The Condon Fossil Collection contains numerous "type specimens," a highly significant category in the field of paleontology. Fossil type specimens are the best examples of a new species at the time it is named.
When scientists describe a new species, they designate a single specimen as the "holotype" that best represents the new species. Technically, new scientific names such as Tyrannosaurus rex are attached to this specimen rather than the species. Because scientific names are often published before a full analysis of variation within a fossil species has taken place, a holotype can later be found to be atypical of the species.
At the time of first publication, a scientist may also designate "paratype" specimens she or he thinks belong to the same species and illustrate the range of variation known within the new species. Further research may reveal better preserved specimens that provide additional details to our knowledge of an ancient species, but type specimens remain significant for their historical value, the first of their kind, and as crucial resources for subsequent comparative analysis.
The type specimens in this gallery have been organized by their evolutionary relationships, progressing up the tree of life from invertebrates (clams, snails, etc.) to vertebrates--from fish to amphibians, then birds and several families of mammals. Images © UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Production of this gallery was generously supported by The Ford Family Foundation.