand it immediately.
Since everyone knows what 10-VII-1999 stands for, there is no need to
switch to a new format. If you want your database to use YYYYMMDD, go right
ahead; but it doesn't have to correspond at all to what is put on the
label. We're not talking about databasing at the moment. We *were* talking
about databasing in that thread on Entomo-L you were quoting from. With a
proper database like Biota, you simply enter first and last dates if a
range of dates is indicated. Similarly, any intelligent database has day,
month, and year as SEPARATE fields, so the order in which they are entered
is irrelevant. If you're using a database with a single numeric field for
date, then you're using a database that is unsuitable for museum
recordkeeping...and there's certainly no reason to apply outmoded database
formats to one's specimen labels. The phrase "the tail wagging the dog"
comes to mind.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521
phone: (909) 787-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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