Attributes are descriptive (usually biological) characteristics of cataloged items (which are often biological individuals) such as measurements, weight, age, and sex. Like other determinations (opinions) in Arctos, Attributes have a determiner, a determination date, and a determination method. Because they are treated as determinations, a record may have any number of similar and even contradictory Attributes.

Attributes, many of which use controlled vocabularies with many values and many individual definitions, are largely documented within tables within Arctos, as opposed to being documented here. The appropriate units for numeric Attributes, and the appropriate vocabulary for Attributes with controlled vocabularies are set by a master “code table of code tables.”  This can be a useful node for exploring these values outside of the forms in which the vocabularies are used.

Attribute Name

Attributes . Attribute_Type VARCHAR2(60) not null

Attribute Name is the proper name of an Attribute. These should be unambiguous and match their usage in scientific literature as closely as possible. The names of Attributes are listed, defined, and linked to particular types of collections, in an another code table.

Attribute Value

Attributes . Attribute_Value VARCHAR2(4000) not null

Attributes have a Value, and those values are of three types:

Some examples:

Attribute Name Value Units
Total Length “123.4” millimeters
Age Class “adult” (controlled text) null
Colors “reddish feet” (uncontrolled text) null

The appropriate units for particular numeric Attributes, and the appropriate vocabulary for controlled vocabulary are set by a “code table of code tables.”

Conversion of fractional values

Numeric values are sometimes reported in the numerator/denominator format. For example, total length = 7 3/16 inches. Such values must be converted to decimal fractions in order to be represented as a numeric data type. In making such conversions, avoid adding unwarranted precision to the value of an observation. For example, simply converting 7 3/16 to 7.1875, a value indicating observation to within a few ten-thousandths of an inch implies an improbable degree of precision. Because the measurement was probably made with a ruler (and not a micrometer) graduated, at best, in 32ths of an inch, the last digits of the value are a spurious artifact of the calculation and should be rounded off to reflect actual precision. Both the 16ths and 32ths on our assumed ruler are smaller (more precise) than tenths, but larger (less precise) than 100ths, so there can be no precision beyond the 100ths place. Therefore we should round off to 7.19 inches. Whenever the value of an attribute is converted (or in any way modified or assumed), the verbatim value should be given in the Attribute Remark.

Attribute Units

Attributes . Attribute_Units VARCHAR2(60) null

Numeric Attributes have values expressed in units such as grams, millimeters, and years. Different Attributes are described in different units, so there are code tables for units of weight, length, and time. Numeric Attributes are assigned one of these code tables in the “code table of code tables:”

  1. Code table for length_units
  2. Code table for numeric_age_units
  3. Code table for weight_units


Attributes . Determination_Method VARCHAR2(255) null

Method is how the Attribute was determined. If the Method can be logically inferred, it is usually unspecified. Thus, Attributes such as length measurements are assumed to have been taken with rulers, calipers, or another standard tool. In such cases, no value is recorded for Method.


Attributes . Attribute_Remark VARCHAR2(4000) null

Remark is a place for comments about the Attribute. For example:


Attributes . Determined_By_Agent_ID NUMBER(22) not null

Determiner is the agent that determined the Value of the Attribute. Many Attributes are determined by either the collector or preparator of the specimen, but often Attributes are determined at a later time by an investigator using the specimen. In the many specimen records for which this data was not recorded, the institution contributing the record has been used as a default value for Determiner.

Determined Date

Attributes . Determined_Date VARCHAR2(22) null

Determined Date is the ISO8601 date that the determination was made. Where this is unknown, the date that the specimen record was moved into the database has been used as a default value, meaning essentially that the determination was made before this time. For many such Attributes, it would be reasonable to record the date of collection (or, if known, the date of preparation) as a default. For Attributes which can be re-determined from the existing specimen, even an imprecise date will provide a chronological order to successive determinations.

Searching with Attributes

You may search for only Attribute Name (leave Value and Units blank) to return specimens that match your other criteria and possess data for the specified Attribute. Exercising this option unwisely (For example, searching for all specimens with Attribute ‘sex’ and no other qualifiers) can time-out your request.

You can search for Attributes by only value or by only units. For example:

You may set the search operator for Attributes to:

Equals will find only exact matches. Contains will find substring matches. For example, sex equals ‘male’ will find only male specimens; sex contains ‘male’ will find both male and female.

Searching by Attribute Type

In addition to the above, the interactive Specimen Results Widget will accept any attribute, with spaces and dashes replaced by underscore, as a variable. For example, “age class” becomes “age_class.”

All attributes (and most other variables) will accept underbar (_) to mean “require the field; match any value.” For example, “age_class=_” will return specimens for which the attribute “age class” exists.

String attributes – those consisting of uncontrolled text and those consisting of code-table controlled vocabularies – will accept two prefixes: = (meaning “is exactly”) and ! (meaning “is not”). Unprefixed attributes are case-insensitive substring matches, and so “male” will match “male” and “female.”

Numeric attributes – those with code-table controlled units – will accept prefixes = (exactly), ! (is not), < (less than), > (greater than), and appropriate units as suffix. Arctos will guess at unit suffix, so an exact code-table match is not usually necessary. Units of both data and criteria are converted (to meters, days, and grams), and so exact matches may be difficult to obtain. Therefore, numeric attributes will also accept a range of values in conjunction with units (format {low value}{dash}{high_value} {units}).

The following examples are illustrative.

SearchTerm Result
age_class=adult adult, subadult, ….
age_class==adult adult
age_class=!adult juvenile, subadult, ….
numeric_age=3 3 years, 3 seconds, 3 days, …..
numeric_age=!3 1 years, 5 years, 1 hour, 5 days, …
numeric_ag=3 years {value converted to} 1095.726 days
numeric_age=3-5 years {value converted to days} BETWEEN 1095.726 and 1826.21 days

Arctos can convert the following units to meters:

Arctos can convert the following units to grams:

Arctos can convert the following units to days:

How To

Instructions for doing specifc tasks related to Attributes in Arctos

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