in Monitor 10 (2/3) 1999, pp. 120-122.
on comments on the Genus Pailsus Hoser 1998
T. HOSER 41 Village Avenue, Doncaster, Victoria, 3108, Australia. Phone:+61
3 XXX Fax: +61 3 XXX E-mail: XXX
following comments are in response to an undated note published on an internet
by David J. Williams and Brian A. Starkey (listed here as Starkey and Williams
1999) as well as a similar posting by Williams on a ‘Venom and Toxin Discussion
Group’ on Byan Fry’s website dated 1 November 1998 and following comments
by Williams dated 6 March 1999 (two postings) and postings by Bryan Fry
on the same site dated 20 January 1999, 5 March 1999, 6 March 1999, and
7 March 1999.
ICZN rules do not recognize material on the internet as published (unless
also published in hard copy and appropriately distributed), I will for
the purpose of this note treat it as having been published. Refer to Williams
(1998a, 1998b, 1999a and 1999b) and Williams and Starkey (1999) as well
as Fry (1999a, 1999b, 1999c, and 1999d).
was located by this author following advice from Scott Eipper and addresses
my recent description of Pailsus pailsei sp. nov. (see Hoser 1998a).
Williams and Starkey, are both well-known and highly regarded herpetologists.
In their comment they agree that most herpetologists with experience of
the genus Pseudechis don’t accept it as it stands in its ‘current
phylogenetic arrangements’. While not stating specifically what that is,
I can only presume it is that as outlined in recent publications by Cogger
(e.g. Cogger (1992)). Williams and Starkey do not propose any new arrangement
or offer any concrete reason for maintaining the status quo, although they
end up maintaining the arrangement of Cogger (1992). I believe it is inevitable
that an arrangement along the lines of that proposed by Wells and Wellington
(1983, 1985) and others as cited in Hoser (1998a) will be adopted by the
general herpetological community when they eventually get over the stigma
of using names proposed by the ‘amateurs’ Wells and Wellington.
From my own
perspective I have no brief as to what names are used, so long as they
are ‘correct’ in terms of ICZN rules and those of accepted taxonomy. I
also have no concern as to whether the authors of those names are ‘amateurs’
or ‘professionals’ as I find use of the two terms artificial and unnecessarily
divisive for all concerned. Williams and Starkey stated ‘HOSER relies almost
solely on entirely single subcaudal scale arrangement in Pailsus to
distinguish it from Pseudechis.’ They then stated ‘An essential
error in HOSER (1998) is the author’s failure to test the morphological
characters for creation of Pailsus against all of the known species
of the donor genus, Pseudechis.’ They then cite individual characteristics
of Pailsus pailsei shared with given members of the genus Pseudechis
as described by Cogger (1992) as a basis for rejecting it being placed
in a separate genus.
Starkey then go on to state that they are of the view that the Pailsus
pailsei as described by Hoser represents a form of Pseudechis australis.
All the above arguments and the final conclusion by Williams and Starkey
are defective. Furthermore had Williams and Starkey properly read the original
paper by myself they would realize why all the above arguments by themselves
are defective. Of necessity I will repeat some of the original data as
produced in Hoser (1998a). Pailsus pailsei is distinguished from
all known Pseudechis by a suite of characteristics unique to it.
No other species
shares these. The single subcaudal arrangement is used to distinguish Pailsus
pailsei from the species it is likely to be confused with where it
is known to occur. That is the Mount Isa area. The species it is likely
to be confused with are Pseudechis australis and snakes of the genus
Pseudonaja. All are readily separated from Pailsus on this
basis (subcaudals). It is routine in a taxonomic paper to identify one
or two simple characteristics to enable differentiation of similar species
by lay people and experts alike when in the field. The use of the subcaudal
arrangement to key out the similar looking but different species where
they are known to occur sympatrically is optimal and sensible. It takes
into consideration and overrides similarities between the various species
that may arise through factors like age, sex, state of health, ground colour
and so on, all of which are variable and on their own, non-diagnostic characters.
Not only has
this been overlooked by Williams and Starkey, but in a separate letter
not cited here, Brian Bush of Western Australia similarly seems to have
overlooked my reason for treating subcaudals in pailsei as diagnostic
within the Mount Isa area. No author has produced any evidence to the contrary.
Also by way
of example, scalation similarities between Pailsus and Pseudechis
guttatus or Pseudechis colletti (as cited by Williams and Starkey)
are given little if any weight as it is impossible to confuse Pailsus
with either species. What generic arrangements are ultimately proposed
by Williams and Starkey or used by them is not of major concern to myself
as the genus level is an artificial category which cannot be ‘proven’ in
the same sense as a species can.
