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The Freshie: Australian crocodile, seemingly from the north (crocodiles part V)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Freshwater crocodile, photographed in captivity by Richard Fisher. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

It’s time to carry on once more with the Tet Zoo crocodile series – for previous parts, see the list of links below. In the previous article we looked at the New Guinea crocodile Crocodylus novaeguineae and Philippine crocodile C. mindorensis, and before that the Saltwater, Indopacific or Estuarine crocodile C. porosus.

Dorsal osteoderm compliment of Freshwater crocodile, from Ross & Mayer (1983). Note that the cervical and dorsal shields are nearly contiguous and that there are typically two rows of ovate scutes between the cervical shield and the back of the skull. Greg Mayer kindly points out that I've been citing the wrong Ross brother when referencing Ross & Mayer (1983) - apologies!

This last species famously occurs in (but is not unique to) Australia where it’s definitely the largest, most formidable and most feared crocodile. For it’s not the only one there: Australia is also home to the Freshwater or Johnston’s crocodile C. johnstoni or C. johnsoni, also called the Freshie [photo of captive Freshie above by Richard Fisher]. Most people interested in crocodilians know that G. Krefft mis-spelt the specific name when naming this species (in 1873) after Robert A. Johnston; the incorrect spelling johnsoni has been used widely ever since. According to the ICZN, incorrectly spelt names have to be retained for reasons of stability so – technically – C. johnsoni is ‘right’, even though it’s definitely wrong. Despite this, many authors (including most Australian herpetologists) have used the correct, but ‘wrong’ C. johnstoni, mostly since Cogger et al. (1983) argued that it deserves precedence.

It’s difficult today to work out which name appears more frequently in the literature, though it has been said that C. johnstoni is “most commonly applied in the scientific and general literature” (Webb & Manolis 2010, p. 66). If you work on the basis that language exists to serve us, not the other way round, it seems most sensible to use the ‘wrong’ spelling C. johnstoni, and I’ll follow many others in doing that here.

Oh, it’s not directly relevant to the content of this article but – if you’re wondering – here’s how that montage of fossil crocodyliforms is coming along (for the previous version go here). Still numerous taxa left to add…

Some of crocodyliform diversity, by Darren Naish. We'll be seeing lots more of this image later on.

The Freshie is a particularly long-snouted member of Crocodylus, with a snout that’s about three times longer than it is wide at its base. In contrast to the Saltwater croc, the Freshie lacks unarmoured bands between its dorsal and cervical osteoderm shields. At maximum it perhaps reaches 3 m in length. Freshies are (so far as we know, read on) uniquely Australian, being found only in northern Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland. The species is of course mostly associated with rivers, billabongs and (during the wet seasons) flooded grasslands and forests; it generally avoids areas frequently by the Saltwater crocodile, but the two are known to be sympatric in places. When Saltwater crocs declined due to hunting, Freshwater crocs moved in, but when the Saltwater crocs recovered, Freshwater crocs retreated. In other words, competitive exclusion seems to be in operation between the two species. The Freshie appears to be at healthy population levels overall, though its sensitivity to Cane toad poison is a cause for concern and the topic of ongoing research. [Photo below by Guillaume Blanchard].

Another captive Freshie; photo by Guillaume-Blanchard, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license.

In terms of ecology, it’s a fish predator that uses rapid lateral strikes of the open jaws to grab passing prey; frogs, mammals (bats and murid rodents), snakes, turtles, birds and other vertebrates are on record as prey items as well (Tucker et al. 1996). An ontogenetic shift from invertebrates to vertebrates occurs (Tucker et al. 1996).

The historical view

Hypothesis of crocodile phylogeny, shown in simplified form but mostly based on Oaks (2011). The Freshwater crocodile is a member of the 'reduced' Indopacific assemblage. Photos (top to bottom) by Mo Hassan, Davric, Herbert Ponting, Dave Hone, Naish, Wilfried Berns. Image of New Guinea crocodile (icon for 'reduced' Indopacific assemblage) licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Germany license. Click to enlarge.

