In April 2016, a Brazilian visitor, Ralf Codeiro, and I initiated a project to revise the octocoral genus Radicipes. The first step was to obtain the type specimens of the eight known species in the genus, two of which are deposited at the NMNH. But, one of them, 5 dry syntypes of Radicipes pleurocristatus Stearns, 1883 (USNM 5685) simply could not be found in the dry type or non-type collection.
It is a long specimen (up to a meter) so the oversized collection was checked, but again no. I e-mailed several octocoral researchers to ask if they might be on loan to them, but with negative results. As a long shot, I suggested that Cordeiro check the handwritten Radiates catalog for the original cataloging of the specimens in 1883. In that old book, there was a small entry saying that these specimens had been loaned to A. E. Verrill on November 28, 1883. Verrill, a prominent octocoral taxonomist of the nineteenth century, worked at both the MCZ and YPM.
I sent e-mails to the curators at those two museum, but before a response was received Cordeiro checked the type catalog of YPM and found our specimens cataloged into their museum, with an “other number” as USNM 5685. The syntypes are now being returned 133 years and 5 months later.
The moral of this story is that if you borrow a specimen from the IZ collection, you had better return it, or we will hunt you down. But we do have a generous loan extension option.
By Steve Cairns