A taxon is a scientifically named grouping of organisms with other like organisms, a set that includes some organisms and excludes others, based on a detailed published description (for example a species description) and on the provision of type material, which is usually available to scientists for examination in a major museum research collection, or similar institution.
According to a precise set of rules laid down in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) and the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN), the scientific name of every taxon is almost always based on one particular specimen, or in some cases specimens. Types are of great significance to biologists, especially to taxonomists. Types are usually physical specimens that are kept in a museum or herbarium research collection, but failing that, an image of an individual of that taxon has sometimes been designated as a type. Describing species and appointing type specimens is part of scientific nomenclature and alpha taxonomy.
When identifying material, a scientist attempts to apply a taxon name to a specimen or group of specimens based on his or her understanding of the relevant taxa, based on (at least) having read the type description(s), preferably based on an examination of all the type material of all of the relevant taxa. If there is more than one named type that all appear to be the same taxon, then the oldest name takes precedence, and is considered to be the correct name of the material in hand. If on the other hand the taxon appears never to have been named at all, then the scientist or another qualified expert picks a type specimen and publishes a new name and an official description.
This process is crucial to the science of biological taxonomy. People's ideas of how living things should be grouped change and shift over time. How do we know that what we call "Canis lupus" is the same thing, or approximately the same thing, as what they will be calling "Canis lupus" in 200 years' time? It is possible to check this because there is a particular wolf specimen preserved in Sweden and everyone who uses that name – no matter what else they may mean by it – will include that particular specimen.
Depending on the nomenclature code applied to the organism in question, a type can be a specimen, a culture, an illustration, or (under the bacteriological code) a description. Some codes consider a subordinate taxon to be the type, but under the botanical code the type is always a specimen or illustration.