Saturday, March 19, 2016

[Herpetology • 2012] Elaphe zoigeensis • A New Species of the Genus Elaphe (Squamata: Colubridae) from Zoige County, Sichuan, China

Elaphe zoigeensis
Huang, Ding, Burbrink, Yang, Huang, Ling, Chen & Zhang, 2012
DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1245.2012.00038

Previous phylogenetic analyses of DNA sequence data reveal a likely new species of Elaphe Fitzinger from China, which forms the sister group of all extant Elaphe. One of the three original specimens is crushed and the other two are neonates, which precludes a morphological analysis. Three adult snakes (2 females, 1 male) collected from Jiangzha Hot Spring in Zoige County, Sichuan, China on 26 July 2010 now facilitate the species’ description. Mitochondrial DNA nucleotide sequences of cytochrome b (cyt b), NADH dehydrogenase subunit 4 (ND4), 12S ribosomal RNA (12S rRNA), and cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (CO1) from the adults are identical to sequences from the crashed specimen. Interspecific uncorrected p-distances of partial CO1 gene of 26 sequences from all 11 species of Elaphe, including this new species, are large (8.5–15.2%). This new species is morphologically distinguished from all other species of Elaphe by several characters: “M”-shaped marking on the supraoculars and adjacent frontal; four parallel series of red-brown spots on the dorsum extending from the neck to the vent; four longitudinal stripes associated with the spots; each spot is usually composed of a whole (or incomplete) red-brown scale with puce borders; spots of each stripe are similar in shape, they occur at relatively regular intervals of one or two scales, and they are slightly red-brown in color; and it has three preoculars, whereas all other species have one or two. Now Elaphe contains 11 species and this discovery highlights the need for continued exploration of temperate regions.

Key words: new species, mitochondrial DNA, DNA barcoding, Zoige ratsnake

Elaphe zoigeensis sp. nov.
Zoige Ratsnake, Ruoergai Jinshe (Bopomofo)

Diagnosis: Elaphe zoigeensis sp. nov. is distinguished from all other species of Elaphe by several sets of characters involving color and scutellation. Color pattern is distinct in having a red brown, “M” shaped marking on the back of the head at the margins of the supraoculars and adjacent posterior frontal and the presence of 4 longitudinal, parallel rows of spots on the dorsum extending from the neck to vent. Each spot usually encompasses an entire scale and is red brown, while the edges of the spot and bordering scales are puce. The spots from each of the parallel rows are similar in size and shape, and rank at a relatively regular interval of one or two scales of slightly red brown color. Additionally, this species has 3 preoculars, rather than 1–2 found in all other species (Schulz, 1996). 

Ecology: The species is a diurnal terrestrial oviparous snake, laying eggs around the end of July, with a clutch size of at least 11 eggs. Eggs are white, smooth-shelled, and adhesive. From the day of capture until 3 August 2010, almost every day, some short soft black hairs were found in their excrement, suggesting that they ate rodents or insectivores. 

Etymology: The specific name refers to the type locality, Zoige County, Sichuan, China

Huang, S., Ding, L., Burbrink, F.T., Yang, J., Huang, J., Ling, C., Chen, X. & Zhang, Y. 2012. A New Species of the Genus Elaphe (Squamata: Colubridae) from Zoige County, Sichuan, China. Asian Herpetological Research. 3, 38–45.  DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1245.2012.00038