Answering Reader’s Questions – What is a Holotype?

At Everything Dinosaur we receive lots of correspondence from customers, avid dinosaur fans and interested readers who want to ask questions about Dinosauria and other prehistoric animals.  Yesterday, we were asked in an email to explain what the word “Holotype” means as the sender had seen this word in a number of books relating to dinosaurs and fossils and did not know what it meant.

Holotype Defined

A holotype is one specimen of a species that is used as the standard to which other fossils, thought to represent the same species, are compared.  The first fossil of a prehistoric animal found does not always end up becoming the holotype – the benchmark fossil for the species as it were.  A specimen may be the holotype because it was the first found and formally described or because it shows the various characteristics that define the species most clearly.

The Holotype Specimen of Parasaurolophus (ROM 7680

Parasaurolophus skeleton (P. walkeri) on display. Holotype defined.

The holotype Parasaurolophus skeleton (ROM 768) on display at the Royal Ontario Museum (Canada).

Picture credit: Queen’s University Belfast

For models and figures of prehistoric animals, many of which have been based on holotype fossil material: Prehistoric Life Figures (CollectA).

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