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Letheobia caeca (DUMÉRIL, 1856)

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Higher TaxaTyphlopidae (Afrotyphlopinae), Typhlopoidea, Serpentes, Squamata (snakes)
Common NamesE: Gabon Beaked Snake 
SynonymOnychocephalus caecus DUMÉRIL 1856: 462
Typhlops coecus — JAN 1864
Letheobia caeca — COPE 1868: 322
Typhlops acutirostratus ANDERSSON 1916: 23
Typhlops caecus caecus — WITTE 1961
Typhlops caecus — PERRET 1961
Rhinotyphlops caecus — ROUX-ESTÈVE 1974: 210
Rhinotyphlops caecus — MCDIARMID, CAMPBELL & TOURÉ 1999: 79
Letheobia caecus — WALLACH 2005
Letheobia acutirostratus — WALLACH 2005
Letheobia acutirostratus — BROADLEY & WALLACH 2007
Letheobia caeca — BROADLEY & WALLACH 2007
Letheobia caeca — HEDGES et al. 2014
Letheobia caeca — WALLACH et al. 2014 
DistributionGabon, Ghana, W/C/E Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire), Congo (Brazzaville), Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea

Type locality: "Gabon."  
TypesSyntypes: MNHN-RA 1063 and MNHN-RA 1994.1166 (formerly MNHN-RA 1063A) 
DiagnosisDiagnosis (genus): Letheobia is comprised of the clade stemming from the most recent common ancestor of Typhlops leucostictus and the Rhinotyphlops newtonispecies group. This includes Roux-Estève’s (1974) Typhlops Groups II and V plus Rhinotyphlops Groups IV, V, VI and VII, which is equivalent to the Letheobia clade of species examined by Wallach 1998 (PhD thesis, Northeastern University, Boston). For an alternative diagnosis see PYRON & WALLACH 2014: 50.

Diagnosis (genus). Species of Letheobia have (1) eye, indistinct, (2) snout, beaked or rounded, (3) head scale arrangement, non-circular, (4) frontorostral, absent, (5) nasal, completely or incompletely divided, (6) nasal suture origin, 2nd supralabial (rarely, 1st supralabial, suture (1/2), rostral, or preocular), (7) suboculars or subpreoculars, present (rarely absent), (8) postoculars, 3–4 (rarely 2, 5–7; average, 3.55), (9) preocular-labial contact, supralabials 2 & 3 (sometimes 2nd, 3rd, 2–4, or none), (10) midbody scale rows, 18–30 (average 22.3), (11) scale row reduction, present or absent, (12) total scale rows, 250–737 (average, 484), (13) caudals, 8–15 (average, 11.1), (14) maximum total length, 135–670 (average, 350) mm, (15) total length/midbody diameter, 35–129 (average, 66.6), (16) total length/tail length, 45.5–143 (average, 79.0), (17) dorsal color, usually pale (pink, cream, white, colorless), (18) ventral color, usually pale (pink, cream, white, unpigmented), (19) dorsum same color as venter, and (20) overall, a
patternless, unicolor snake (Tables 1–2); molecular phylogenetic support (Fig. 1).
From Afrotyphlops and Rhinotyphlops, Letheobia is distinguished by having an indistinct eye (versus distinct), having subocular scales present (versus absent), and having a pale (versus dark) dorsum. [HEDGES et al. 2014: 30]

Characters: The nomenclature of supralabial imbrication patterns (SIP) follows Wallach (1993), except that “X” indicates no supralabial overlaps a superior head shield, II–P amd II–O indicate second supralabial overlapping preocular and ocular, respectively, and S and PO represent the subocular and postocular, respectively. Scale rows were counted as follows: mid-dorsals (MD) between the rostral shield and the apical spine; longitudinal scale rows (SR) at three points: first (A) at level of 20th midventral scale caudad of mental; second (B) at midbody (MSR) and third (C) at 10th scale craniad of vent. Scale row reductions between points A–B and B–C were then recorded. The ratios of middorsals/vertebrae (MD/V from Roux-Estève 1974) and total length/midbody diameter (L/D) were calculated.

The western population (L. caecus) from Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon and Congo-Brazzaville has 22 scale rows, a papillate rostral shield, and supranasals extending beyond the rostral. The eastern population (L. acutirostratus Andersson 1916) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo has 24-26 scale rows, a granular rostral, and supranasals not extending beyond the rostral (WALLACH 2005).