How does C. johnstoni fit into the crocodile radiation? Meganathan et al. (2010) found the Freshwater crocodile to be the sister-taxon to a C. mindorensis + C. novaeguineae clade in several of their trees, and Oaks (2011) supported this position as well. Oaks (2011) put the divergence between C. johnstoni and the C. mindorensis + C. novaeguineae lineage in the Serravalian or Tortonian part of the Miocene (somewhere round about 13-11 million years ago or so), so the Freshie might not be an especially young species… but, then again, it might, since we don’t know much, if anything, about the extinct populations that form the stem of its lineage. We might regard them as separate species if only we had better fossils of them – all we have are a few fragments.

Willis & Archer (1990) described an isolated, incomplete dentary from Pleistocene deposits at Riversleigh that they referred to C. johnstoni. Intriguingly, it’s exceptionally large for this species (preserved total length 183 mm; when complete, it would have been several cm longer – this is dentary length, not whole jaw length). This might show that modern Freshies are ‘unnaturally’ small due to human hunting pressures, or it could show that Pleistocene Freshies were larger on average than Holocene ones. The specimen, however, also differs from modern C. johnstoni individuals in being relatively narrower, and in having a noticeable gap between the 5th and 6th alveoli (Willis & Archer 1990). Maybe these differences are inconsequential, but maybe they hint at the presence of a distinct Pleistocene member of the C. johnstoni lineage.

From Willis & Archer (1990). The big Pleistocene Freshie jaw is visible as the data point at extreme right.

If you’ve read the previous articles in this series (or if you know a lot about crocodiles already), you’ll know that the clade that contains C. johnstoni, C. mindorensis and C. novaeguineae can be regarded as a pared-down version of the ‘Indopacific assemblage’ hypothesised in previous studies (e.g., Brochu 2000). With the Saltwater croc removed (as discussed previously, it seems to be part of the same clade as the Siamese crocodile C. siamensis and Mugger C. palustris), this group can be imagined as a ‘reduced’ Indopacific assemblage, as shown in the simplified cladogram above.

Given that the Freshwater crocodile is exclusively Australian, it’s difficult to know what these results mean in terms of biogeographical history. It obviously seems sensible to conclude that the ‘reduced’ Indopacific assemblage clade originated in the Indopacific region (as, maybe, did crown-group Crocodylus crocodiles as a whole), but did it diversify in Australasia before one lineage dispersed to the Philippines, or did the two Australasian taxa (the New Guinea and Freshwater crocodile) reach Australasia independently after originating further north? If the latter possibility is true, we should expect fossil Freshwater crocodiles (or stem members of the Freshwater crocodile lineage) to be discovered north of Australia.

There’s a lot left to find out.

Non-standard taxonomic proposals, and the Hoser Problem

Galloping Freshwater croc, photo by Adam Britton. This is a McKinlay River Freshie - the sort suggested to represent the new species Philas webbi by Wells & Wellington (1985).

In recent decades, the Freshie has been universally included within the genus Crocodylus, and molecular and morphological data shows it to be deeply nested within a clade that has long been associated with this name. For the sake of completeness, however, it’s only right to note that Wells & Wellington (1983, 1985) sought to reinstate the generic name Philas, coined by John Gray in 1874, for both this crocodile and the New Guinea crocodile. Furthermore, Wells & Wellington (1985) also suggested (as they did with the Saltwater crocodile) that the Freshie might represent a species complex rather than a single species. According to these authors, a Northern Territory population (the holotype is from the McKinlay River) that reaches a smaller maximum size than Freshies elsewhere warrants recognition as the distinct species Philas webbi. As with the other ‘new’ Australian crocodile named by Wells & Wellington (1985) (C. pethericki), the idea that “P. webbi” might deserve recognition has not been accepted by other workers. [Adjacent photo of a galloping McKinkay River Freshie by Adam Britton; from McKinlay River Freshwater Crocodile Project page at the invaluable Crocodilians: Natural History & Conservation.]

I should also note that Raymond T. Hoser – a notorious individual who has published tens of new taxonomic names for Australian reptiles in his self-published, strangely written, non-technical works – has also just (within the last week or two) proposed some revisions to the taxonomy of Freshwater crocodiles as well as for crocodiles in general (Hoser 2012a).

Two of the crocodile taxa affected by Hoser's recommendations: Saltwater croc (conventionally Crocodylus porosus) and New Guinea crocs (conventionally C. novaeguineae). Photos by Darren Naish and Wilfried Berns. New Guinea croc photo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Germany license.

