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Acontias meleagris (LINNAEUS, 1758)

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Higher TaxaScincidae, Acontinae; Scincoidea, Sauria, Squamata (lizards) 
Subspecies 
Common NamesGolden Sand Skink; Spotted Slow Skink; Thick-tailed Blindworm, Erdslang, Linnaeus' Lance Skink 
SynonymAnguis Meleagris LINNAEUS 1758: 227
Acontias meleagris — DUMÉRIL & BIBRON 1839: 802
Acontias meleagris — LOVERIDGE 1923
Acontias meleagris meleagris — FITZSIMONS 1943: 242
Acontias meleagris — GREER 2001
Acontias meleagris — LAMB et al. 2010 
DistributionRepublic of South Africa (along the xeric western and eastern Cape coast of South Africa)

Type locality: “Indiis” (fide LINNAEUS 1758; in error)  
Reproductionviviparous 
TypesHolotype: not located but Fitzsimons 1943: 244 suspected MNHN 
CommentMorphology: Limbless.

Type species: A. meleagris is the type species of the genus Acontias CUVIER 1817 (DANIELS et al. 2006, LAMB et al. 2010).

Diagnosis (genus): Body moderately attenuate (SVL 20–33 times body diameter), midbody scale rows 12– 20,145–195 ventral scale rows, subcaudals 22–46, dorsal head shields 29–50, 3–5 chin shields bordering mental, snout not strongly acutely angled, movable eyelids present, lower eyelid immovable, or eyes covered by head shields, dorsal coloration variable, dorsum solid or striped, but never pigmentless. Jugal present or absent, pectoral girdle rod-shaped or nodular, typically 21–29 (or more) caudal vertebrae.

A. m. orientalis possesses a distinct morph called “lineicauda,” of uncertain taxonomic status. A. m. meleagris and A. m. orientalis can be easily distinguished based on the presence or absence of six well-defined stripes on the dorsal surface. Generally, in A. m. meleagris stripes are absent, and the tail is non-tapered, while in both A. m. orientalis and the “lineicauda” morph six stripes are present on the dorsal surface, with the “lineicauda” morph being smaller bodied and slender compared to A. m. orientalis (Branch, 1998).

A. m. orientalis is closely related to A. percivali tasmani (based on DNA sequence analysis) but A. m. orientalis can be distinguished from A. p. tasmani in possessing six distinct dorsal stripes, but the taxon, A. m. meleagris also

possesses distinctly striped forms at Paarl, Hermanus, and Devils Peak (Fitzsimons, 1943; Hewitt, 1938; Daniels et al. 2005). Conversely, Broadley and Greer (1969) reported that certain populations of A. m. orientalis occasionally contain uniform, unstriped specimens that are indistinguishable from A. m. meleagris. Broadley and Greer (1969) further observed that variation in A. meleagris is mosaic and not clinal. Coastal populations of A. m. meleagris (such as Robben Island, Velddrif, and Mossel Bay), for example, are characterized by melanistic individuals in which the dorsal surface may be uniformly dark.

Thus, based on DNA sequence data, DANIELS et al. (2005) suggest that both A. m. orientalis and A. p. tasmani are invalid taxonomic designations, and should be regarded as junior synonyms of A. m. meleagris.

