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Suta gouldii (GRAY, 1841)

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Higher TaxaElapidae (Hydrophiinae), Colubroidea, Caenophidia, Alethinophidia, Serpentes, Squamata (snakes)
Common NamesE: Gould's Hooded Snake, Black-headed Snake 
SynonymElaps gouldii GRAY 1841: 91
Denisonia gouldii — BOULENGER 1896
Denisonia gouldii — KINGHORN 1924
Parasuta gouldii — WORRELL 1961: 26
Suta gouldii — MCDOWELL 1970
Unechis gouldii — COGGER 1975
Denisonia spectabilis nullarbor STORR 1981
Unechis gouldii — COGGER 1983: 238
Rhinoplocephalus gouldii — STORR 1984
Rhinoplocephalus spectabilis bushi STORR 1988
Suta gouldii — HUTCHINSON 1990
Suta gouldii — WELCH 1994: 109
Suta gouldii — COGGER 2000: 690
Parasuta bushi — BUSH 2003 (on web site)
Unechis gouldii — MATTISON 2007: 61
Parasuta gouldii — GREER 2006 (online)
Parasuta gouldii — WILSON & SWAN 2010: 492
Parasuta spectabilis nullarbor — WILSON & SWAN 2010: 492
Parasuta spectabilis bushi — WILSON & SWAN 2010: 494
Parasuta gouldii — WALLACH et al. 2014: 534
Suta gouldii — MARYAN et al. 2020 
DistributionAustralia (Western Australia)

Type locality: W. A.  
TypesHolotype: BMNH 1946.1.21.73 
DiagnosisDiagnosis. A medium-sized, moderately slender species of Suta (total length to 523 mm* this study, males mean 331 mm, females 297 mm) with: 15 midbody scale rows; 136‒174 ventrals; 22‒41 subcaudals; 136‒178 vertebrals; typically undivided fourth infralabials; variable body colouration of reddish brown, pale orange to bright red or beige, occasionally with a dark vertebral stripe or zone along the body; body scales often with dark pigment of black base or blotch extending back as fine to thick edge on the anterior facets, posterior facets without dark edge; typically near-complete black hood on the head extending back on to first 3‒8, mostly 5 vertebrals on the nape; variably sized pale markings in front of the eyes, occasionally across the snout; typically with minimal pale indents behind the eyes, rarely extending above the upper primary temporals. *B. Maryan has observed a total length of 560 mm in S. gouldii (Maryan et al. 2020: 8).

Colouration: In life, variable body colouration of light to rich reddish brown (Figs. 3A, B), pale orange (Fig. 3C), bright red (Fig. 3D) or beige (Fig 3E), with dark pigment on the body scales consisting of black base or blotch extending back as a fine to thick edge on the anterior facets; dark edges varying in their intensity from clearly defined forming a reticulated pattern along the body (Figs. 3A, B, C, D), to fine and indistinct on beige individuals (Fig. 3E). Occasionally with almost entirely black scales, mainly strong peppering, forming a dark vertebral stripe or zone along the body (Fig. 3F). Near complete black hood on head, extending back on to first 3‒8 vertebrals and with variably-sized pale markings of body colour, often lighter (Figs. 3D, E) in front of the eyes. Pale markings include a small to large spot (Figs. 3A, B, E), or occasionally a narrow to broad bar across the snout (Figs. 3C, D), partially or completely covering the preocular, prefrontals and internasals. Eyes are black without discernible pupils. Ventral surface under the head, including most of the supralabials and along the body is white with glossy shine (Maryan et al. 2020: 9).

Comparisons with other species. Suta gouldii differs from the closely related S. spectabilis in: larger adult total length to 523 mm (versus to 405 mm), lower anterior scale rows to 19 (versus to 21), somewhat higher ventral, subcaudal and vertebral scale counts of 136‒174, 22‒41 and 136‒178 (versus 134‒162, 22‒34 and 140‒166, respectively), typically near-complete dark hood with pale markings in front of the eyes occasionally across the snout and pale indents behind the eyes rarely extending above upper primary temporals Fig 4A (versus typically reduced dark hood with pale markings often across the snout and pale indents behind the eyes often extending above upper primary temporals Fig 4B), without partial indent or transverse patch or collar at the level of the posterior apices of the parietals (versus often partially indented, less often completely divided by a transverse patch or collar Fig. 4B) and typically undivided fourth infralabials Fig. 4C (versus typically divided Fig. 4D).
Suta gouldii will be compared with S. fasciata, S. monachus and S. nigriceps with which it occurs in sympatry (see above). It differs from S. fasciata in: smaller adult total length to 523 mm (versus to 620 mm), 15 midbody scale rows (versus 17, rarely 19), dark hood on the head (versus blotched on the head) and without obvious pattern on the body (versus distinctly cross-banded).
It differs from S. monachus in: larger adult total length to 523 mm (versus to 460 mm), somewhat higher subcaudal scale counts of 22‒41 (versus 23‒32), two secondary temporals (versus one), higher anterior scale rows to 19 (versus to 17), typically near-complete dark hood with pale markings in front of the eyes (versus typically complete dark hood without pale markings in front of the eyes), dark hood extending back on to first 3‒8, mostly 5 vertebrals on the nape (versus extending back on to first 1‒4, mostly 3 vertebrals) and typically distinct dark anterior margins on the body scales (versus uniform or with indistinct dark anterior margins).
Diagnostic differences between S. gouldii and S. nigriceps have largely relied on the presence of a dark vertebral stripe or zone along the body which can also occur in variants of S. gouldii (Fig. 3F) and be absent in the occasional S. nigriceps (Bush 1981: 27, Fig. 50; Robertson & Coventry 2019: 275). In most instances this character will distinguish the two species and when present in S. gouldii the overall appearance comprises strong dark peppering rather than the entirely dark scales in S. nigriceps. Data from a sample of 16 S. nigriceps (Table 4) shows that S. gouldii differs from S. nigriceps in: smaller adult total length to 523 mm (versus to 587 mm), slightly shorter tail length to 58 mm (versus to 66 mm), somewhat higher subcaudal scale counts of 22‒41 (versus 22‒32) and a proportionately smaller head in all parameters and slightly shorter snout. Apart from these characters there are few points of absolute distinction between these two similar-looking species (Maryan et al. 2020: 15). 

