The following is a submission to the INTERNATIONAL COMMISION FOR ZOOLOGICAL NOMENCLATURE (ICZN) opposing the recently proposed resurrection of the scientific names Varanus panoptes in favour of the more widely accepted Varanus gouldii and Varanus teriae in favour of the earlier name Varanus keithhornei. The species concerned are Monitor Lizards from Australia.

October 20th 1997



I refer to a pair of applications before the ICZN, case numbers 3042 relating to the proposed renaming of the species Varanus gouldii and case number 3043 relating to the proposed renaming of Varanus keithhornei.

It is the belief of myself and others here in Australia that neither application should be allowed to be passed. Myself, Neil Davie, and others, including the unanimous membership of the Victorian Association of Amateur Herpetologists (VAAH) all support the stand in this letter.

In making this submission on my own behalf and on behalf of the others named here, I make it known that we all hold the three authors of the applications, Sprackland, Smith and Strimple in the highest regard and hope to do so again in future, regardless of the outcome/s of this/these case/s. I have dealt with these men in the past on friendly terms and hope to do so again in future.

Under normal circumstances I would put the taxonomic skills of all authors well above those of myself, which are described as rudimentary at best. However in these cases myself and others feel that the rules are being abused in a way that could set dangerous precedents for taxonomists in future. Furthermore we regard the taxonomic questions raised by these applications as being simple and the rules being tested as being elementary and easily understood by most people including those who are not professional taxonomists.

In making my following comments/submission, I ask that you have available the following documents, hard copies of which are enclosed with the posted copy of this letter.

(ALL THE ABOVE documents and more, including those detailing improper practices at the ICZN, submissions, judgements, etc can be downloaded as a single self-executing zip file containing a few dozen word files by clicking here).

Also referred to here, but not enclosed with this letter is my book Smuggled-2: Wildlife Trafficking, Crime and Corruption in Australia and all papers referred to by the three above named authors at the rears of their two published submissions. If neccessary I will formalise the submission in a manner like those published by the above named authors in cases 3042-3 for publication in the same journal. Otherwise you have my permission to publish this letter in full in the same journal.

At this point, assuming you do not seek to republish this letter, I ask for your permission to publish a piece like this letter in your journal in relation to the two submissions before any final decision is made by the ICZN or if a ruling has been made already, for the case to be re-opened pending this submission.

For both cases in making these submissions, I make my hand known as being one of supporting the fundamental rule of nomenclature, namely that being the rule of primacy in that the first valid name subscribed to a newly described taxa/species remains the proper taxa/species name. In both cases the authors are attempting to put a junior synonym above that of a validly assigned species name. We do not accept the authors' main argument of "common usage", particularly for the changing of the species name "gouldii".

Case number 3042 is perhaps the easiest to deal with. The taxonomic history of the names "V. gouldii" and "V. panoptes" are not in doubt. We also find the case in favour of resurrecting the name "panoptes" by far the weaker of the two cases. While we accept that the name "panoptes" had gained some currency after Storr invented the name in 1980, it was never universally accepted and in recent times since the publication of Bohme's paper in 1991, the use of the name has slipped into relative obscurity. Not only has Bohme's paper been widely circulated among herpetologists, including those likely to publish the name of the lizard presently known as "gouldii", but so too have articles on the subject written by myself, which can also be found on the internet on two servers. The issue of The Reptilian Magazine which contained my article on "gouldii"/"panoptes" was distributed by the Victorian Herpetological Society (VHS) free of charge to ALL members which numbers about 700 Australia-wide and includes the vast majority of serious herpetologists in this country as well as institutions such as The Australian Museum, The University of Sydney, Melbourne Zoo, Australian Reptile park, etc. (The VHS has more members than all other societies here combined).

Common usage of "gouldii" has been confirmed in the more recent book publications of Daniel Bennett (A Little Book Of Monitor Lizards) and Harold F. De Lisle (The natural History of Monitor Lizards). It is our understanding that Bennett's and de Lisle's books are the most widely circulated general books on varanids on the market today (late 1997) and again we note that both not only fail to use the name "panoptes" as a valid species, but go further and formally reject the name as a junior synonym.

