A snake described by Wells and Wellington in 1987 and since known in the herpetological community as "Cannia weigeli Wells and Wellington 1987"
Following publication of the original description of Pailsus pailsei Hoser (1998b), this author received a phone call from Richard Wells.
Wells stated that he had described a similar snake in 1987 and named it "Cannia weigeli".
Hoser called on Wells to provide a copy of this "description" but Wells said he didnít have a copy.
Subsequently, John Weigel e-mailed the author with the same story, but also said he didnít have a copy of the description.
Checks of the Australian and Victorian Museums also failed to locate a copy of this alleged description. The persons spoken to claimed ignorance of the "description", which wasnít altogether surprising, as this concurred with the authorís inquiries preceding the publication of the first Pailsus description.
Sometime after this, (31 October 1998 to be exact) , Peter Mirtschin faxed this author a copy of this "description", having himself received the "paper" by fax from co-author C. Ross Wellington the same day.
This "description" if thatís the correct word, was written by Wells and Wellington in 1987. It consisted of a typed "paper" and line drawings that was then photocopied and disseminated.
As far as this author can ascertain, only a handful of copies were ever distributed. It was never published in a journal as such and based on the fact that it was merely presented in the form of a few photocopied sheets, it possibly failed to fit the ICZNís code, namely section 8.1.3. which says to be published properly and in accordance with the code "it must have been produced in an edition containing simultaneously obtainable copies by a method that assures numerous identical and durable copies." (see below).
In this authorís view, the relative lack of copies and the relatively undurable nature of the publication (mere sheets of paper) may mean that the publication is not valid within the bounds of the ICZNís code.
The content of the description itself, several pages in length, certainly comply with the rules of the ICZN as applied at the time, even if this author disagreed with some of the taxonomic conclusions drawn in the same paper following the formal description of the type specimen.
Further conversations with Richard Wells led to Wells telling this author that he thought that Pailsus pailsei and Cannia weigeli were probably separate species or at least subspecies, with no Pailsus being known from the intervening parts of the Northern Territory.
Wells stated that he agreed with the erection of the new genus Pailsus and that "his" species "weigeli" should be transferred to the genus Pailsus.
At that time the whereabouts of the alleged type specimen of "Cannia weigeli" was not known so this author was effectively unable to proceed further with inquiries into the matter.
Wells directed this author to the Australian Museum (in Sydney) who subsequently directed this author to the West Australian Museum (Perth). The former institution (Ross Sadlier) said they had sent the type specimen to the latter institution.
In 2001, following the e-mail campaign against this author by Williams and Wüster on the internet, Glen Shea contacted this author on 5 February via e-mail (Shea 2001) to tell what he knew of "Cannia weigeli".
He stated that he had published a mention of the Wells and Wellington description in Herpetofauna the following year (by way of synonymy with P. australis) (Shea et. al. 1988) and that he also regarded the Wells and Wellington "paper" as being validly published and/or the Herpetofauna reference somehow validating the original description.
A check of the Shea et. al. paper in Herpetofauna confirmed what Shea said was correct. It also indelibly gave the Wells and Wellington description priority in terms of date, over the Hoser descriptions.
In March 2001, Jeanette Covacevich told this author that by her interpretation of the ICZN rules, she disagreed with the assertion that the Wells and Wellington "paper" (Wells and Wellington 1987) was "published" and/or validated by Shea et. al. 1987.
There have been mixed views on this point expressed to this author by numerous herpetologists, some of whom appear to have axes to grind in one direction or other (not those named above) and as seen by the results published in this paper, the final determination of this matter by herpetologists (other than this author) will probably have no impact on the ultimate acceptance and usage of the species names pailsei and rossignollii as assigned by this author. The reason being that the three names weigeli, pailsei and rossignollii all identify three distinct taxa.
For the benefit of readers of this journal who may be confused, the earlier Wells and Wellington papers published in 1983 and 1985 were published in a proper magazine style journal called the "Australian Journal of Herpetology".
The "Cannia weigeli" description was not.
Thus this author was in a situation whereby the Cannia weigeli description had been effectively overlooked due to the fact that next to no one, including those who should, knew of it.
If nothing else, it appears that Wells and Wellington failed one of the ICZN Codeís recommendations to widely disseminate their "paper".
However in defence of the pair, they were at the time busy fighting a rearguard action to "save" the names theyíd proposed in a total of 357 taxonomic and nomenclatural acts/changes in relation to Australasian herpetofauna (in three papers) in the face of actions by other Australian herpetologists to have them suppressed by the ICZN, and so the pair were probably otherwise preoccupied. Refer to Anonymous (1987) and later publications in the Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature relating to ICZN case number 2531 for details.
What was 100% certain to this author by end 1998 was that "Cannia weigeli" and Pailsus pailsei were very similar, if not the same.
The picture of the relationships between the two have now become somewhat clearer.
The two forms, weigeli and pailsei are different taxa (see below) and therefore should carry separate names.
Throughout the period 1998-2001, Wells and Wellington and this author have been united on one important aspect. This has not been so much, what the snakes are ultimately called and/or who is listed as the describer, but rather that they are identified as distinct species and named properly as per ICZN rules.
Thus in this respect at least, we have been united as one.
Finally and notwithstanding the comments above, this author suggests usage of the name "weigeli" be preserved unless and until the ICZN is called upon to rule otherwise and after such ruling is made.
For the first time ever, photos of the holotypes of "Cannia weigeli" and "Cannia centralis", both formally named by Wells and Wellington in the 1980ís are published with this paper as an aid to assist other herpetologists in forming their own views about the taxonomy of these snakes.
The above was from a paper published in mid 2001
"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."
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