Type species: Elaps gouldii GRAY 1841: 91 is the type species of the genus Parasuta WORRELL 1961.

Synonymy: Maryan et al. 2020 synonymized Parasuta spectabilis bushi (STORR 1988) and Parasuta spectabilis nullarbor (STORR 1981) with Suta gouldii (and removed the two subspecies from Parasuta spectabilis (KREFFT 1869).

Distribution: see map in Maryan et al. 2020: 14 (Fig. 5). Records from NSW have been referred to S. dwyeri and S. nigriceps.

Habitat. Suta gouldii occupies a variety of temperate to semiarid vegetation associations growing on light to heavy soils, including near-coastal sand dunes, dry sclerophyll forest of mallee and/or other Eucalyptus L`Hëritier, woodlands, heathlands, shrublands including chenopod, and rock outcrops (Wilson & Knowles 1988; Ehmann 1992; Bush et al. 2007; Cogger 2014; Wilson & Swan 2017). The habitat near Bungalbin Hill where S. gouldii is known from consists of a yellow sandplain with Banksia elderiana Mueller & Tate shrubland over Triodia scariosa Burbidge (Newbey & Hnatiuk 1985; B. Maryan, pers. obs.).
In these vegetation associations, specimens of S. gouldii particularly during cooler weather can be raked from deep leaf litter, spoil-heaps, piles of dead vegetation and abandoned stick-ant Iridomyrmex conifer Forel nests, found in dead grass trees Xanthorrhoea Smith and decaying logs and under logs, mallee roots, ground-strewn bark, rocks and rubbish, especially pieces of old iron in disturbed agricultural areas adjacent to uncleared vegetation.
Additionally, when seasonal activity is optimum, S. gouldii can be funnel or pit-trapped in buckets and nocturnally observed while driving or head-torching on roads, tracks and open ground. Bush et al. (2010: 152) mention activity on roads in the Darling Range during winter, suggesting S, gouldii is very cold tolerant. Some degree of habitat partitioning occurs in the Kambalda region, where S. gouldii generally prefers the woodlands on light soils and S. monachus the shrublands on heavy, often stony soils (P. Orange, pers. obs.). (Maryan et al. 2020: 13). 
EtymologyNamed after John Gould (1804-1881), British ornithologist, artist, and taxidermist. 
  • Beolens, Bo; Michael Watkins, and Michael Grayson 2011. The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, USA - get paper here
  • Bush, B. 1981. Reptiles of the Kalgoorlie-Esperance Region. B. Bush, Perth, 46 pp - get paper here
  • Bush, B. & Maryan, B. 2006. Snakes and Snake-like Reptiles of Southern Western Australia. Snakes Harmful & Harmless, Stoneville, Perth, Western Australia, 40 pp. - get paper here
  • Cogger, H. G. 2014. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, 7th ed. CSIRO Publishing, xxx + 1033 pp. - get paper here
  • Cogger, H.G. 2000. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, 6th ed. Ralph Curtis Publishing, Sanibel Island, 808 pp.
  • Gray, J. E. 1841. Description of some new species and four new genera of reptiles from Western Australia, discovered by John Gould, Esq. Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. (1) 7: 86-91 - get paper here
  • Hallermann, J. 2020. An annotated list of reptiles and amphibians from the 1905 Hamburg expedition to southwest Australia deposited in the Zoological Museum Hamburg. Evolutionary Systematics 4: 61 - get paper here
  • Kinghorn, J. Roy 1924. Reptiles and batrachians from south and south-west Australia. Rec. Austral. Mus. 14 (3): 163-183 - get paper here
  • MARYAN, BRAD; IAN G. BRENNAN, MARK N. HUTCHINSON, LUKAS S. GEIDANS 2020. What’s under the hood? Phylogeny and taxonomy of the snake genera Parasuta Worrell and Suta Worrell (Squamata: Elapidae), with a description of a new species from the Pilbara, Western Australia. Zootaxa 4778 (1): 1–47 - get paper here
  • Mattison, Chris 2007. The New Encyclopedia of Snakes. Princeton University Press
  • Storr, G.M. 1981. The Denisonia gouldii species-group (Serpentes, Elapidae) in Western Australia. Rec. West. Aust. Mus. 8: 501-515 - get paper here
  • Wallach, Van; Kenneth L. Williams , Jeff Boundy 2014. Snakes of the World: A Catalogue of Living and Extinct Species. [type catalogue] Taylor and Francis, CRC Press, 1237 pp.
  • Wilson, S. & Swan, G. 2010. A complete guide to reptiles of Australia, 3rd ed. Chatswood: New Holland, 558 pp.
  • Worrell, E. 1961. Herpetological Name Changes. Western Australian Naturalist 8: 18—27. - get paper here
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