Another perplexing specimen (MZUF 32387) from eastern Congo has 26 midbody scale rows, a granular hourglass rostral, a small frontal not in contact with the short supranasals, and the inferior nasal suture contacting the second infralabial. The types of the above species and their synonyms (Typhlops avakubae Schmidt 1923 and Typhlops caecus pitmani Witte 1961) must be examined [...] (WALLACH 2005). 
CommentIn an unpublished PhD thesis, Wallach (1998) revived Rhinotyphlops acutirostratus for the Congo basin populations.

Distribution: not in Benin fide ULLENBRUCH et al. 2010. Not listed for Togo by Segniagbeto et al. 2012. Has been erroneously listed for Benin but does not occur there (Hughes 2013). Not in Sierra Leone fide TRAPE & BALDÉ 2014: 320. For a map with localities in Equatorial Guinea see SÁNCHEZ-VIALAS et al. 2022.

Type species: Onychocephalus caecus DUMÉRIL 1856 is the type species of the genus Letheobia COPE 1868.

Synonymy: Kaiser et al. 2013 considered the generic names Cottontyphlops Hoser 2012, Gleesontyphlops Hoser 2012, Laidlawtyphlops Hoser 2012, Smythtyphlops Hoser 2012, Trioanotyphlops Hoser 2012, Whybrowtyphlops Hoser 2012, Whybrowtyplops [sic] Hoser 2012 invalid and rejected their use instead of Letheobia.