For starters, he argues that Crocodylus as currently conceived should be split into several genera: Crocodylus Laurenti, 1768 is retained for C. niloticus alone, Oxycrocodylus Hoser, 2012 is coined for the African species C. suchus, Motina Gray, 1844 is resurrected for the New World species, and Oopholis Gray, 1844 is also resurrected for Asian and Australasian species. If you’re wondering, Oxycrocodylus is named after Hoser’s dog, Oxyuranus – itself named after the Australian snake. A lengthy etymology section explains why Hoser’s dog, nicknamed ‘Oxy’, has provided a sterling contribution to Australian herpetology (Hoser 2012a, p. 13).

Within Oopholis, Hoser (2012a) regards Philas as a subgenus for the Australasian species. If you read the previous article on the New Guinea crocodile C. novaeguineae, you might recall the discussion of distinct northern and southern forms, neither of which have been granted taxonomic separation. Hoser acts on this, naming the southern one O. adelynhoserae. It’s named after one of his daughters (Hoser 2012a, p. 13). [New Guinea croc photo here by Wilfried Berns.]

Among Australian crocodiles, he also names the Liverpool River crocodiles of Northern Territory as the new species O. jackyhoserae. The etymology isn’t given, but I assume the name honours his other daughter. These crocodiles – Hoser (2012a) says that males “average under 1.5 m” (versus 1.7 m for an average male Freshie) – have otherwise been identified as a population of C. johnstoni. Hoser (2012a) doesn’t provide any comprehensive measurement data, nor any skeletal or molecular data – their separate species status is based on scute and scale number, small overall size, and proportionally longer limbs. If there really is data confirming the validity of these supposedly diagnostic features, then frankly the case for species status doesn’t sound unreasonable. Alas, the data – if it exists – is not presented, so all we have is an assertion or, at best, a very poorly presented hypothesis of separate taxonomic status.

Photo of Liverpool River freshwater crocodile, by Grahame Webb.

I’d rather this didn’t become the time or place to discuss what has become known as ‘Hoser taxonomy’, but it does need to be said that Hoser’s works are decidedly unprofessional, the numerous taxonomic changes he proposes are typically highly questionable and without adequate support, and few – if any – working experts agree with his proposals. Of the allegedly new Liverpool River crocodile, Grahame Webb, their discoverer, said that “They are stunted because of a lack of food; they are a clinal variation and not a new species”. Of Mr Hoser, Webb added “The guy’s a f*****g idiot” (I’m not kidding, this quote was genuinely reported in an online news article from the Northern Territory News).

Hoser is so prolific and has self-published so many new names (including species, subgenera, genera and tribes – the count was c. 60 new taxa as of May 2012) that he’s been accused of ‘taxonomic vandalism’. The ICZN seemingly refuses to impart any kind of blanket ban on the names Hoser proposes, since it argues that the maintenance of ‘taxonomic freedom’ – that is, the right of researchers to make taxonomic changes as they see fit, so long as they operate within the rules – is important. However, this ignores the fact that Hoser’s works (which aren’t peer-reviewed, nor written in the style or tone expected of technical contributions) contain undoubted examples of unethical behaviour (e.g., knowingly scooping other authors because their work was preceding too slowly (Hoser 2000)) and frequently include personal rants directed at professional herpetologists, officials, politicians and judges. In other words, he isn’t operating within the normal rules. Hoser, incidentally, writes at length about alleged corruption in the Victorian police force and legal profession and he has been found guilty of (and fined for) “scandalising the court”. Wikipedia’s page on him is pretty good.

Raymond Hoser, one of many photos available online. His venomous snakes have their venom glands surgically removed.

Hoser’s main response to those who criticise his herpetological articles is that they are “truth haters” who reject his work due to personal vendettas or biases. It should be clear to any outside party that Hoser’s works are woefully inadequate as pieces of honest scholarship: if you don’t believe me, look at any of pp. 3-13 in Hoser (2009a) or pp. 16-18 in Hoser (2009b). It should also be noted that his proposed nomenclatural acts are not trivial and irrelevant if you’re interested in conservation, ethics and welfare, since many of them concern venomous snakes – a group of animals for which a stable nomenclature, accessible via a clearly authoritative literature, is something of a must (for reasons related to law, medicine and communication).

