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Unraveling a 150 years old controversy: Calamoichthys Smith, 1866 is the valid name for the African Reedfish (Cladistii: Polypteriformes), with comments about the availability of involuntarily proposed zoological names



We readdress the controversy about the valid generic name to be applied to the African Reedfish, a species from a monotypic genus that, along with the eleven valid species of Polypterus Lacepède, 1803, comprises the known extant diversity of the order Polypteriformes. The initial conflict was established due to the inadequate replacement of the name Erpetoichthys, wrongly assumed preoccupied, by Calamoichthys, combined with the desynchronization between the sequence in which Smith’s accounts with descriptions and nomenclatural acts about the Reedfish were written and submitted for publication, and the sequence in which they were actually published/distributed. The controversy seemed to be settled in the 1980s by the finding of an earlier report published in an Edinburgh’s newspaper in 1865, in which the name Erpetoichthys was used prior to all scientific accounts by Smith. However, we demonstrate that this report cannot be considered to contain a valid nomenclatural act according to the regulations of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. Therefore, we undertook a detailed study to reconstruct the sequence of publication of Smith’s accounts on the Reedfish, whose correct dates of publication/distribution had not been properly established yet, to settle down once and for all the dilemma about the precedence of these names. Our conclusion is that Calamoichthys Smith, 1866a is the valid generic name to be applied to the Reedfish, and Erpetoichthys Smith, 1866a, its junior synonym, represents a name published in synonymy but later made available by Smith himself. We use the nomenclatural example of the Reedfish, as well as other cases from the literature, to draw attention to the fact that, in agreement with Article 8.1.1 of the Code, zoological names are available only when there is an unequivocal intention by their authors to scientifically describe them, even if other requirements of the Code are met. When this Article is not met in a given situation, the name is considered unavailable and an available one should be set in place for the taxon, or a new name should be proposed.


nomenclature; Erpetoichthys; Ropefish; Polypteridae; publication date; availability; priority

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ISSN 1179-7649 (print);   ISSN 1179-7657 (online)

Published by Magnolia Press, Auckland, New Zealand