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Lycodon obvelatus WANG, YU, VOGEL & CHE, 2020

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Higher TaxaColubridae, Colubrinae, Colubroidea, Caenophidia, Alethinophidia, Serpentes, Squamata (snakes)
Common NamesE: Recluse Wolf Snake
Chinese: 隐士白环蛇 (Pinyin: Yin Shi Bai Huan She) 
SynonymLycodon obvelatus WANG, YU, VOGEL & CHE 2020
Lycodon fasciatus — DENG et al. 1991
Lycodon fasciatus — WU et al. 1997
Lycodon fasciatus — ZHAO et al. 1997
Lycodon fasciatus — ZHAO 2002
Lycodon fasciatus — ZHAO 2003
Lycodon fasciatus — ZHAO 2006 
DistributionChina (Sichuan: Panzhihua City Park, possibly NC Yunnan)

Type locality: Panzhihua City Park, Panzhihua, Sichuan, China (26.5751º N, 101.7174º E, WGS84, elevation 1243m)  
TypesHolotype: KIZ 040146, adult male, collected by Kai Wang and Benfu Miao on 19 April, 2018. 
DiagnosisDiagnosis: Lycodon obvelatus can be diagnosed from congeners by a combination of the following characters: (1) body size small, ToL 551mm; (2) tail moderate, TaL 18.9% ToL; (3) dorsal scale rows 17-17-15, all smooth; (4) VEN 199; (6) SC 76; (7) cloacal plate entire; (8) loreal long and narrow, entering orbit; (9) SL 8, 2-3-3; (10) IL 8(4 or 5); (11) preocular single, in contact with supraocular and prefrontal; (12) postocular 2; (13) temporal 2+2 or 2+3; (14) paraparietal enlarged, single; (15) frontal bordering 4 nuchal scales; (16) maxillary teeth 11 in four groups (7-1-1-2), seventh largest, first gap widest, four times wide as distance between first two teeth; (17) hemipenis single clavate, nip at distal end, spinose except very proximal end; spines larger toward proximal end; (18) distinct collar band present on occipital head, Salmon Color (Color 251); (18) dorsal Jet Black (Color 300) in life, with 31 Salmon Color (Color 251) cross-bands on dorsum, 13 on tail; (19) cross-bands with serrated edges, 2- or 3-scale broad medially, widen slightly toward ventrolateral side; (20) first dorsal cross-band at 4th ventral scale, DHB 14.1mm; and (21) ventral pale Salmon Color (Color 251), with more or less regular black transverse bands and some irregular speckles (Wang et al. 2021).

Comparisons: The new species is morphologically most similar and was confused as L. fasciatus, but it can be differentiated from the latter by having smooth dorsal scales (vs. keeled), fewer infralabials (8 vs. 9 in most individuals), and the presence of distinct collar band on head in adults (vs. absence) (Fig. 5). Lycodon obvelatus further differs from Dinodon yunnanensis, which is still considered the junior synonym of L. fasciatus but believed to be valid, by having smooth dorsal scales (vs. keeled), more ventral scale (199 vs. 193), more dorsal cross-band on body (32 vs. 23), and fewer supralabials (8 vs. 9).
For species that are also similar to L. fasciatus, L. obvelatus differs from L. gongshan by having smooth dorsal scales (vs. keeled), fewer subcaudals (76 vs. 92–96), and a smaller body size (ToL 551mm vs. maximum 963mm); from L. liuchengchaoi by having smooth dorsal scales (vs. keeled), an entire cloacal plate (vs. divided), and fewer dorsal cross-bands (31 vs. ≥40); from L. pictus by having fewer ventrals (199 vs. 212–218), presence of collar-band in adults (vs. absence), and a distinct coloration (dorsal Jet Black [Color 300], with Salmon Color [Color 251] cross-bands vs. dorsal Brick Red [Color 36] to Warm Sepia [Color 40], with dirty white cross bands); and from L. synaptor by having loreal entering orbit (vs. separated from orbit by preocular), smooth dorsal scales (vs. keeled), and wider dorsal cross-band (2- or 3-scale broad dorsally vs. single scale broad).\
Lycodon obvelatus differs from L. serratus by having fewer infralabials (8 vs. 10), fewer ASR (17 vs. 19), far fewer dorsal cross-bands (31 on dorsum, 13 on tail vs. 66 on dorsum, 26 on tail), a distinct coloration (dorsal Jet Black [Color 300] with Salmon Color (Color 251) cross-bands vs. dorsal dirty Tawny Olive [Color 17] with Jet Black [Color 300] cross-bands), and wider cross-bands (expending 2- or 3- scale wide dorsally vs. mostly single-scale broad) (Fig. 3).
For remaining species, L. obvelatus differs from all members of the L. ruhstrati species group (L. cathaya, L. chapaensis comb. nov., L. futsingensis, L. multifasciatus, L. ophiophagus, L. paucifasciatus, L. ruhstrati, and L. septentrionalis) and L. alcalai, L. banksi, L. bibonius, L. cardamomensis, L. carinatus, L. chrysoprateros, L. davidi, L. ferroni, L. flavozonatus, L. gammiei, L. kundui, L. muelleri, L. rufozonatus, L. rosozonatus, L. solivagus, L. stormi, L. travancoricus, and L. zoosvictoriae by having loreal entering orbit (vs. separated); from L. effraenis by the presence of loreal scale (vs. absence); from L. subannulatus by having more DSRH (17 vs. 15) and DSRM (17 vs. 15); from L. albofuscus, L. aulicus, L. capucinus, L. flavicollis, L. flavomaculatus, L. hypsirhinoides, L. jara, L. laoensis, L. mackinnoni, L. meridionalis, L. multizonatus, L. nympha, L. orientalis, L. sealei, L. sidiki, L. striatus, L. subcinctus, L. tessellatus, L. tiwarii, and L. zawi by having an entire cloacal plate (vs. divided); from L. anamallensis by fewer temporals (2+2 or 2+3 vs. 3+4); and from L. philippinus by more MT (11 vs. 8) and fewer ventral scales (199 vs. 216–225) (Wang et al. 2021).