I’m hardly the first to bring attention to the Hoser issue and I definitely won’t be the last. As you’ll know if you follow Hoser’s Australasian Journal of Herpetology, a group of qualified herpetologists recently put together a manuscript in which they argue why Hoser’s work qualifies as taxonomic vandalism, and why his output necessitates the creation of some sort of ICZN-approved vetting system for new herpetological names. This manuscript was leaked to Hoser, and he has published it in full, together with a lengthy response that includes screenshots of facebook pages and chains of email correspondence (Hoser 2012b). I think it’s time that as many of us as possible stand up and denounce Hoser’s work. Taxonomic freedom is all very well and good, but due process, conservatism and appropriate levels of scholarship, rigour and evidence are essential if a researcher’s output is to be taken seriously.

I didn’t realise we’d end up here, giving that this article was meant to be about crocodiles. More soon.

For previous Tet Zoo articles on crocodiles, see…

Refs – -

Brochu, C. A. 2000. Phylogenetic relationships and divergence timing of Crocodylus based on morphology and the fossil record. Copeia 2000, 657-673.

Cogger, H. G., Cameron, E. E. & Cogger, H. M. 1983. Amphibia and Reptilia In Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Vol. 1. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Hoser, R. 2000. A new species of snake (Serpentes: Elapidae) from Irian Jaya. Litteratura Serpentium 20, 178-186.

- . 2009a. Creationism and contrived science: a review of recent python systematics papers and the resolution of issues of taxonomy and nomenclature. Australasian Journal of Herpetology 2, 1-34.

- . 2009b. A reclassification of the rattlesnakes; species formerly exclusively referred to the genera Crotalus and Sistrurus. Australasian Journal of Herpetology 6, 1-21.

- . 2012a. A review of the taxonomy of the living crocodiles including the description of three new tribes, a new genus, and two new species. Australasian Journal of Herpetology 14, 9-16.

- . 2012b. Robust taxonomy and nomenclature based on good science escapes harsh factbased criticism, but remains unable to escape an attack of lies and deception. Australasian Journal of Herpetology 14, 37-64.

Oaks, J. R. 2011. A time-calibrated species tree of Crocodylia reveals a recent radiation of the true crocodiles. Evolution 65, 3285-3297.

Ross, F. D. & Mayer, G. C. 1983. On the dorsal armor of the Crocodilia. In Rhodin, A. G. J. & Miyata, K. (eds) Advances in Herpetology and Evolutionary Biology. Museum of Comparative Zoology (Cambridge, Mass.), pp. 306-331.

Tucker, A. D., Limpus, C. J., McCallum, H. I. & McDonald, K. R. 1996. Ontogenetic dietary partitioning by Crocodylus johnstoni during the dry season. Copeia 1996, 978-988.

Webb, G. J. W. & Manolis, S. C. 2010. Australian Freshwater Crocodile Crocodylus johnstoni. In Manolis, S. C. & Stevenson, C. (eds) Crocodiles. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. Third Edition. Crocodile Specialist Group, Darwin, pp. 66-70.

Wells, R. W. & Wellington, C. R. 1983. A synopsis of the Class Reptilia in Australia. Australian Journal of Herpetology 1, 73-129.

- . & Wellington, C. R. 1985. A classification of the Amphibia and Reptilia of Australia. Australian Journal of Herpetology, Suppl. Ser. 1, 1-61.

Willis, P. M. A. & Archer, M. 1990. A Pleistocene longirostrine crocodilian from Riversleigh: first fossil occurrence of Crocodylus johnstoni Krefft. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 28, 159-163.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at darrennaish.wordpress.com. He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at tetzoo.com! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Christopher Taylor 9:40 am 07/31/2012

    Once again, I feel compelled to ward off the mention of Raymond Hoser with the words of C. T. Simpson: “Life is too short and valuable to be wasted in any attempt at deciphering such nonsense“. The guy shows every sign of being a complete arse. I dare anyone to look at his website and not fall about laughing: it’s like something from Geocities ca 1997.

    this quote was genuinely reported in an online news article from the Northern Territory News

    The Northern Territory News is known for being a little quirky. And they take their crocodiles seriously, dammit.

    Re Crocodylus johnsoni vs C. johnstoni: if Krefft stated that he was naming it after Johnston, then that would seem a pretty clear case where the change in spelling would be justified (Art. 32.5.1: “If there is in the original publication itself, without recourse to any external source of information, clear evidence of an inadvertent error, such as a lapsus calami or a copyist’s or printer’s error, it must be corrected. Incorrect transliteration or latinization, or use of an inappropriate connecting vowel, are not to be considered inadvertent errors.”) Anyone know what the original publication was?

