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ichnogenera and ichnospecies

To: nking @ ucs
From: Dinogeorge
Subject: Re: Footprints -Reply
Date: 12/12/95    Time: 11:25a

In a message dated 95-12-12 09:50:28 EST, 
(John H. Whitmore) writes:

>It is true.  Trace fossils, tracks, burrows, etc.,  all are given 
>names different from their maker.  Often the maker is not known with
>certain identity.

And Dinogeorge (12/1295 11:25a) says:

And I'm pretty sure that, if the maker is known, its body-fossil name 
priority over its trace-fossil name even if coined later.

In fact, nomenclature for trace fossils ("ichnofossils") is different 
from that of body fossils, whether or not you THINK YOU KNOW what the 
trace-maker was.  ICZN recognizes the categories ichnogenus and 
ichnospecies having etymological rules that are parallel to genera and 
species of body fossils.  However, there are no higher taxonomic 

Trace fossils are regarded as a kind of sedimentary structure rather than 
a biological entity, hence naming them using rules of biological 
nomenclature really isn't logical.  Nevertheless, since the practice 
became ingrained (in the late 1800's) before we understood the origin of 
a number of strange markings (they weren't as obvious as dino 
footprints), the ICZN has grudgingly accepted the practice.

But no, you cannot use the body fossil name for a trace fossil, no matter 
how certain you are of its maker.  To paraphrase a recently controversial 
question:  Were you there to actually see what the trace-maker was?  Then 
how can you be so certain?  Another advantage to sticking with the 
ichnological name is that it tells people what you have, in fact, 
found--whether it is a set of foot bones or just the marking left by that 
foot as it walked along.  So, if you abandon the ichnofossil name you 
have lost a bit of information in your attempt at communication.

Norman R. King                                       tel:  (812) 464-1794
Department of Geosciences                            fax:  (812) 464-1960
University of Southern Indiana
8600 University Blvd.
Evansville, IN 47712                      e-mail:  nking.ucs@smtp.usi.edu