Species of Letheobia are usually pink in life, becoming cream or yellowish in preservative. The scales are not densely pigmented and often partly transparent and therefore, the arrangement and shape of scales, especially the head shields, are notoriously difficult to assess under a dissecting microscope (Dehling et al. 2018). 
EtymologyAlthough not stated in the original description, the generic name is a feminine noun formed from the Greek lethe (forgotten) and bios (life), meaning forgotten life, an appropriate reference to blindsnakes. Possibly a reference to the river Lethe in Hades, associated with the Greek spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion 
  • Andersson, L.G. 1916. Notes on the reptiles and batrachians in the Zoological Museum at Gothenburg with an account of some new species. Göteborgs Kungliga Vetenskap och Vitter Hets-Samnalles Hndlingar Sjatte Foljden (Series B, 4) 17 (5) [ = Meddelanden fran Göteborgs Musei Zoologiska Afdelning, No. 9]: 1-41
  • Aylmer, G. 1922. The Snakes of Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone Studies 5: 7-37
  • Broadley, Donald G. & Wallach, V. 2007. A review of East and Central African species of Letheobia Cope, revived from the synonymy of Rhinotyphlops Fitzinger, with descriptions of five new species (Serpentes: Typhlopidae). Zootaxa 1515: 31–68 - get paper here
  • Chifundera, K. 1990. Snakes of Zaire and their bites. Afr. Stud. Monogr. (Kyoto) 10(3): 137-157.
  • Chippaux, Jean-Philippe & Kate Jackson 2019. Snakes of Central and Western Africa. Johns Hopkins University Press, 448 pp. [detaileld review in HR 51 (1): 161] - get paper here
  • Chirio, L. & Lebreton, M. 2007. Atlas des reptiles du Cameroun. MNHN, IRD, Paris 688 pp.
  • Cope, E.D. 1869. Observations on Reptiles of the old world. Proc. Acad. nat. Sci. Philadelphia 1868: 316-323 - get paper here
  • DEHLING, J. MAXIMILIAN; HARALD H. HINKEL, HANS-JÜRGEN ENSIKAT, KENNY BABILON, EBERHARD FISCHER 2018. A new blind snake of the genus Letheobia (Serpentes: Typhlopidae) from Rwanda with redescriptions of L. gracilis (Sternfeld, 1910) and L. graueri (Sternfeld, 1912) and the introduction of a non-invasive preparation procedure for scanning electron mic Zootaxa 4378 (4): 480-490 - get paper here
  • Duméril, A.H.A. 1856. Note sur les reptiles du Gabon. Revue et Magasin de Zoologie Pure et Appliquée, Paris, (2) 8: 369-377, 417–424, 460–470, 553–562 - get paper here
  • Hedges, S.B., Marion, A.B., Lipp, K.M., Marin, J. & Vidal, N. 2014. A taxonomic framework for typhlopid snakes from the Caribbean and other regions (Reptilia, Squamata). Caribbean Herpetology 49: 1–61 - get paper here
  • Hoser, R.T. 2012. A review of the extant scolecophidians (“blindsnakes”) including the formal naming and diagnosis of new tribes, genera, subgenera, species and subspecies for divergent taxa. Australasian J. Herpetol. 15: 1–64. - get paper here
  • Jan, G. 1864. Iconographie générale des ophidiens. 4. Livraison. J.B. Bailière et Fils, Paris - get paper here
  • Kaiser, H.; Crother, B.I.; Kelly, C.M.R.; Luiselli, L.; O’Shea, M.; Ota, H.; Passos, P.; Schleip, W.D. & Wüster, W. 2013. Best Practices: In the 21st Century, Taxonomic Decisions in Herpetology are Acceptable Only When Supported by a Body of Evidence and Published via Peer-Review. Herpetological Review 44 (1): 8-23
  • McDiarmid, R.W.; Campbell, J.A. & Touré,T.A. 1999. Snake species of the world. Vol. 1. [type catalogue] Herpetologists’ League, 511 pp.
  • Pauwels OSG, Morelle S, Albert J-L, Carlino P, Rahola N, Trape J-F. 2019. New reptile records from Lékédi Park and Haut-Ogooué Province, southeastern Gabon. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation 13 (1) [General Section]: 143–161 (e174) - get paper here
  • Pauwels, O.S.G. & Vande Weghe, J.P. 2008. Les reptiles du Gabon. Smithsonian Institution, Washington: 272 pp. - get paper here
  • Perret, J.L. 1961. Études herpétologiques africaines III. 1. La faune ophidienne de la région camerounaise. Bull. Soc. neuchâtel. Sci. nat., 84: 133-138
  • Pyron, R.A. & Wallach, V. 2014. Systematics of the blindsnakes (Serpentes: Scolecophidia: Typhlopoidea) based on molecular and morphological evidence. Zootaxa 3829 (1): 001–081 - get paper here
  • Roux-Estève, R. 1974. Révision systématique des Typhlopidae d'Afrique. Reptilia. Serpentes. Mém. nation. Hist. nat., Paris, (sér.A.) 87: 1-313
  • SÁNCHEZ-VIALAS, A., CALVO-REVUELTA, M. & DE LA RIVA, I. 2022. Synopsis of the terrestrial Reptiles of Equatorial Guinea. Zootaxa 5202 (1): 1-197 - get paper here
  • Schmidt, K. P. 1923. Contributions to the herpetology of the Belgian Congo based on the collection of the American Museum Congo Expedition, 1909-1915. Part II. Snakes, with field notes by Herbert Lang and James P. Chapin. Bull. Amer. Mus. nat. Hist. 49 (1): 1-146 - get paper here
  • Trape, J.F. & R. ROUX-ESTÈVE 1990. Note sur une collection de serpents du Congo avec description d'une espèce nouvelle. Rev. Zool. Afr. (J. Afr. Zool.) 104: 375-383
  • Trape, J.F. & R. ROUX-ESTÈVE 1995. Les serpents du Congo: liste commentée et clé de détermination. Journal of African Zoology 109 (1): 31-50
  • Wallach, V. 2005. Letheobia pauwelsi, a new species of blindsnake from Gabon (Serpentes: Typhlopidae). African Journal of Herpetology 54(1): 85-91 - get paper here
  • Wallach, V. & Gemel, R. 2018. Typhlops weidholzi n. inedit., a new species of Letheobia from the republic of Cameroon, and a synopsis of the genus (Squamata: Serpentes: Scolecophidia: Typhlopidae). Herpetozoa 31 (1/2): 27 - 46 - get paper here
  • Witte, G. F. de 1933. Reptiles récoltés au Conge Belge par le Dr. H. Schouteden et par M. G.-F. Witte. Ann. Mus. Conge belge Zool. Ser. 1 Tome III: 53-100.
  • Witte, G. F. de 1961. Contribution à la faune herpétologique du Congo. Rev. Zool. Bot. afr., Bruxelles, 64:183-184
  • Zassi-Boulou, Ange Ghislain; Joseph Goma Tchimbakala, Lise Bethy Mavoungou, and Kate Jackson 2020. A Survey of Snakes in the Patte d’Oie Forest Reserve (Brazzaville, Republic of Congo): an Urban Snake Community in Central Africa. Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 15 (1): - get paper here
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