    Link to this
  2. 2. Christopher Taylor 9:49 am 07/31/2012

    Scratch that: the original publication (see here) cites ‘Mr. Johnson’. Any inference that Mr Johnston was the intended would fail the ‘without recourse to any external source of information’ requirement, so by that measure ‘johnstoni‘ would be an unjustified emendation. However, Art. 33.2.3.1 does allow for an unjustified emendation to be accepted as if it were justified if it has entered ‘prevailing usage’.

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  3. 3. naishd 9:59 am 07/31/2012

    Ah, you just beat me to it on Krefft’s naming of the species.

    The Hoser Problem is somewhat similar to some other mis-educational efforts I’ve been involved in, but it’s a far more serious problem with real-world implications. Action is desperately needed. Hoser seems to think people hate his stuff because they just do; he can’t seem to appreciate that it isn’t sufficient to look at published phylogenies and name taxa willy-nilly whenever a ‘genus’ is recovered as non-monophyletic (there is where a lot of his ‘new taxa’ come from).

    Darren

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  4. 4. Heteromeles 11:05 am 07/31/2012

    Personally, I think Hoser has a perfect name. I strongly suggest Googling the definition of hoser, or going to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoser

    Link to this
  5. 5. vdinets 11:29 am 07/31/2012

    I once had an anonymous reviewer demand that I change johnsoni to johnstoni in one of my papers. Then the paper was re-submitted, and a different anonymous reviewer insisted that I change it back :-)

    Link to this
  6. 6. BilBy 11:45 am 07/31/2012

    My association with Australian herpetology is limited (but hopefully growing) and nothing to do with taxonomy (behaviour instead); even so, the ‘Hoser Problem’ as one of the first things I heard about/was told about when I first went to Oz.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Heteromeles 11:49 am 07/31/2012

    Which term fits better for Hoser’s type of behavior, vandal or troll?

    Link to this
  8. 8. ralfmuschall 11:58 am 07/31/2012

    @Heteromeles (#4): Yes, besides “taxonomy”, his second hobby is turning wonderful snakes into hoses. Go watch http://www.smuggled.com/VenArt1p.htm and cry. At least crocs don’t have venom glands, so he can’t mutilate them.

    Link to this
  9. 9. naishd 12:17 pm 07/31/2012

    I’ve been reading about his process of turning dangerous venomous snakes into supposedly safe ‘venomoid’ ones (Hoser 2004). It involves sedating the snake (I’m not sure how, though the word ‘fridge’ is mentioned in passing), taping it to a board, restraining it via wires connected to nails located on either sides of the snake’s head, and cutting out its venom ducts. Hoser maintains that this is not a problem for the snakes – that they recover quickly without issue and are unphased by the procedure. I really want to know if this is true, for I doubt that it is. Mark O’Shea published a response – more on this later.

    Hoser, R. 2004. Surgical removal of venom glands in Australian elapid snakes: the creation of venomoids. The Herptile 29 (1), 36-52.

    Darren

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  10. 10. John Scanlon FCD 12:23 pm 07/31/2012

    I once referred back on Tet Zoo 2 to George Boulenger’s comments on C. W. Devis’ contributions to reptile taxonomy, but couldn’t locate the actual text. Here is part of what Glen Ingram (1990, full ref in comment at link above) quoted:

    Their author is no doubt stimulated by the desire of promoting herpetological knowledge in his country, but, through incompetence and want of care, he will do much harm.

    I don’t know why I felt the need to look that up just now.

    Boulenger, G.A. 1885. Remarks on Mr. de Vis’ recent contributions to the herpetology of Australia. Annals and Magazine of Natural History (5)16(95): 386-387.

    Link to this
  11. 11. Bret Newton 1:29 pm 07/31/2012

    I know that there is a movement among some mammalian taxonomists to put a date of the Miocene-Pliocene boundary as the split point for generic differences. I wonder if this could equivocate to crocodilians?

    Link to this
  12. 12. Hai~Ren 1:33 pm 07/31/2012

    I do wonder which species reached Australia first; maybe C. johnstoni/johnsoni* was the first to reach/evolve, and has retreated in the face of competition/predation by C. porosus.

    *Is this one of those cases that requires the ICZN to intervene and settle this issue once and for all?

