>> Japanese

Oligochaeta Collection Database

Zoology Collections

>> Advanced

Earthworms (Annelida: Oligochaeta) deposited in The University Museum, The University of Tokyo

Robert J. Blakemore1) and Rei Ueshima2)

1)C/o Department of Zoology, National Museum of Nature and Science, 3-23-1 Hyakunin-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 169-0073 Japan.
2)Department of Biological Sciences, Graduate School of Science, the University of Tokyo, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033 Japan.

PDF download


Oligochaeta material in 40 historical jars in the collection of the University Museum at University of Tokyo’s Department of Zoology (UMUTZ) were inspected and catalogued. Most are from the Meji era (明治時代), that extended from 1868 through to July 1912, and evidence is some samples were associated with the works of Goto & Hatai (1898, 1899). Syntypes are newly determined for two of their taxa: Amynthas levis (Goto & Hatai, 1899), an erstwhile junior synonym of A. tokioensis (Beddard, 1892), and Metaphire communissima (Goto & Hatai, 1899) that was originally misidentified by Goto & Hatai (1898) as ?Perichaeta Sieboldii, Horst (sic). Contemporaneous topotypes of Amynthas micronarius (Goto & Hatai, 1898) – yet having no name bearing status – are recognized. Other materials are identified as far as possible based on the extent of label information and state of deterioration of specimens, including several unidentified earthworm species from Okinawa and from Taiwan (Formosa) collected shortly after its territorial cession to Japan in 1895.


Only about ten Japanese pheretimoids were known when Professor Sietaro Goto (五島清太郎) and his Assistant Shinkichi Hatai (畑井新喜司) working from the First High School at Ueno in Tokyo that was to become integrated as the Komaba campus of The University of Tokyo (Todai) in later years, purported to describe “new or imperfectly known species of earthworms collected from various parts of the Japanese Empire” (Goto & Hatai, 1898, 1899). The first publication was “Printed September 30th, 1898”. Both publications were flawed (Table 1). Giving names to ca. 27 ‘new’ species, their descriptions were so inadequate and/or confused that most quickly went directly into synonymy or incertae sedis in Michaelsen (1899) and in his classical review “Das Tierreich” (Michaelsen, 1900) or, at best, some as species inquirendae in Michaelsen (1903: 85). Horst (1899: 242) also remarked on the “strange fact that hitherto they [Goto & Hatai] have not come across any of the nine species, described by European authors”. To this, the terse reply in Goto & Hatai (1899: 23) was that they have seen all earlier species except for “P. Ijimae Rosa, P. japonica Horst and P. Sieboldi (sic) Horst” albeit under the taxon name ijimae were united kamakurensis, parvula and decimpapillata, all offerings from Goto & Hatai (1898), by Beddard (1900: 636) – these all subsequently placed under Amynthas corticis (Kinberg, 1876) e.g. by Easton (1981), Blakemore (2003).

Yet providing scant review of earlier species, their descriptions were so contradictory (e.g. their miscounting segments, confusing spermathecal pores with genital markings and vice versa, misrepresenting forms of the intestinal caeca or missing them, etc. – see Table 1), that similar specimens have not generally been found subsequently. Ignoring routine deposition of types, neophytes Goto & Hatai (1898: 65) from the outset apportioned their rôles thusly:

“For the practical portion of the work as well as the determination of new species the credit is entirely due to the junior writer (H), while for a general supervision of the work and the form in which the results are presented the senior writer is alone responsible. The species will be described without any definite order...” [bolding added].

As the only acknowledged collectors were a Mr Y. Takatori of the Agricultural Department of the Government of Formosa (Goto & Hatai, 1898: 76 footnote), Mr Akira Iizuka, and Mr Wada (Goto & Hatai, 1899: 14, 15, 22), it was presumed that they collected most of the specimens themselves (but see collector details in material below).

Prof. Goto, a specialist of ectoparasitic Trematodes of Japan, made no further contribution and the next earthworm publication was 25 years later by Hatai (1924) after his return to Japan in 1921. In a subsequent footnote, Hatai (1929: 271) remarked that he had collaborated (as an Assistant) with Prof. Seitaro Goto more than 25 years previously, but that this work was discontinued (around 1900) owing to the change of his residency to the USA. The whereabouts of the original type material, if any, has been elusive and the errors and ambiguities in Goto & Hatai (1898, 1899) have largely remained unresolved to this day, more than 112 years later.

Attempts to unravel the confusion in systematics of Japanese earthworms were notably by Easton (1981), Blakemore (2003, 2005) and Blakemore et al. (2010). Despite search efforts, none of these studies could locate original Japanese types other than those held in European institutions. The only evidence for existence of early domestic types was a remark in Easton (1979: 43) that the holotype of his Polypheretima iizukai (Goto & Hatai,1899) [= Amynthas fuscatus (Goto & Hatai, 1898)] was at one time in the University of Tokyo collection although Dr M. Imajima told him it could no longer be found there.

In 1999, old annelid specimens, including some earthworms, deposited in The University Museum, The University of Tokyo (UMUTZ) were sent to Dr Eijiro Nishi at Yokohama National University for his critical studies on Akira Izuka’s polychaete collection (see polychaete catalogue in this volume). During the loan, earthworm specimens (c.a. 40 lots) were examined by Mr Kotaro Ishizuka but no type specimen was identified. In October, 2010 the earthworm specimens were made available for the current inspection and the results are summarized below.

Most of the glass jars were original, some were cracked, and the labels and contents were in various states of deterioration and leakage which is a great shame as these samples must have survived, due to the diligence of earlier curators who recognized their value, both the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and the 1940s fire bombing of Tokyo.

All the samples, now returned to UMUTZ, have again survived the recent ‘Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster’ (11th March, 2011). This catalogue provides particulars of their contents and, where possible, the taxonomic status of the specimens is determined in order to ensure this historically important material – some over 124 years old – is preserved and made available for morphological or DNA analysis into the future.

Material and Methods

Samples are registered with specimens stabilized in fresh alcohol (75% EtOH), some in new glass jars with additional number slips included. Provisional numbers stickers on the outside of the jars are thought allocated by Mr Kotaro Ishizuka. Corresponding UMUTZ labels will be added as provided in this catalogue along with the original labels found inside or stuck on the outside of jars which are deciphered as far as possible.

The priority was to identify possible type specimens rather than to confirm all species, nevertheless, for each lot a scientific name and collecting information are determined in the following order:

1, current name (as identified by current author);

2, reference to the original description (i.e., authorities and synonyms if needed);

3, registration number of UMUTZ;

4, type status (as determined by current author);

5, collecting locality;

6, collecting date;

7, collector name(s);

8, number of specimens in the jar;

9, original label data (English translation and original Japanese are noted if legible);

10, specimen condition e.g. whether wet or desiccated; dissected etc.

11, remarks;

12, reference(s) if relevant.


Syntypes of Metaphire communissima (Goto & Hatai, 1899) and Amynthas levis (Goto & Hatai, 1899) were newly discovered. Unfortunately, type specimens of other taxa described by Goto & Hatai (1898, 1899) were missing from this collection.


The authors are grateful to Dr Eijiro Nishi, Faculty of Education & Human Sciences, Yokohama National University (YNU) for initial access to the material. Dr Toshiaki Kuramochi of National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo has helped to facilitate earthworm taxonomic progress. We also give thanks to the staff of The University Museum, The University of Tokyo for their assistance to the study and financial support.

↑ to PageTop