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Mecistops cataphractus (CUVIER, 1825)

IUCN Red List - Mecistops cataphractus - Critically Endangered, CR

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Higher TaxaCrocodylidae (Crocodylia, crocodiles) 
Subspecies 
Common NamesE: African slender-snouted crocodile
F: faux gavial d’Afrique de l’Ouest, faux gavial ouest-africain, faux gavial, crocodile au long museau, crocodile à nuque cuirassée
G: Panzerkrokodil 
SynonymCrocodilus cataphractus CUVIER 1825: 58
Crocodilus cataphractus — DUMÉRIL & BIBRON 1836: 126
Mecistops bennettii GRAY 1844: 57
Crocodilus cataphractus — FALCONER 1846: 362
Crocodylus cataphractus — SCHMIDT 1919: 417
Crocodylus cataphractus — KING & BURKE 1989
Mecistops cataphractus — SCHMITZ et al. 2003
Mecistops cataphractus — MCALILEY et al. 2006
Mecistops cataphractus — SPAWLS et al. 2018: 327
Mecistops cf. cataphractus — MARQUES et al. 2018 
DistributionBenin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, S Senegal, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea (Conakry), Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, S Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo

Type locality: “Senegal und Ganges” (fide Wermuth & Mertens 1977: 142); restricted to "Senegal-Fluss," by Fuchs, Mertens, and Wermuth 1974  
Reproductionoviparous. 
TypesNeotype: MCZ R-22483 (Fig. 2 in Shirley et al. 2018), skull of an adult individual; Paraneotype. NHMUK 1977.444, a whole, stuffed adult specimen collected in The Gambia presumably by Percy John Rendall in or after 1888. It is of note that this specimen is also the type specimen for the taxon Mecistops bennettii, now synonymous with M. cataphractus. The original holotype, RCSHC (= RCSM) 710, appears to be lost. 
DiagnosisDiagnosis. When the geographic origin of a specimen in question is unknown, genetic barcoding (Hebert et al. 2003; Hebert & Gregory 2005) can be easily used to identify M. cataphractus. We described a 921 bp fragment of the mitochondrial COI containing 43 sites that segregate the two Mecistops species (Table 2; Shirley et al. 2014). Mecistops cataphractus is morphologically identifiable by the presence of one or two squamosal bosses (see description below; also visible or tangible in live animals of virtually any size), a broadly curved or almost linear pterygoid-palatine joint, a posteriormost point of the premaxilla level with or anterior the second maxillary tooth, and an anteriormost point of the nasal even with or anterior to the first maxillary tooth. Mecistops cataphractus sub-adults and adults have a heavy, thick-bodied, rough and scaly appearance, and have more postoccipital and accessory nuchal scales that are less orderly and more heavily keeled than M. leptorhynchus. [Shirley et al. 2018: 160] 
CommentMook (1921), Wermuth (1953), and Wermuth and Mertens (1961: 359, 361), Wermuth and Fuchs 1983, incorrectly identified and illustrated a skull of C. cataphractus as belonging to C. intermedius (after King & Burke 1989).

SCHMITZ et al. (2003) found that high genetic differentiation to Osteolaemus (> 7.8%) shows that “C.” cataphractus is not a member of the genus Osteolaemus but probably deserves generic rank. Mecistops Gray 1844 was suggested as available generic name.

Synonymy: partly after WERMUTH & MERTENS 1977: 142. Crocodilus leptorhynchus BENNETT 1835: 129 has been removed from the synonymy of M. cataphractus and resurrected as valid species by Shirley et al. 2018.

Type species: Mecistops bennettii GRAY 1844 is the type species of the genus Mecistops GRAY 1844: 57.

Distribution: see map in Shirley et al. 2018 (Fig. 1).

Ecology. Mecistops cataphractus is one of the least studied crocodylians in the world with only a few peer- reviewed papers published to date on its natural history or ecology (Waitkuwait 1985a, 1985b, 1989; Akani et al. 1998). Shirely et al. 2018 summarize previously published data in conjunction with observations made in the field from 2006–2017. 
EtymologyCuvier (1824) did not provide an etymology for cataphractus. However, we assume it came from the Greek kataphraktos (κατάφρακτος) meaning armored, shielded or completely enclosed. Cuvier (1824) gave this species the French common name “crocodile à nuque cuirassée” (“armor-necked crocodile”). Both the Latin and French are presumably in reference to the extra rows of dorsal scutes joining the nuchal cluster compared to other crocodiles of the genus Crocodylus. 
References
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