Submission 3042 further argues that the name "flavirufus" is virtually unused for the lizards, they seek to rename "gouldii". Besides the fact that recent authors, including myself, Bohme, Bennett and de Lisle have ensured that the name "flavirufus" will in fact be properly assigned by most relevant authors in future, it is against the basic rules of zoological nomenclature to assign a valid name for one species to another species which also carries a valid and different name.

Whilst the the authors of submission 3042 argue that the circumstances in the above case are exceptional enough to warrent the violation of these basic rules of nomenclature to reassign species names for two well-known Australian species, we cannot accept those arguements as valid. Furthermore it is noted that the original description of the species "panoptes" was based on sloppy taxonomy, in that Glen Storr failed to seek the original type specimen/s of what was clearly at least a similar species (what he thought was gouldii and/or the types of flavirufus and rosenbergi). In making this statement, we make it clear that there is no disrespect for Storr, whom we agree was one of Australia's foremost herpetologists for many years and further add that most of his work was in fact first class.

In Australia (and elsewhere) junior synonyms (many of which are in widespread use) are routinely discarded by authors when the correct senior name becomes known, if it has been formerly overlooked. A perusal of Harold G. Cogger's benchmark books on the subject (not cited by name here) over the last 25 years feature changed names with such regularity, that the common usage argument for maintaining the name "panoptes" simply has no credibility.

Even as far back as 1987 when writing my book Australian Reptiles and Frogs (published in 1989), there were doubts as to the validity of the name "panoptes" which is one of the reasons I failed to use it. However I draw your attention to the fact I noted the taxonomic uncertaintly of the group back then.

Although the three authors of 3042 cite publications in their submission helpful to their argument of common usage, they have clearly and deliberately overlooked publications that not only don't use the name "panoptes", but go further and point out that it is in error. Those publications include my magazine article and Smuggled-2, the books of de Lisle, Bennett and others. That these publications were deliberately overlooked in their submission 3042 is demonstrated by their publication of the books by Bennett and de Lisle as citations in their second submission 3043, which was published in the ICZN publication at the same time. We regard this as a less than frank assessment of the facts by the three authors of 3042. It is notable that both de Lisle's and Bennett's books were cited in 3043 to support the common usage argument in that submission, but overlooked in 3042 as they damaged the same argument in that submission.

Finally, it is noted that in the end part of submission 3042, Neil Davie is acknowledged for his comments. Neil Davie wishes to make it known that he was unaware of 3042 until after it was published and does not agree with any of it's contents. He is strongly opposed to any resurrection of the invalid name "panoptes" a fact that must have been well known to the authors of 3042, and furthermore states that he resents any inference that he supports 3042.

In summary, at the present time, the name "panoptes" is not in widespread usage, nor is it likely to become widely used in the immediate future. We therefore ask that submission 3042 be rejected on all grounds cited above.

For submission 3043, all the facts given in the submission are agreed with. In the case of Sprackland's alleged difficulties in obtaining publications from Wells and Wellington, I can offer no comment as I was not a party to the goings on between parties. However in the relevant period, I paid subscriptions to the Australian Herpetologist's League as it was called and did not receive publications either. After a long and acrimonious dispute, Richard Wells provided me with copies of magazines paid for and we parted ways on bad terms. We have only been on talking terms again for about three years after about a ten year break. Glen Shea of the Australian Museum in Sydney has advised me of similar problems with other subscribers. A simple explanation for this difficulty could be one of many such as a lost bag of mail through the postal system which is a fairly common occurrence in Australia.

In spite of these difficulties allegedly experienced by Sprackland in obtaining the original Wells and Wellington paper/s, we do not accept the arguments for the renaming of Varanus keithhornei to "Varanus teriae". While it is accepted by myself that Wells and Wellington's two controversial publications may have used and abused various rules of taxonomy in that possibly more species were described in single publications than is ususally attempted and that in other areas the papers may have contained errors, (e.g. "Aspidites collaris"), the fact is that in the case of V. keithhornei, Wells and Wellington assigned a valid name to a previously unnamed taxa. We accept that it is unfortunate that Sprackland later described the same species under a different name, but these events have occurred many times throughout history and we see no reason why this case should be different to the rest. In crude terms, "teriae" is a junior synonym and that is it. A perusal of Cogger's publication on Australian reptiles that lists synonyms (not cited here by name), reveals that junior synonyms (invalid names) are common place, particularly in earlier times, when for one reason or another an author has failed to be aware of earlier publications.