Color in life: In life, the dorsal and lateral surfaces of the head are Jet Black (Color 300), except the anterior portion of the head: the internasal, prefrontal and anterior frontal are speckled with Pale Neutral Gray (Color 296); and the posterior half of nasal, loreal, and first four supralabials are nearly uniform Pale Neutral Gray (Color 296). A distinct collar band on occipital region of the head, dirty Salmon Color (Color 251). Dorsal surface of the body is Jet Black (Color 300). Salmon Color (Color 251) cross-bands are present on the dorsal and lateral surfaces of body and tail. Cross-bands have jagged edges, and they are two- to three-scale broad dorsally and are further widen ventrolaterlly. A total of 31 cross-bands are present on the body, and 13 are on the tail. Starting at the fifth cross-bands from the head, most Salmon Colored (Color 251) cross-bands of the body has a transverse row of black speckles running through the middle, some of which even forms a narrow and almost complete black transverse streak (i.e. in number 20 and 21 cross-bands from the head). The ventral surfaces of the head, body, and tail are pale Light Flesh Color (Color 250) to white. Anterior five infralabials, mental, and anterior portion of the anterior chin shields are Medium Neutral Gray (Color 298). Dark Neutral Gray (Color 299) to Jet Black (Color 300) cross-bands, transverse groups of patches, or irregular speckles are present on the ventral body, with the anterior nine cross-bands clearly defined. A total of twelve Jet Black (Color 300) cross-bands are present on ventral tail (Wang et al. 2021). 
CommentDiet: The holotype was found actively hunting for geckos on a stone parapet at night (Wang et al. 2021).

Similar species: Lycodon fasciatus

Conservation: Although the type locality is at the center of a major city (about 10.8 million people), the oasis in the city park provides habitats for a surprisingly diverse group of reptiles and amphibians. The natural habitats around the Panzhihua City have been deforested in the mid 1900s, and the self-recovering process of the fragile valley ecosystem is particularly slow. The City Park of Panzhihua preserved few of the remaining natural montane evergreen forests in the area, which provide important habitats for local wildlife. The discovery of the new species highlights the conservation importance of the remaining habitats in the city park. Unfortunately, the current maintenance practice of the park is not ecofriendly, with rapid developments for tourist infrastructure, replacements of native plants with exotic horticultural plants, and the wide usage of pesticides. We recommend the park modify its current practices and conserve the remaining natural habitats for the native wildlife (Wang et al. 2021). 
EtymologyThe Latin species name, obvelatus, means “hidden” or “concealed”, which not only describes the taxonomic confusions of the cryptic new species over L. fasciatus, but it also highlights the fact that new species can be hidden even in major urban areas. 
  • Deng Q, Yu Z, Zeng F. 1991. Herpetological Survey in Panzhihua City, Sichuan. Sichuan Journal of Zoology, 10(2): 27–29
  • Wang K, Yu ZB, Vogel G, Che J. 2020. Contribution to the taxonomy of the genus Lycodon H. Boie in Fitzinger, 1827 (Reptilia: Squamata: Colubridae) in China, with description of two new species and resurrection and elevation of Dinodon septentrionale chapaense Angel, Bourret, 1933. Zool Res 42 (1): 62-86 [online 2020, in print 2021] - get paper here
  • Wu G, Wang S, Zhang X, Gong Q. 1997. Second survey on reptile in Panzhihua City, Sichuan. Sichuan Journal of Zoology, 16, 42–43
  • Zhao, E & Yang, D. 1997. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Hengduan Mountain Region. [in Chinese] Science Press, Beijing, 303 pp.
  • Zhao, E. (ed.) 2003. Coloured atlas of Sichuan reptiles [in Chinese]. Beijing, China Forestry Publishing House
  • Zhao, E.M. 2006. The snakes of China [in Chinese]. Hefei, China, Anhui Sience & Technology Publ. House, Vol. I, 372 pp., Vol. II (color plates), 280 pp.
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