A Chronological Taxonomy of Conus, 1758-1840

Submitted by Steve Wilkinson on Sun, 09/05/2010 23:45

Alan J. Kohn, 1993. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, x + 315 pp, with 26 black and white plates and a coloured frontispiece. Hardback. ISBN 1-56098-094-X.

Review source

Originally reviewed by David Heppell in 1994.

Published in Journal of Conchology (1994), Vol.35

This book begins with the statement that, with more than 500 living species, Conus is probably the largest genus of marine animals on earth. Since Linnaeus described the 35 species known to him in 1758, some 2500 names have been proposed for extant taxa and more than 1000 for fossils. Kohn has reviewed and evaluated the status of all nominal species, both recent and fossil, published from 1758 to 1840, and has considered each name in chronological sequence. In this way, priority is clearly shown, and earlier synonymy or homonymy revealed. Each nominal species must be either 1) valid, 2) a synonym of an earlier or contemporary species, 3) a nomen dubium, or 4) not a Conus. Synonymy with later published names is not given. After 1840, species were better described and illustrated, so there is less need for this strictly chronological approach to their taxonomy.

The 315 quarto pages of this book are comprised of 11 chapters, 16 pages of references to the literature cited (which provides a useful bibliography for the genus Conus), and an index. The main body of the work (chapters 2-9) is based on eight papers previously published by Kohn in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society from 1963 to 1988, but the chapter dealing with the nominal species described between 1831 and 1840 is entirely new. Other chapters have been rewritten to incorporate new findings or nomenclatural acts, such as designations of types and decisions of the ICZN. The 26 black and white plates at the front of the book figure the type specimens of the species included.

An introductory chapter gives a brief history of the genus Conus and its taxonomic treatment, with a review of previous attempts at monographic coverage from 1758 onwards, stressing the importance of chronological analysis. The second chapter, treating the species described by Linnaeus in 1758, is considerably expanded and augmented compared with Kohn's 1963 work, while those species described later by Linnaeus (originally included in the same paper) now appear in their appropriate chronological sequence. In subsequent chapters, species are treated work by work (alphabetically by author for works published in the same year; alphabetically by species within the same work). A potted biography of each author and his main works, included in the relevant chapters, provides some very readable historical background information. Each chapter ends with a table summarizing the status of nominal species treated therein.

Although this book, Kohn's magnum opus and the distillation and culmination of more than 30 years work, will be of interest mostly to specialists, it is a model of accurate and effective presentation of its subject, with commendably few typographical errors. One minor fault of this otherwise excellent work of reference is that the Index is arranged solely by specific name, so that all homonyms are confused together. Altogether 660 species- group names are included, of which 200 (169 extant and 31 Tertiary fossils) are considered to represent valid species. Of the rest, 20 names were preoccupied, 317 were synonyms, 87 were considered nomina dubia, 23 were assigned to infrasubspecific rank, and 11 were assigned to genera other than Conus. The author is certainly to be congratulated on his determination and perseverance in seeing this worthy project through to this excellent culmination.