While it is accepted that the Wells and Wellington publication may not have been as widely available as it could have been, the fact is that key institutions such as the Australian Museum in Sydney and others did have copies and it appears that Sprackland failed to pursue these avenues sufficiently. Sprackland could not have been unaware that the Wells and Wellington publication was taxonomic in nature and that it described many new species, or at least purported to. It is therefore respectfully submitted by us, that he should have made further inquiries of the Wells and Wellington publications, (and got hold of them) before describing a new Australian taxa. (By way of anecdote I recall the difficulty I had of finding the original description of Liasis perthensis in 1981 at a time when it was a 'lost' species and thought to be a junior synonym of Liasis childreni as it was then known. The original "perthensis" description was published many years earlier by Stull in an obscure USA publication. I sought this description after I had found what I thought then may have been a new species of snake. I have since published several papers on the species, but all have used the correct name ("perthensis").

It is also noted that "teriae" was named after Sprackland's wife, so he may be accused of having a bias in retaining use of the species name. One concession we do make to the authors of 3043 is that in this case, unlike that of 3042 the authors do have common useage on their side. We are alse unaware of many publications that use the Wells and Wellington name, "keithhornei". In spite of this concession, we do not believe that the name "keithhornei" should be set aside.

In summary, we do not regard the common useage argument alone in the case against "keithhorni" to be sufficient in itself to warrent the name being set aside, particularly with regards to historical precedents.

Finally, it is our understanding that one or more of the authors of 3042 and 3043 may be office bearers at the ICZN and that Australian representatives on the ICZN may have made statements in litigation involving the monitor species named and/or made submissions in relation to the case for the formal suppression of the Wells and Wellington papers. We ask that those people step aside from the decision making process in relation to 3042 and 3043.

Thanking you for your anticipated assistance's.



FROM: Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology
Rockefeller Building, University Street, London WC1E 6JJ
Telephone 071-387 9300 Fax 071-380 7349
Head of Department Professor G. Burnstock, D.Sc., F.A.A., M.R.C.P.(Hon), F.R.S.
25 April 1995
TO: Mr Neil Davie
Victoria Herpetological Society
25 Coquette Street
Geelong West, Victoria 3218

Dear Mr Davie;

Your letter requesting information about the lectotype of Varanus gouldii has been referred to me by the Natural History Museum London. I am enclosing for your loan two colour slides of the specimen used by John Edward Gray in naming the species. Please return these by September, 1995; you may duplicate, but not publish, copies for your use. Additionally, I enclose the 1991 paper by Dr Wolfgang Bohme that explains why Varanus panoptes is only a junior name no longer available for the sand goanna. This nomenclatural act has been universally accepted by the herpetological community, and the incorrect name panoptes only appears now in books and articles written by uninformed amateurs or those published before the paper was made widely known.

As I understand this information is for use in a court case, it is perhaps advisable to bring a copy of the International Code for Zoological Nomenclature to court. It is written in legal-style terminology, and clearly spells out the rules affecting naming of species. In this case, Glenn Storr did a hasty job naming panoptes, failing to look at the type specimens housed in London. Had he done so, this confusion probably would not have arisen. I hope this material is of some help to you; if I can be of further assistance, please feel free to contact me.

Yours sincerely,


Vertebrate Palaeontology/Herpetology Research Group

FROM: Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology
Rockefeller Building, University Street, London WC1E 6JJ
Head of Department: Professor G. Burnstock, D.Sc., F.A.A., M.R.C.P.(Hon), F.R.S.
Telephone 071-387 930, Fax 071-380 734


Legal questions regarding the taxonomic validity of the names of monitor (goanna) lizard species in Australia require a status report on the zoological taxonomic validity of the names in question, and an explanation of the reasons for that status. The two names involved are Varanus gouldii (Gray 1838) and Varanus panoptes Storr (1980). The taxonomic history of each name is provided, along with pertinent references to the International Code for Zoological Nomenclature (called "the Code" below), which provides the internationally-accepted standards for naming and use of names in zoological science.

Varanus gouldii was originally named by John Edward Gray in 1838. A single adult specimen (1030 mm) was prepared as a dry mount in the British Museum (Natural History), London, where it remains today. Gray placed the species in the genus Hydrosaurus, which was a preoccupied name for a genus of unrelated agamid lizards from Indonesia. Subsequently, the genus name was corrected to Varanus, for which reason Gray's name and publication date follow the Latinized name in parentheses.

