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Acontias meleagris (LINNAEUS, 1758)

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Higher TaxaScincidae, Acontiinae (Acontidae), Scincoidea, Sauria, Squamata (lizards)
Common NamesE: Cape Legless Skink, Golden Sand Skink; Spotted Slow Skink; Thick-tailed Blindworm, Erdslang, Linnaeus' Lance Skink 
SynonymAnguis Meleagris LINNAEUS 1758: 227
Acontias meleagris — DUMÉRIL & BIBRON 1839: 802
Acontias meleagris — LOVERIDGE 1923
Acontias meleagris meleagris — FITZSIMONS 1943: 242
Acontias meleagris — GREER 2001
Acontias meleagris — LAMB et al. 2010 
DistributionRepublic of South Africa (along the xeric western and eastern Cape coast of South Africa)

Type locality: “Indiis” (fide LINNAEUS 1758; in error)  
TypesSyntypes: Lost. Described from a specimen in the Museum Adolphi Friderici (now in NRM), from Indiis (in error, the species is African), and reference to a specimen described by Seba. The NRM specimen is now lost (Andersson, 1899), and the specimen used by Seba has not been traced. Fitzsimons 1943: 244 said that the type is unlocated but suspected it in MNHN. 
DiagnosisDiagnosis (genus Acontias): Morphologically, members of the genus Acontias have SVLs that range from 225 mm to 490 mm, while the midbody scale rows range from 14 to 20 within this group (Broadley & Greer 1969). Biogeographically this group is distributed further along the west and south coasts of southern African eastwards into the interior of the subcontinent that includes Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe extending into south-eastern Kenya. Within this group, systematic affinities, particularly in the highly polymorphic Acontias meleagris complex (comprising A. m. meleagris, A. m. orientalis, the morph lineacauda and A. p. tasmani), warrant additional study (Daniels et al. 2005). A study in currently in progress that will attempt to delineate species boundaries within this complex. Convergence in apparent diagnostic features appears widespread among fossorial taxa. For example, two independent studies performed by Whiting et al. (2004) and Schmitz et al. (2005) suggest that the Malagasy fossorial skink genus Amphiglossus as currently defined is not monophyletic and is comprised of two genetically highly distinct groups. These results suggest that morphological characters currently used in the taxonomy of fossorial skinks are homoplastic and warrant closer scrutiny. The apparent lack of well-defined synapomorphies at least for some genera is clearly an obstacle in determining the diversity of fossorial groups. The description of this new genus within Acontias suggests that a number of previously defined generic groupings in other skinks may indeed be artificial units, and that a number of the southern African skink genera may contain considerable taxonomic diversity obscured by symplesiomorphic morphological features. From an evolutionary perspective, the morphological differences between Acontias and Microacontias gen. nov. pose some interesting questions. We hypothesize that it is likely that the differences in body size have led to the development of reproductive differences between these two ecomorphological groups that are likelyenforced by resource partitioning among sympatric taxa. We recommend that where taxonomically ill-defined paraphyletic groups have been recorded with mtDNA sequences, they should be confirmed with the use of nDNA sequences; and where congruent, the appropriate taxonomic changes made to relect current trends in phylogenetic hypotheses. Such studies are likely to uncover a wealth of new genera and taxa that have previously been obscured by convergent characters, particularly among fossorial groups. Considering that most fossorial taxa have limited vagility, and a large number are point endemics, the effective conservation of this faunal group and their vulnerability to extinction underscore the need for a sound taxonomy that accurately reflects diversity and evolutionary history [from DANIELS et al. 2006]. 
CommentLimb morphology: Limbless.

Skull morphology: for a comparison of African burrowing skinks see Stepanova & Bauer 2021.

Type species: A. meleagris is the type species of the genus Acontias CUVIER 1817 (DANIELS et al. 2006, LAMB et al. 2010). Acontias is also the type genus of the family Acontidae Gray 1839 (fide Hedges 2014) and Acontiinae Gray 1839 (fide Shea 2021).

Synonymy: based on DNA sequence data, DANIELS et al. (2005) suggest that both A. m. orientalis and A. p. tasmani are invalid taxonomic designations, and should be regarded as junior synonyms of A. m. meleagris.

Key: Broadley & Greer 1969: 14 have a key to the species of Acontias.

