Vermicella parscauda DEREZ, ARBUCKLE, RUAN, XIE, HUANG, DIBBEN, SHI, VONK & FRY, 2018
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|Higher Taxa||Elapidae (Hydrophiinae), Colubroidea, Caenophidia, Alethinophidia, Serpentes, Squamata (snakes)|
|Synonym||Vermicella parscauda DEREZ, ARBUCKLE, RUAN, XIE, HUANG, DIBBEN, SHI, VONK & FRY 2018|
Type locality: boat ramp Weipa, Cape York, Queensland, 12°31’53” S 141°50’51’’E
|Types||Holotype: QM J95807 (given as J95678 by Derez et al. 2018), large male collected in August 2014 by B.G. Fry and F.J. Vonk. Fixed in 10% formalin, stored in 70% ethanol at QM. Paratypes. QM J95808 (given as J95679 by Derez et al. 2018), small male squashed during mining company workplace activities, Evans Landing, Weipa, Qld (1240’21”S, 14152’09”E); AM R94414, unsexed individual, Mission River, Weipa, Qld (1240’59”S, 14152’59”E); CSIRO R02719, adult female, Rocky Point, Weipa, Qld (1237’00”S, 14152’00”E).|
|Diagnosis||Diagnosis. A small Vermicella to total 388 mm in length. Distinguished from all other Australian Vermicella by a combination of 55–92 black bands, white bands mottled posterior of scale, SVL 267–357 mm, tail length 21– 31 mm, 213–230 ventral scales, head length 5–8 mm, head width 3–5 mm and present internasal scales (Figure 1). Ventrals dark black or mottled with distinct black rings on the posterior body and tail, each ring covering 2–3 divided caudal scales and 1–2 white divided caudal scales in between the black rings.|
Comparison with other Vermicella species. V. parscauda sp. nov. has internasals present like V. annulata however band/head characteristics are more similar to V. intermedia and V. multifasciata (Table 5). Using a Tukey post hoc test, V. parscauda sp. nov. showed a difference in the number of black bands when compared to all Vermicella species (Tukey F = 0.001, P = <0.001), with slightly less difference compared to V. snelli, which has the closest number of black bands (Tukey F = 0.02065, P = <0.01). Vermicella parscauda sp. nov has a larger number of black and white bands than V. annulata (ANOVA, F=0.00568, P = <0.01). Snout vent length for V. parscauda sp. nov. was smaller than other Vermicella—roughly 23% smaller than the largest species V. annulata and 9% smaller than V. multifasciata, the previously smallest species within the genus. However examination of further specimens will be required to confirm this trend.
As there was only 1 female out of the 4 individuals examined of V. parscauda sp. nov., and ages unknown for all, it remains unknown if this species is sexually dimorphic. Females attaining larger body size has been shown for V. annulata (Shine 1980) and V. intermedia (Keogh & Smith 1996). In addition, fossorial species have shorter tails than snakes occupying other ecological niches, tail length dimorphism persists (King 1989). Vermicella multifasciata and V. snelli were shown to have a distinct tail to body ratio that does not overlap between the sexes and is larger in males (Clarke & How 1995). However this was prior to the species separation of V. multifasciata and V. snelli into V. intermedia, V. multifasciata, V. snelli and V. vermiformis and thus the data may be a species mixture. Keogh & Smith (1996) showed males having larger tail ratio is still true for V. snelli and V. vermiformis but this has not been tested for V. multifasciata. Keogh & Smith (1996) found the proportional tail length to be the highest in the sexual dimorphic V. annulata with males averaging tails 7.63% of body length and females 6.14% of body length. In the current study with 4 V. parscauda sp. nov. individuals shows a mean of 8.05% for males and the single female’s ratio of 6.62%. While these results indicate V. parscauda sp. nov. may have the amongst longest relative tail length within the genus, more specimens would need to be examined to support this. The ring count on the underside of the body, ranging from 9–17 black rings was not identified different due to sex of the individual as the single female count was within the range of the males.
Vermicella parscauda sp. nov. also exhibits a low number of ventral scales 222 ± 9, which is fixed at birth (Aubret et al. 2004) and lower than all species (ANOVA, F = 0.433, P = <0.001) except V. annulata (ANOVA, F1.5 = 211.8, P = 0.433) which for this study showed a mean of 220 ventrals (N = 355), differing by 3 ventrals more when compared to Keogh & Smith (1996). As V. annulata is the largest growing species within the Vermicella genus but has the least amount of ventral scales, these results do not support the findings of Lee et al. (2016a) who found in a general population trend of nightsnakes (Genus: Hypsiglena), those with higher number of ventral scales grow larger than conspecifics. Vermicella intermedia has 251 ± 5 ventral scales and V. multifasciata has 268 28 ventral scales, resulting in similar figures to Keogh & Smith (1996) and an 8.6% and 8.3% higher difference when compared to V. parscauda sp. nov. When comparing ventral scale counts of all species, there is overlapping ranges, suggesting this may not be a reliable characteristic to identify each species alone.
Vermicella parscauda sp. nov. , V. annulata, V. snelli and V. vermiformis all exhibit internasal scales, which are absent in V. intermedia and V. multifasciata. However, like V. parscuada, V. intermedia/V. multifasciata are hyper- banded specialists for the northern tropical monsoon zones, with V. intermedia/V. multifasciata occurring in the tropical monsoonal zone of Western Australia and Northern Territory while V. parscauda is known only form the northern monsoon zone of Cape York. Head length and head width average showed similarities between V. parscauda sp. nov. to V. multifasciata and V. snelli (Table 5) and just under half the head length of V. annulata (ANOVA, F5,441 = 20.37, P = < 0.01) and head width (ANOVA, F5, 438 = 14.28, P = < 0.05).
|Comment||Synonymy: Keogh & Smith (1996) examined the holotypes QM J 192 of V. latizonatus (DeVis, 1905) ‘possibly from Herberton’, Queensland and AM R 131709 of V. lunulata (Krefft, 1869) from near Townsville, Queensland and found them be variations of V. annulata, disregarding the resurrection of the two species by Wells & Wellington (1985). The locations of these specimens are not on the Cape York peninsula and photographs of the specimen QM J 192 on the database website Atlas of Living Australia (2017) show an individual with V. annulata band characteristics. Derez et al. therefore conclude Vermicella parscauda sp. nov. is a new species and not a previous species to be resurrected.|
Conservation. Only 6 individuals of Vermicella parscauda sp. nov. have been recorded and the presumed habitat on Cape York is the site of broad-scale mining. Activities that disturb the soil, such as commercial digging for mining purposes, may adversely affect V. parscauda, given the burrowing behavior of the Vermicella genus.
|Etymology||The specific epithet is modified from the Latin words pars (part) and cauda (tail) in reference to the tail length and formed bands on the tail.|
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