    Besides Rawlings et al. (2008), which found that the reticulated python & Timor python are more closely related to the pythons of Australasia than they are to the other Python species (hence justifying the use of Broghammerus as the name for this clade), are there any other examples in which Hoser’s rampant renaming was legitimised by other scientific studies? He may be an effing idiot, but I won’t be surprised if his taxonomic vandalism approach does occasionally hit the mark.

    How should researchers respond if their studies find new species or genera that have already been covered by Hoser’s vanity press? Is it possible to choose to ignore Hoser completely and come up with your own new name? Or does the ICZN mandate that you’re stuck with using Hoser’s name, because it has nomenclatural priority?

    Link to this
  13. 13. Halbred 1:40 pm 07/31/2012

    Is it just me, or does the Freshie in the fourth image have really tall caudal spines?

    Link to this
  14. 14. John Scanlon FCD 1:44 pm 07/31/2012

    I know that Hoser has used the fridge to slow down reptiles for photography for many years, so it’s not surprising that he’d use it for his Dr Moreau projects as well. Various ethics committees take the view that chilled ectotherms, while unresponsive, are able to feel pain, and this is consequently not an allowed method of anaesthesia in many cases.
    (This is also a serious issue for ‘toad-busters’ in Australia now, because official bodies frown on the uncomplicated and efficient practice of euthanasing Cane Toads by refrigeration followed by freezing, and apparently expect volunteers to deliver their catch alive and happy at collection centers where they can be… gassed with CO2.)

    Link to this
  15. 15. JoseD 2:02 pm 07/31/2012

    “An ontogenetic shift from invertebrates to vertebrates occurs (Tucker et al. 1996).”

    Doesn’t the same go for crocodilians in general?

    “Of Mr Hoser, Webb added “The guy’s a f*****g idiot” (I’m not kidding, this quote was genuinely reported in an online news article from the Northern Territory News).”

    Awesome.

    “I didn’t realise we’d end up here, giving that this article was meant to be about crocodiles. More soon.”

    It’s OK. Crazy researchers make for good reading too.

    Link to this
  16. 16. naishd 4:09 pm 07/31/2012

    Thanks for great comments. JoseD (comment 14) – I was going to put “as has been determined for other crocodilian species” after the bit about ontogenetic diet shifts.. yes, it has been documented in other species and might be ubiquitous.

    Darren

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  17. 17. Perisoreus 6:54 pm 07/31/2012

    Now I’m a little bit confused. I always thought that (unintentionally) incorrectly spelled names could be corrected retroactively: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/hosted-sites/iczn/code/includes/page.jsp?nfv=&article=32#5

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  18. 18. Neil K. 7:26 pm 07/31/2012

    “It’s difficult today to work out which name appears more frequently in the literature, though it has been said that C. johnstoni is “most commonly applied in the scientific and general literature” (Webb & Manolis 2010, p. 66).”

    A decidedly pseudoscientific test with Google Ngrams suggests C. johnstoni is the more widely used spelling at least since 1980. If you include “Crocodilus” variants, it looks like “johnstoni” has always been the more widely used name. A Google Scholar hit comparison yields similar results: ~100 hits for “Crocodylus johnsoni” vs. ~1,000 for Crocodylus johnstoni.

    “If you work on the basis that language exists to serve us, not the other way round, it seems most sensible to use the ‘wrong’ spelling C. johnstoni, and I’ll follow many others in doing that here.”

    While I generally agree with that sentiment, taxonomic nomenclature seems to be one of the few cases where prescriptivism actually makes sense. Strict rules, even when they seem to violate common sense, presumably afford partial protection from at least some of the would-be Hosers of the world. To misquote some minor British politician, “ICZN: the worst way for naming animals except for all of the other ones.”

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  19. 19. ChasCPeterson 7:50 pm 07/31/2012

    if you don’t believe me, look at any of pp. 3-13 in Hoser (2009a) or pp. 16-18 in Hoser (2009b)

    wow!
    I believe you now.
    hoo, that’s some of the most dysfunctional ‘science’ I’ve ever seen.

    Link to this
  20. 20. Heteromeles 8:21 pm 07/31/2012

    Just to post a question on Freshies, I seem to remember a picture of a Freshie galloping, and it was taken as evidence that their ancestors were, perhaps endothermic at some point in the distant past.