Group: the A. meleagris species complex includes A. meleagris, A. orientalis and A. lineicauda fide Zhao et al. 2023. 
  • Bates, M.F.; Branch, W.R., Bauer, A.M.; Burger, M., Marais, J.; Alexander, G.J. & de Villliers, M.S. (eds.) 2014. Atlas and Red List of the Reptiles of South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Suricata 1. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, 512 pp.
  • Branch, W. R. 1998. Field Guide to the Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. 3rd ed. Fully Revised and Updated to Include 83 New Species. Ralph Curtis Books (Sanibel Island, Florida), 399 pp.
  • Branch, William R. 1993. A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik Publishers, 144 S.
  • Broadley, D. G. and Greer, A. E. 1969. A revision of the genus Acontias Cuvier (Sauria: Scincidae). Arnoldia Rhodesia 4 (26): 1-29.
  • Camp, Charles Lewis 1923. Classification of the Lizards. Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist. 48 (11): 289-481. - get paper here
  • Daniels, S. R., N. Heideman, M. Hendricks, and B. Willson. 2002. A molecular phylogeny for the South African limbless lizard taxa of the subfamily Acontinae (Sauria: Scincidae) with special emphasis on relationships within Acontias. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 24: 315-323 - get paper here
  • Daniels, S. R.,Heideman, N. J. L. & Hendricks, M. G. J. 2009. Examination of evolutionary relationships in the Cape fossorial skink species complex (Acontinae: Acontias meleagris meleagris) reveals the presence of five cryptic lineages. Zoologica Scripta 38 (5): 449–463 - get paper here
  • Daniels, S.R.; Neil J.L. Heideman, Martin G.J. Hendricks, Mphalile E. Mokone, Keith A. Crandall 2005. Unraveling evolutionary lineages in the limbless fossorial skink genus Acontias (Sauria: Scincidae): are subspecies equivalent systematic units? Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 34: 645–654 - get paper here
  • Duméril, A. M. C. and G. Bibron. 1839. Erpétologie Générale on Histoire Naturelle Complète des Reptiles. Vol. 5. Roret/Fain et Thunot, Paris, 871 pp. - get paper here
  • Falk and Reed 2015. Challenges to a molecular approach to prey identification in the Burmese python, Python molurus bivittatus. PeerJ 3:e1445; DOI 10.7717/peerj.1445 - get paper here
  • FitzSimons, V.F. 1943. The lizards of South Africa. Transvaal Museum Memoir No.1 (Pretoria), 528 pp.
  • Fraser M. 2023. Reptiles and Amphibians of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, Western Cape, South Africa. Biodiversity Observations 13: 162–185. 14 March 2023 - get paper here
  • Girard, F. 2002. Acontias meleagris meleagris Linnaeus, 1758, Cape Legless Skink. Distribution. African Herp News (34): 30 - get paper here
  • Greer, Allen E. 2001. Distribution of maximum snout-vent length among species of Scincid lizards. Journal of Herpetology 35 (3): 383-395 - get paper here
  • Haagner, G. V. and Morgan, D. R. 1982. Acontias meleagris. Cape legless lizard. Reproduction. J. Herp. Assoc. Africa 41:41 - get paper here
  • Haagner, G.V.; Morgan, D.R. 1992. Life History Notes - Acontias meleagris meleagris. J. Herp. Assoc. Africa (41): 40-40 - get paper here
  • Hedges, S.B. 2014. The high-level classification of skinks (Reptilia, Squamata, Scincomorpha). Zootaxa 3765 (4): 317–338 - get paper here
  • Heideman, N.J.L. et al. 2008. Sexual dimorphism in the African legless skink subfamily Acontiinae (Reptilia: Scincidae). African Zoology 43 (2): 192–201 - get paper here
  • Hewitt, J. 1937. Description of new forms of the genus Acontias. Trans. Roy. Soc. S. Africa 26: 39-48
  • Lamb, T.; Biswas, S. & Bauer, A.M. 2010. A phylogenetic reassessment of African fossorial skinks in the subfamily Acontinae (Squamata: Scincidae): evidence for parallelism and polyphyly. Zootaxa 2657: 33–46 - get paper here
  • Leonard, C. J. 1989. Locomotion of the Limbless Skink Acontias meleagris. J. Herp. Assoc. Africa (36): 73-73 - get paper here
  • Linnaeus, C. [= Linné, C. von] 1758. Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. Laurentii Salvii, Holmiæ. 10th Edition: 824 pp. - get paper here
  • Loveridge, A. 1923. Notes on East African lizards collected 1920-1923 with the description of two new races of Agama lionotus Blgr. Proc. Zool. Soc. London 1923: 935-969 - get paper here
  • Mirza, Zeeshan A. & Rajesh Sanap 2010. New locality record of Hemidactylus gracilis Blanford, 1870 (Squamata: Sauria: Gekkonidae) from Nashik District, Maharashtra. Reptile Rap (10): 2-3 - get paper here
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  • SHEA, G. M. 2021. Nomenclature of supra-generic units within the Family Scincidae (Squamata) Zootaxa 5067 (3): 301–351 - get paper here
  • Stepanova, N., Bauer, A.M. 2021. Phylogenetic history influences convergence for a specialized ecology: comparative skull morphology of African burrowing skinks (Squamata; Scincidae). BMC Ecol Evo 21, 86 - get paper here
  • Wagner, Philipp; Donald G. Broadley, and Aaron M. Bauer 2012. A New Acontine Skink from Zambia (Scincidae: Acontias Cuvier, 1817). Journal of Herpetology 46 (4): 494-502. - get paper here
  • Werner,F. 1910. Reptilia et Amphibia. In Schultze, L., Zoologische und anthropologische Ergebnisse einer Forschungsreise im westlichen und zentralen Südafrika. Band IV, Systematik und Tiergeographie Vertebrata B. Denkschr. Med.-Nat. Wiss. GeselI. Jena 16: 279-370 [1910] - get paper here
  • Wilson, B. A., M.G.J. Hendriks, N.J.L. Heideman, M. F. Bates, N. Don and C. Moses. 1998. Geographic Distribution. Acontias meleagris meleagris. African Herp News (27): 20-21. - get paper here
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