Hence I expect
the widespread adoption of the name Pailsus gen. nov. to take some
time, particularly noting the stigma some may have for using a ‘Hoser’
name. A species can be crudely ‘proven’ in as much as when different animals
mate and reproduce in the wild they are regarded as one and when they do
not, they are split into more than one. By way of example, Brown Tree Snakes
(Boiga irregularis) and Green Tree Snakes (Dendrelaphis punctulatus)
are sympatric and do not interbreed and so are different species. Red Sydney
Death Adders and Grey Sydney Death Adders do interbreed and are therefore
a single species, namely Acanthophis antarcticus.
In the case of pailsei, all evidence available strongly indicates
that there is NO interbreeding with australis. Thus the point cannot
be escaped that at this stage, they must be regarded as separate, albeit
similar looking, species.
There is proof
of sympatry, but none of interbreeding. Furthermore the stark physical
and scalation differences between pailsei and australis in
the Mount Isa area, coupled with the lack of known intermediates is further
compelling evidence that both are separate species. This point has apparantly
been overlooked by at least one of the authors (Williams) who in a post
dated March 6, 1999 wrongly implies that I have classified all Mount Isa
Pseudechis australis as Pailsus pailsei. In my original paper,
I specifically refer to ‘normal’ and sympatric Pseudechis australis
in the Mount Isa region. Williams and Starkey have not, to this author’s
knowledge, inspected either of the snakes on which the description was
concede that the substantial detail presented in the original description
readily allows them to form opinions based on the data presented, including
the high quality photos of the type and live specimens. The comments by
Williams and Starkey about the small size and gracile build being a reflection
of sexual dimorphism or parasite load are not credible. The original paper
specifically noted that adult female australis from the same area were
of substantially larger size and more solid build, as is typical for the
species throughout it’s range, thereby refuting the sexual dimorphism argument.
To make my
point abundantly clear, australis (of either sex) from the same
area attain roughly double the length ( av. about 2 m vs av. about 1 m)
and several times the weight of pailsei, regardless of sex. A photo of
a P. australis from Winton in Queensland in Hoser (1989) also indicates
obvious differences between the two taxa. As for an alleged parasite load
in the gut causing the gracile build in the two known pailsei; well,
that is just fanciful. The two snakes that formed the basis of the original
description had been long term captives in highly competent care. There
is no evidence of parasite load stunting growth or otherwise affecting
Also a good
look at the photos of the live specimen of pailsei in Hoser (1998a)
will show a different head morphology to australis from the same parts
of Queensland, or for that matter anywhere else they occur. Again refer
to Hoser (1989) for illustrations of P. australis.
And yes, again this confirms that pailsei is a separate species.
Some of the other reasons given for rejection of Pailsus pailsei
as a valid species seem to defy logic. They refer to previous authors who
have looked at P. australis but not identified any pailsei
(or something similar) in their samples. Besides the fact that there may
have been none of the latter species in their samples (highly likely),
the assertion is basically meaningless.
By way of
example, Glenn Storr of the WA Museum in the early 1980’s looked at a number
Acanthophis wellsei in his sample of A. pyrrhus and called
them the same species, namely A. pyrrhus. Nearly 20 years later,
I named these different snakes as a new species (A. wellsei), which
incidentally is also agreed as valid by Storr’s own successor at the WA
museum, Ken Aplin.
Starkey quoted an e-mail (Hoser 1998b) from myself stating that I was effectively
disinterested in the species as I had now done the description. Although
the quote had nothing to do with their arguments against adoption of the
species name, or lack of them, I should perhaps explain why I made the
statement. The legislative and financial hurdles to myself legally obtaining
live specimens for further research are relatively great and current commitments
elsewhere prevent me from undertaking such matters. By way of example my
wife has a child due in May 1999 and I am in the process of publishing
two major police corruption books due out at about the
the important need for further research on the species, I have already
written to the Queensland NPWS (Hoser 1998c) asking them to look favourably
on any and all applications from people interested in procuring specimens
of pailsei for any worthwhile purpose. The letter was sent within a month
of general publication of the original description and for the department’s
benefit included a media release and the original description. Notwithstanding
my comments above, I must say that I agree with an earlier comment by Williams
in an e-mail to me dated 26 October 1998, (Williams 1998) where he said
‘Let me say that the assessment of the “Pseudechis” group is long
overdue, and the more work tendered the better. I could not agree more
with your remarks re government wildlife authorities.’
