WHY IT SHOULD BE LAWSON'S DRAGON AND NOT RANKIN'S
and why it is P. henrylawsoni
and NOT P. brevis or P. rankini
Wells and Wellington are credited with the formal description/identification of the black-soil dragon. This dragon had
been known to herpetologists for many years, but no formal description was done until 1985. At that time, Wells and
Wellington adopted the name Pogona henrylawsoni. The name took some years to become widely accepted for a number of
reasons. Foremost of which was the fact that a group of rival herpetologists petitioned the International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature to
formally suppress all new names adopted by Wells and Wellington in their papers. The rivals suggested that Wells and
Wellington had given excessively brief descriptions of species, including henrylawsoni. This application took some time
to be heard and was eventually rejected, the usual rules of taxonomy and priority prevailed.
The fact remained that in the main Wells and Wellington had assigned names to previously unnamed species within accepted
rules and therefore the names they assigned were to remain in force, including Pogona henrylawsoni. Wells and Wellington
also correctly countered critics by stating that their descriptions were substantially more detailed than those of a
number of other prominent Australian herpetologists including Glen Storr. Much of the dispute revolved around personality
conflicts; you see Richard Wells had experienced a falling out with several academics including some at Sydney's
Australian Museum, with whom he'd worked closely for many years.
Around 1978 when Wells first made it known that he intended to name this species, he had suggested the name Pogona rankini.
News got out of the proposed name and rankini has become a commonly used name for the species, even though
it has no validity. Wells decided at the last minute not to name the species he was describing as rankini on the basis that he had not viewed
all the specimens being traded overseas under that name and that it was possible they may in fact be of different species
and/or origins. The first specimens sold in the USA in the early 1980's were offered as P. rankini.
In 1994, G. J. Whitten published a pair of papers in which he asserted that Wells and Wellington had wrongly described the
species and instead had described an immature Pogona vitticeps and not the new species. He relied on evidence in a 1990
paper he had co-written to back up his assertion. He further falsely asserted that the type specimen of P. henrylawsoni
had been lost by the Australian Museum. The name Pogona brevis was proposed for the species under the false assumption
that henrylawsoni was not valid, for a short time brevis was regarded as a junior synonym for henrylawsoni, (henrylawsoni
is the correct name).
That Wells and Wellington had described their species correctly could be seen by a cursory glance at their original
description, which at length differentiates both species. Glen Shea published a note in 1995 rebutting Whitten's
assertion that the type specimen of P. henrylawsoni had been lost and that the lizard was in fact a different species
to P. vitticeps (a new species). Furthermore as the name henrylawsoni had been widely published by Greer in 1989 and
others, Whitten's proposed name had no validity and was therefore a junior synonym. Shea also went further and published
a photo of the allegedly missing animal complete with appropriate museum tag.
Presently, many publications and price lists still persist in calling this species erroneously as
either rankini or brevis.