    My questions are:
    –has any other croc been filmed with all four feet off the ground, and
    –how do people feel about the potential link between galloping and endothermic (or formerly endothermic) quadrupeds?

    Link to this
  21. 21. John Scanlon FCD 12:54 am 08/1/2012

    “are there any other examples in which Hoser’s rampant renaming was legitimised by other scientific studies?”

    For example, there’s Acanthophis wellsi, originally named wellsei by Hoser and emended (uncontroversially) by Aplin & Donnellan 1999. The shotgun approach can be effective in sticking names to populations.

    [An earlier comment seems to be missing - held up for having a link and blockquote tags, I presume]

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  22. 22. David Marjanović 5:18 am 08/1/2012

    So the Freshie is the Truly False Gharial…? :-)

    Haven’t read the rest yet because I need to run, just:

    According to the ICZN, incorrectly spelt names have to be retained for reasons of stability

    Depends. Article 32.5.1 with its Example has been linked to above. Did Krefft say whether he was naming the species after “Johnston” or “Johnson”?

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  23. 23. David Marjanović 9:01 am 08/1/2012

    Oops. Comment 2 beat me to it.

    Among Australian crocodiles, he also names the Liverpool River crocodiles of Northern Territory as the new species O. jackyhoserae. The etymology isn’t given

    (That makes Recommendation 5 sad.)

    In other words, he isn’t operating within the normal rules.

    He is as far as the ICZN is concerned, except that he apparently failed to describe certain type specimens. The Code of Ethics consists of Recommendations, not of Rules.

    Is it possible to choose to ignore Hoser completely and come up with your own new name? Or does the ICZN mandate that you’re stuck with using Hoser’s name, because it has nomenclatural priority?

    The latter – in the cases where his names are actually available, but most of them seem to be.

    (This is also a serious issue for ‘toad-busters’ in Australia now, because official bodies frown on the uncomplicated and efficient practice of euthanasing Cane Toads by refrigeration followed by freezing, and apparently expect volunteers to deliver their catch alive and happy at collection centers where they can be… gassed with CO2.)

    ARGH! Gassing with CO2 cannot possibly be painless!!!

    I’ve watched a clawed toad being put on ice, its belly slit open, an entire ovary full of large eggs removed, sewed shut, and then left to thaw. Didn’t show any remarkable behavior after thawing, as far as I can tell.

    wow!
    I believe you now.
    hoo, that’s some of the most dysfunctional ‘science’ I’ve ever seen.

    Seconded.

    How dare Wüster be based in Wales!!! :-D :-D :-D

    Link to this
  24. 24. @stegorawrrr 9:31 am 08/1/2012

    Definitely an awesome montage of crurotarsans Sir Darren :D

    Link to this
  25. 25. BilBy 9:52 am 08/1/2012

    re: Hoser Wikipedia page – Wait, one can set up a Journal, be the sole Editor, presumably be the sole reviewer and then become the sole contributing author?! Wow.

    Link to this
  26. 26. John Scanlon FCD 12:56 pm 08/1/2012

    “An ontogenetic shift from invertebrates to vertebrates occurs”
    That would be zoophagy recapitulating phylogeny?

    Link to this
  27. 27. Andreas Johansson 4:51 pm 08/1/2012

    Invertebrates, as a rule, being smaller than vertebrates, does the pattern hold if one corrects for size? One expects larger crocs generally eat larger prey.

    Link to this
  28. 28. naishd 4:25 am 08/2/2012

    BilBy (comment 25) says…

    “re: Hoser Wikipedia page – Wait, one can set up a Journal, be the sole Editor, presumably be the sole reviewer and then become the sole contributing author?! Wow.”

    It certainly isn’t normal, or regarded as good practise, but, yes, you can. Of course you _shouldn’t_, since it’s obvious that you’re doing this to circumvent the normal process of scientific publishing. In the modern world (things were different decades ago), people who self-publish taxonomic works generally do so because they want to avoid peer review and know that their writings don’t reach the normal standard deemed acceptable. If there are exceptions to this generalisation, let me know (there might be in botany or entomology… though, from what I’ve heard, the people who do the same thing in those fields are also problematic).

    Darren

    Link to this
  29. 29. BilBy 7:39 am 08/2/2012

    Darren (comment 28) – I know of no exceptions to the proper way of setting up and contributing to journals; I was expressing sarcastic astonishment at Hoser’s way around getting things published in the ‘peer reviewed’ press. Mind you, if one didn’t know better and heard of a journal called ‘Australasian Journal of Herpetology’ one would be in for a shock.