I note that the comments by Williams and Starkey in their online paper
about pailsei lacked merit when scrutinized, I am pleased they chose
to publish them, as it has given me an opportunity to reaffirm the reasons
why pailsei is separate from australis, as well as again
show why the two have been confused for so many years and may again be
confused in future. I also have little doubt that the views expressed by
the two authors may also be shared by a small number of others with little
or no proper knowledge of pailsei and/or people who failed to properly
read the original description. It is for this reason I have chosen to comment
on their note, to address the issues raised, even though it is likely it’s
readership to date has been small.
My major problem
with their publication (if that’s the right way to put it) is that they
chose to rush into print without properly appraising the original paper
they were attempting to review. All questions raised by Williams and Starkey
had in fact been addressed in the original paper; a fact reflected in the
relative length of the description. As an ending comment, my own acquaintance
with the species pailsei was only shortly before the description
was published. I cannot claim to have discovered it in the strictest sense.
A number of
other herpetologists were aware of it and it was they who brought it to
my attention. I had never seen or heard of the species prior to 1998. However
in terms of it’s differences to P. australis, I must say that close
inspection of the pailsei revealed a number of stark contrasts,
not all of which were spelt out in my original paper, but most of which
can be seen from close inspection of the photos published with the paper
or inspection of the specimens themselves. In short, they cannot be missed
- they stand out like dog's balls!
view is shared by most herpetologists I have spoken to with familiarity
with the new species and also includes Sutherland (1999). Unless and until
there is firm evidence of interbreeding between the two taxa where they
occur, that is further confirmed by captive studies, it would be patently
reckless to attempt to regard pailsei and australis as one
1992 Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, Revised Edition, Reed
Publishing, Sydney, Australia:775pp.
Fry, B. 1999a.
Posting on Internet Venom and Toxin Discussion Group, January 20:1 p.
Fry, B. 1999b.
Posting on Internet Venom and Toxin Discussion Group, March 5:1 p.
Fry, B. 1999c.
Posting on Internet Venom and Toxin Discussion Group, March 6:1 p.
Fry, B. 1999d.
Posting on Internet Venom and Toxin Discussion Group, March 7:1 p.
T. 1989 Australian Reptiles and Frogs, Pierson and Co., Mosman,
NSW, Australia:238 pp.
R. T. 1998a ‘A new snake from Queensland, Australia (Serpentes: Elapidae).
Monitor 10 (1): Cover, 5-9.
T. 1998b E-mail from Raymond Hoser to David J. Williams, North Queensland:1
T. 1998c Letter from Raymond Hoser to Jon Womersley, Ian Rudd and Wendy
Bullock of Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service, October 28:2
pp., attachments 6 pp.
S. K. 1999. Concern over the choice of anti-venom for “false king brown
snake” bites and a plea for a name change. Medical Journal of Australia
W. and Wellington C.R. 1983 ‘A Synopsis of the class Reptilia in Australia’,
Australian Journal of Herpetology, 1(3-4):73-129.
W. and Wellington C. R. 1985 ‘A classification of the Amphibia and Reptilia
of Australia’, Australian Journal of Herpetology, Supplementary
D. J. 1998a E-mail to Raymond Hoser, 26 October:2 pp.
D. J. 1998b Posting on Internet Venom and Toxin Discussion Group, November
D. J. 1999a Posting on Internet Venom and Toxin Discussion Group, March
D. J. 1999b Posting on Internet Venom and Toxin Discussion Group, March
D. J. and Starkey, B. A. 1999 ‘Comments on the Genus Pailsus (Hoser,
1998)’, Undated document from the internet site http://www.uq.edu.au/~ddbfry/index.html:5
To download the original of this paper - with
photos exactly as it appeared in the journal Monitor -
to get the 1.06 mb pdf (Adobe Acrobat) file (it will take up to ten minutes
For the original Pailsus pailsei paper (on the web as html)
New localities in the NT and WA for the genus
A new snake from Irian Jaya.
Litteratura Serpentium, December 20(6):178-186.
A current assessment of the status of the snakes of the genera Cannia and Pailsus, including descriptions of three new subspecies from the Northern Territory and Western Australia, Australia.
Boydii - Journal of the Herpetological Society of Queensland Incorporated - July 2001.
Raymond Hoser has
been an active herpetologist for about 30 years and published over 140
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 sellers "Smuggled
- The Underground Trade in Australia's Wildlife",
Police Corruption" and "Victoria
Police Corruption - 2".
Over 150 Reptile Papers that
can be downloaded.
Australian Smuggling and
Wildlife Crime Site
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