Diagnosis (genus Acontias): Morphologically, members of the genus Acontias have SVLs that range from 225 mm to 490 mm, while the midbody scale rows range from 14 to 20 within this group (Broadley & Greer 1969). Biogeographically this group is distributed further along the west and south coasts of southern African eastwards into the interior of the subcontinent that includes Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe extending into south-eastern Kenya. Within this group, systematic affinities, particularly in the highly polymorphic Acontias meleagris complex (comprising A. m. meleagris, A. m. orientalis, the morph lineacauda and A. p. tasmani), warrant additional study (Daniels et al. 2005). A study in currently in progress that will attempt to delineate species boundaries within this complex. Convergence in apparent diagnostic features appears widespread among fossorial taxa. For example, two independent studies performed by Whiting et al. (2004) and Schmitz et al. (2005) suggest that the Malagasy fossorial skink genus Amphiglossus as currently defined is not monophyletic and is comprised of two genetically highly distinct groups. These results suggest that morphological characters currently used in the taxonomy of fossorial skinks are homoplastic and warrant closer scrutiny. The apparent lack of well-defined synapomorphies at least for some genera is clearly an obstacle in determining the diversity of fossorial groups. The description of this new genus within Acontias suggests that a number of previously defined generic groupings in other skinks may indeed be artificial units, and that a number of the southern African skink genera may contain considerable taxonomic diversity obscured by symplesiomorphic morphological features. From an evolutionary perspective, the morphological differences between Acontias and Microacontias gen. nov. pose some interesting questions. We hypothesize that it is likely that the differences in body size have led to the development of reproductive differences between these two ecomorphological groups that are likelyenforced by resource partitioning among sympatric taxa. We recommend that where taxonomically ill-defined paraphyletic groups have been recorded with mtDNA sequences, they should be confirmed with the use of nDNA sequences; and where congruent, the appropriate taxonomic changes made to relect current trends in phylogenetic hypotheses. Such studies are likely to uncover a wealth of new genera and taxa that have previously been obscured by convergent characters, particularly among fossorial groups. Considering that most fossorial taxa have limited vagility, and a large number are point endemics, the effective conservation of this faunal group and their vulnerability to extinction underscore the need for a sound taxonomy that accurately reflects diversity and evolutionary history [from DANIELS et al. 2006]. 
References
  • Branch, W. R. 1998. Field Guide to the Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Fully Revised and Updated to Include 83 New Species. Ralph Curtis Books (Sanibel Island, Florida), 399 pp.
  • Branch, William R. 1993. A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik Publishers, 144 S.
  • Broadley, D. G. and Greer, A. E. 1969. A revision of the genus Acontias Cuvier (Sauria: Scincidae). Arnoldia Rhodesia 4 (26): 1-29.
  • Daniels, S. R., N. Heideman, M. Hendricks, and B. Willson. 2002. A molecular phylogeny for the South African limbless lizard taxa of the subfamily Acontinae (Sauria: Scincidae) with special emphasis on relationships within Acontias. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 24: 315-323 - get paper here
  • Daniels, S. R.,Heideman, N. J. L. & Hendricks, M. G. J. 2009. Examination of evolutionary relationships in the Cape fossorial skink species complex (Acontinae: Acontias meleagris meleagris) reveals the presence of five cryptic lineages. Zoologica Scripta 38 (5): 449–463
  • Daniels, S.R.; Neil J.L. Heideman, Martin G.J. Hendricks,<br />Mphalile E. Mokone, Keith A. Crandall 2005. Unraveling evolutionary lineages in the limbless fossorial skink genus Acontias (Sauria: Scincidae): are subspecies equivalent systematic units?. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 34: 645–654 - get paper here
  • Duméril, A. M. C. and G. Bibron. 1839. Erpétologie Générale on Histoire Naturelle Complète des Reptiles. Vol.5. Roret/Fain et Thunot, Paris, 871 pp. - get paper here
  • Falk and Reed 2015. Challenges to a molecular approach to prey identification in the Burmese python, Python molurus bivittatus. PeerJ 3:e1445; DOI 10.7717/peerj.1445
  • FitzSimons, V.F. 1943. The lizards of South Africa. Transvaal Museum Memoir No.1 (Pretoria), 528 pp.
  • Greer, Allen E. 2001. Distribution of maximum snout-vent length among species of Scincid lizards. Journal of Herpetology 35 (3): 383-395 - get paper here
  • Heideman, N.J.L. et al. 2008. Sexual dimorphism in the African legless skink subfamily Acontiinae (Reptilia: Scincidae). African Zoology 43 (2): 192–201 - get paper here
  • Hewitt, J. 1938. Description of new forms of the genus Acontias. Trans. Roy. Soc. S. Africa 26: 39-48
  • Lamb, T.; Biswas, S. & Bauer, A.M. 2010. A phylogenetic reassessment of African fossorial skinks in the subfamily Acontinae (Squamata: Scincidae): evidence for parallelism and polyphyly. Zootaxa 2657: 33–46 - get paper here
  • Leonard, C. J. 1989. Locomotion of the Limbless Skink Acontias meleagris. Jour. Herp. Ass. Afr. (36): 73-73 - get paper here
  • Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. Laurentii Salvii, Holmiæ. 10th Edition: 824 pp. - get paper here
  • Loveridge, A. 1923. Notes on East African lizards collected 1920-1923 with the description of two new races of Agama lionotus Blgr. Proc. Zool. Soc. London 1923: 935-969 - get paper here
  • Mirza, Zeeshan A. & Rajesh Sanap 2010. New locality record of Hemidactylus gracilis Blanford, 1870 (Squamata: Sauria: Gekkonidae) from Nashik District, Maharashtra. Reptile Rap (10): 2-3 - get paper here
  • Wagner, Philipp; Donald G. Broadley, and Aaron M. Bauer 2012. A New Acontine Skink from Zambia (Scincidae: Acontias Cuvier, 1817). Journal of Herpetology 46 (4): 494-502. - get paper here
  • Werner,F. 1910. Reptilia et Amphibia. In Schultze, L., Zoologische und anthropologische Ergebnisse einer Forschungsreise im westlichen und zentralen Südafrika. Band IV, Systematik und Tiergeographie Vertebrata B. Denkschr. Med.-Nat. Wiss. GeselI. Jena 16: 279-370 [1910] - get paper here
  • Wilson, B. A., M.G.J. Hendriks, N.J.L. Heideman, M. F. Bates, N. Don and C. Moses. 1998. Geographic Distribution. Acontias meleagris meleagris. African Herp News (27): 20-21.
  • WITBERG, M. 2012. The herpetofauna of Schaapen Island, Langebaan, South Africa. African Herp News (56): 11-16
 
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