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Dendrelaphis sinharajensis WICKRAMASINGHE, 2016

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Higher TaxaColubridae, Ahaetuliinae, Colubroidea, Caenophidia, Alethinophidia, Serpentes, Squamata (snakes) 
Common NamesSinhala: Sinharaja haldanda
Tamil: Sinharaja komberi muken
E: Sinharaja tree snake 
SynonymDendrelaphis sinharajensis WICKRAMASINGHE 2016 
DistributionSri Lanka (Southern Province)

Type locality: Mideripitiya, Sinharaja Forest, Deniyaya, Matara District, Southern Province (N 06° 21' 24.72’’, E 080° 29' 21.63’’), 285 m elevation.  
TypesHolotype. NMSL 2016.06.01 NH, adult female, SVL 672 mm, TL 323 mm, (map: Figure 1). Coll. L. J. M. Wickramasinghe. 
CommentThe first specimen collected was a road kill.

Diagnosis. I assign the new species tentatively to the genus Dendrelaphis because it possesses the following characteristics: slender body; rounded pupil; enlarged vertebral scales; head distinct from body; diurnal; predominantly arboreal. Within the genus, Dendrelaphis sinharajensis has a unique colour pattern of prominent cross bars in black and white and a red neck; black bars are paired, and create the margins of the white cross bars from neck to tail; vertebral stripe, postocular stripe, and ventrolateral stripe absent; prominent white patch on lateral head over eye region and neck, upper margin outlined by a black zigzag line; parietal stripe present; throat white with black blotches; venter off-white with irregular black spots all over. It further differs from all other species of this genus in the combination of the red neck and the conspicuous red/white cross bars. In addition to its colouration, the species can be readily distinguished from its congeners by the following combination of characteristics: loreal scales absent; prefrontals large, contacting 2nd and 3rd supralabials; postoculars three, central scale smallest; anterior temporal large, contacts all three postaculars; posterior temporals three, central one largest, larger than anterior temporal, dorsally contacts parietal and ventrally contacts 8th supralabial; dorsal scale rows 13 at midbody, a small apical pit on each costal scale; ventral scales 174; subcaudal scales 139; vertebral scales slightly longer than the first costal row.

Comparisons. The new species can clearly be distinguished from all known congeners of the genus Dendrelaphis by the presence of a large central posterior temporal scale, and from all except D. oliveri (Taylor, 1950) by the absence of a loreal scale; prefrontals contacting 2nd and 3rd supralabials. Dendrelaphis sinharajensis sp. nov. additionally differs from D. oliveri by its prefrontals contacting the 2nd and 3rd supralabials only (vs 2nd, 3rd and 4th), three postoculars (vs two), temporals 1:3 (vs 1:1) (Figure 8A); parietal stripe present (vs absent) (Figure 8B), and throat white with black blotches (vs blotching absent) (Figure 8C), ventrolateral stripe absent (vs ventrolateral stripe present) (Figure 9 & 10). Although the new species is sympatric with D. caudolineolatus, and can be confused due to; similar dorsal scale rows at midbody 13, and fairly similar body colouration (Figure 11), D. sinharajensis sp. nov. can readily be distinguished from D. caudolineolatus, by the absence of a loreal scale (vs present), prefrontals contacting 2nd and 3rd supralabials (vs prefrontals and supralabials separated by a loreal scale), three postoculars (vs two) (Figure 12A); temporals 1:3 (vs 1:1 or 1:2) (Figure 12A & 13B); posteriormost point of frontal and posteriormost points of supraoculars not aligning in a straight line (vs aligning) (Figure 12B), infralabials 1st to 5th contacting anterior chin shield (vs 1st to 4th), 5th and 6th contacting posterior chinshield (vs 4th and 5th), 6th the largest (vs 5th) (Figure 12C), combination of the red neck and the conspicuous red/white cross bars (vs oblique black stripes on anterior bronze body, that meets mid dorsally forming a ‘V’ shape) (Figure 13A), postocular stripe absent (vs present) (Figure 13B), parietal stripe present (vs absent) (Figure 13C), throat with black blotches (vs blotching absent) (Figure 13D).
Dendrelaphis sinharajensis sp. nov. can clearly be distinguished from all other Sri Lankan congeners in colour pattern, since this is the only species in the genus characterized by conspicuous red/white cross bars around its body, where the black bands appear to be paired, and with a distinct white patch on lateral head covering eye region and neck, with its upper margin outlined by a black zigzag line on all individuals.

Habitat: arboreal. One individual was found in the canopy at around 15 m above ground level.

Sympatry: D. caudolineolatus and D. schokari. 
EtymologyThe species epithet sinharajensis is derived from “Sinharaja”, referring to the forest where the species was discovered. The specific name is an adjective from the geographical name. 
  • WICKRAMASINGHE, L.J. MENDIS 2016. A new canopy-dwelling species of Dendrelaphis (Serpentes: Colubridae) from Sinharaja, World Heritage Site, Sri Lanka. Zootaxa 4162 (3): 504–518
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