    Link to this
  30. 30. adambritton 7:53 am 08/2/2012

    Darren, very interesting and valuable series you’ve produced here.

    Regarding Krefft’s misspelling, there’s an account of as much as I could glean about it at http://crocodilian.com/cnhc/csl-classify4.htm (please skip the first increasingly outdated section). Krefft was aware of his mistake and attempted to correct it. It’s also arguable that if A.mississippiensis could be corrected on the basis of it being a proper noun, so could C. johnstoni.

    Heteromeles, galloping has been documented in several species: C. niloticus, C. rhombifer, C. novaeguineae, and O. tetraspis sp. I’ve also witnessed it in C. porosus albeit it only a couple of steps. It’s almost as though there were a continuum of certain behaviours across the species, although the degree to which they’re exhibited varies quite a bit.

    As for the upstream populations of freshwater crocodiles (there are several more of these “stunted” populations across their range, not just those from the Liverpool River) we’ve done genetic analysis (awaiting publication) showing that they’re clearly the same species yet a different subpopulation. Hoser’s measurements are simply expected ontogenetic change. I’d point out though that most of the stunted crocs don’t show the degree of emaciation seen in that photograph. In fact we never saw a single individual that looked like that in the Liverpool River (during a later visit) or other escarpment populations. Webb is correct, maximum size is strongly influenced by available resources. The largest specimens (3.4 m it the largest I’m aware of) come from resource-rich areas with good microhabitat selection and minimal disturbance.

    Cheers,
    Adam

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  31. 31. David Marjanović 8:15 am 08/2/2012

    Krefft was aware of his mistake and attempted to correct it.

    …but not even in print, just in a private letter.

    It’s also arguable that if A.mississippiensis could be corrected on the basis of it being a proper noun, so could C. johnstoni.

    That’s a better argument; I had no idea about this issue with Alligator.

    Link to this
  32. 32. vdinets 1:40 pm 08/2/2012

    Andreas (comment #27): probably not. They eat anything that moves and is worth chasing; I’ve seen gator hatchlings capture tadpoles and fish fry, and an adult dwarf caiman I observed hunted regularly for crustaceans. Adult alligators in Florida eat apple snails, and dwarf crocs would eat water bugs, for example.

    Link to this
  33. 33. CCMamba 12:50 pm 08/6/2012

    I just wanted to add that if you search for Raymond Hoser on google you will find a remarkable number of people who give glowing references to Mr Hoser’s recent work. However anyone who has read Mr Hoser’s articles in the AJH may notice an amazing similarity in writing styles between these mysterious commenters and mr Hoser himself. Add that to the fact that I have tried to make direct contact with dozens of these commenters and in each case have found no trace at all of them actually existing and we begin to see how desperately deluded ‘the snakeman’ actually is.

    Link to this
  34. 34. naishd 1:00 pm 08/6/2012

    CCMamba, good point. I’ve noticed that many of the commenters who seemingly support Hoser and say what a genius he is write in the same peculiar way (lots of exclamation marks, one-sentence paragraphs etc.). Seems obvious to me that it’s him, writing pseudonymously. Plus we know anyway (from herpetology chat groups and such) that he uses various pseudonyms.

    Darren

    Link to this
  35. 35. David Marjanović 2:44 pm 03/13/2013

    In the modern world (things were different decades ago), people who self-publish taxonomic works generally do so because they want to avoid peer review and know that their writings don’t reach the normal standard deemed acceptable. If there are exceptions to this generalisation, let me know

    I know one: Ralf Werneburg publishes pretty much only in his tiny in-house journal (at a tiny local museum in rural eastern Germany) of which he is the editor; there’s no review. His work looks strangely out of place in that journal, which is mostly about local concerns of neontology; a few months ago his monumental redescription of the dissorophoids of Nýřany appeared there. The only way to get a pdf is to ask him (he readily sends it).

    I was once told that he’s easily insulted. So maybe he once had a bad experience with peer review and decided, having after all a permanent position, that he didn’t need the trouble. His work is generally good, much of it would have made it in high-impact journals; he’s definitely not some kind of crackpot. (And the rest of the journal looks solid, too.)

    Link to this

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