The designation of a specimen as a type (holotype, paratype) was unusual until the twentieth century, so Gray did not specify a catalogue number as the name-bearing holotype for his new species. The Code specifically states that in the absence of a physical type, the specimen used to prepare an illustration serves as the type even if not specifically designated by the author, and the illustration itself becomes an ideotype.

German taxonomist Robert Mertens reviewed the Australian monitor lizards in 1958, and by comparing the illustration provided by Gray with catalogue entries and the mounted specimens in the BMNH, rediscovered the original specimen (BMNH 1946.9.7.61) and designated that lizard the lectotype. The Code allows designation of a lectotype when a series of animals used by an author to name a species does not include a single, published record for a holotype; a subsequent revisor may then designate one of those animals as the single, namebearing lectotype. Mertens' action was both justified and appropriate. Wolfgang Bohme of the Zoological Museum of Alexander Koenig, Bonn, Germany, and this researcher have examined the lectotype and Gray's illustrations, and fully confirm BMNH 1946.9.7.61 is the specimen used by Gray to name Varanus gouldii.

It is important to note that a lectotype is chosen from among specimens that still exist and are known to have been examined by an original describer. Subsequently, they are not subject to replacement or invalidation by the Commission. Only a neotype is subject to review, and then only if the presumed lost holotvpe is later rediscovered. No neotypes were designated in describing any of the monitor lizards under discussion.

The name Varanus panoptes was used by Glenn Storr in 1980 to name a new species of Australian monitor. However, in so doing, Storr made the taxonomic error of not examining the types of related monitor species. The animals he named Varanus panoptes are actually the same as that named Varanus gouldii, and the Code specifically states that such a name can only be regarded as a junior synonym of the older name. The frequent subsequent use of the name panoptes, primarily by Australian authors, does not constitute valid grounds for suppressing the 132 year-older name gouldii. Neither is panoptes retainable on the basis of common usage, as gouldii is a well-known, well-defined, and long-used name.

Bohme provided a revised taxonomic list for the monitors in question:

Common names, such as sand monitor, racehorse goanna, etc., carry no scientific validity, and many species, among different genera, may have the same common name.

FROM: International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature
c/o The Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road,
London, SW7 5BD, U.K.
Tel. 0171-938 9387
6 September 1995

TO: Mr James Bigmore,

Dear Mr Bigmore,

Thank you for your letter of 22 August about the names of monitor lizards.

If the taxonomic facts are as presented by Bohme (1991), and I note that they are accepted by Mr Sprackland, then the valid name for the species called Varanus panoptes by Storr in 1980 is V. gouldii (Gray, 1838). This is because the name-bearing type specimen (designated as the lectotype by Mertens in 1958) of V. gouldii is a specimen of the same (northern) taxon as Storr's V. panoptes panoptes. As a consequence, and as explained by Bohme, Storr's V. p. rubidus is validly called V. gouldii rubidus and Bohme's subspecies is V. g. horni.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the name V. gouldii has been transferred away from the widespread species long known by that name but now validly called V. flavirufus Mertens, 1958. It might have been possible to have avoided that by asking the Commission to set aside the type status of Gray's specimen and to substitute a neotype for V. gouldii, but that was not done and the above nomenclature, which is valid according to the principle of priority, has now become accepted. Since the name gouldii is older than flavirufus it would be the valid specific name if Mertens' taxon were considered to be merely a subspecies.

I hope this solves your problems.

Yours sincerely,

Dr P.K. Tubbs
Executive Secretary

(ALL THE ABOVE and other relevant documents and more, including those detailing improper practices at the ICZN, submissions, final judgements, etc can be downloaded as a single self-executing zip file containing a few dozen word files by clicking here - just 340 k - three minute download).

The history of the saga of Varanus panoptes and why it isn't a valid species - Read Australia - Land of Goannas and Bureaucrats.

Raymond Hoser has been an active herpetologist for about 30 years and published over 130 papers in journals worldwide. He has written nine books including the definitive works "Australian Reptiles and Frogs", "Endangered Animals of Australia" and the controversial best seller "Smuggled - The Underground Trade in Australia's Wildlife". Click on the large type text below for details about his latest book - Smuggled-2.

Over 150 Downloadable Herp Papers - by Raymond Hoser.

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