While encamped for the winter of 1819–1820 at Engineer Cantonment along the Missouri River in present-day eastern Nebraska, members of Major Stephen Harriman Long's Expedition to the Rocky Mountains collected a number of animals that were previously unknown. Among the mammals were two soricids that were subsequently described by Thomas Say as Sorex brevicaudus (Northern Short-tailed Shrew, Blarina brevicauda) and Sorex parvus (Least Shrew, Cryptotis parvus). The holotypes of these species were deposited and placed on public exhibit in the Philadelphia Museum, the predominant North American systematic collection of the early nineteenth century. Like most private museums of that era, the Philadelphia Museum eventually went out of business, and its collections were dispersed and, for the most part, lost. Fortunately, Titian R. Peale made a detailed field sketch of the two specimens soon after their capture and subsequently executed a watercolor based on that sketch. In addition, an engraving of the holotypes was published in the decade following the discovery of the two species. Illustrations of holotypes are taxonomically useful when they depict diagnostic characters of species. They take on added taxonomic significance in the absence of the holotypes. In the cases of Sorex brevicaudus and Sorex parvus, pictures provide strong confirmation of the taxonomic identities of these two species, as well as recording the early history of the specimens.
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Vol. 122 • No. 1