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Platyceps josephi DEEPAK, NARAYANAN, MOHAPATRA, DUTTA, MELVINSELVAN, KHAN, MAHLOW & TILLACK, 2021

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Higher TaxaColubridae, Colubrinae, Colubroidea, Caenophidia, Alethinophidia, Serpentes, Squamata (snakes)
Subspecies 
Common NamesTamil: ஓடுகாலிப்பாம்பு (Odugali Pambu)
E: Joseph’s racer 
SynonymPlatyceps josephi DEEPAK, NARAYANAN, MOHAPATRA, DUTTA, MELVINSELVAN, KHAN, MAHLOW & TILLACK 2021: 276 
DistributionIndia (Tamil Nadu)

Type locality: Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu state, India (8.75442° N, 78.18482° E, 5 m a.s.l)  
Reproductionoviparous; clutch size 7–12 eggs (Hutton 1949; Rajendran 1986; Rameshwaran 2008), during the month of March and June and eggs were 40 mm in length (Rameshwaran 2008). Females are reported to lay their eggs in bunds (raised areas surrounding the paddy fields) of paddy fields (Rajendran 1986).  
TypesHolotype. NCBS AU-732, adult female, collected by Naveen Joseph on 26th February 2017 (Figs 14–16 A and 20 in Deepak et al. 2021).
Paratypes. BNHS 3516 and NCBS AU-733, adult females, from Vagaikulam, Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu state, India (8.71634° N, 78.00203° E, 28 m a.s.l.), collected by Naveen Joseph on 28th July 2017 and 3rd November 2017, respectively. ZSI-CZRC-6639, adult male, from Karur, Tamil Nadu state, India (10.97382° N, 78.08949° E, 114 m a.s.l.) collected by Melvin Selvan on 2nd August 2018 and NMW 25465:2, juvenile male, from Salem, Tamil Nadu state, India (11.74178° N, 77. 93888° E, 314 m a.s.l.), collected by Ferdinand Stoliczka and donated to the NMW collection on 11th January 1879. Other specimens: ZSI-CZRC, ZSI-K, NMW. 
DiagnosisDiagnosis. A medium sized (maximum total length 951mm) snake with countersunk lower jaw; dark brownish dorsum; head with irregular white spots, two slanting roughly “∏” shaped white markings with black edges on either side, starting on the back of the head (behind parietals) extending into the body, almost the length of head; 13–18 prominent white bands in the anterior region of the dorsum in both juveniles and adults; 34–48 total bands on the body in both juveniles and adults; 23:21(exceptionally 23):16–18 smooth dorsal scale rows; 189–218 ventrals (males: 192–197; females: 189–216); 76–88 subcaudals (males: 83–88; females: 76–88); cloacal plate divided; tail without bands and underside creamish. Its dentition is characterized by 12–16 maxillary teeth, the last two enlarged and separated by a diastema, 9–11 palatine teeth, 14–15 pterygoid teeth and 15–16 mandibular teeth.
Platyceps josephi sp. nov. shows most similarities with its sister taxon P. plinii in regard to pholidosis and colour pattern but can be distinguished from the latter by its lower number of midbody dorsal scale rows (21 vs. 23), its lower mean value of ventral scales (202 vs. 214), its lower mean value of subcaudal scales (82 vs. 87) and its lower mean of the sum of ventral and subcaudal scales (285 vs. 304), the presence of the clearly demarcated two slanting roughly “∏” shaped white markings on the back of head vs. absence of such markings and distinct white bands on the dorsum in both juveniles and adults vs. ontogenetic change, i.e. bands present in juveniles only, but usually absent or faded in adults. Additionally, Platyceps josephi sp. nov. differs from P. plinii in variation of mitochondrial DNA sequences. With pairwise uncorrected p-distances varying 4–5% in cytb & ND4 and 3% in 16S. It is also clear from our thorough verification of distribution that these two species only have a minor range overlap in northeastern Tamil Nadu (Fig. 1 Map). (Deepak et al. 2022)

Comparisons: Differences between Platyceps josephi sp. nov. and South Asian congeners. Platyceps josephi sp. nov. is distinguished clearly from P. bholanathi, P. mintonorum, P. noeli, P. rhodorachis, P. sindhensis and P. ventromaculatus by its higher number of midbody dorsal scale rows (21 vs. 19) and from P. gracilis by its lower mean value of ventral scales (202 vs. 214), its lower value of subcaudal scales without overlapping (88 maximum vs. 118 minimum), its different neck pattern (whitish ∏-shaped marking vs. a yellowish-cream and black edged V-shaped marking), and by differing dorsal body pattern (irregular whitish transverse bars stippled with black vs. dorsal yellowish-cream and black-edged transverse bars). Platyceps josephi sp. nov. shows similarities with P. plinii with regard to pholidosis and colour pattern but can be distinguished from the latter by its lower number of midbody dorsal scale rows (21 vs. 23), its lower mean value of ventral scales (202 vs. 214), its lower mean value of subcaudal scales (82 vs. 87), and its lower mean of the sum of ventral and subcaudal scales (285 vs. 304). (Deepak et al. 2022)

Variation among the paratypes. See Table 2 for variations in merestic and morphometric features. Paratypes generally in moderate to good condition; NCBS-AU733, BNHS 3516 and ZSI-CZRC-6639 with single incision and NMW 24565: 2 without incision into the coelom. ZSI-CZRC-6639, male, both hemipenis removed for further examination. Tail/body ratio 0.22 in BNHS 3516, 0.13 in NCBS-AU733 and 0.23 in ZSI-CZRC-6639. Mid-line suture between internasals and pre-frontals not in a straight line in NCBS-AU733, BNHS 3516, NMW 24565: 2 and ZSI-CZRC-6639. Nostrils in BNHS 3516 situated above the center between both nasals. Loreals longer than high in NMW 24565: 2 and ZSI-CZRC-6639 and subequal in BNHS 3516. Temporals 2+3 (left), 2+2 (right) rows in ZSI-CZRC-6639; 2+3 (left), 2+2 (right) in NMW 24565: 2 respectively; 2+3 rows in the left side of BNHS 3516 and middle temporal in the second row (right) the largest than the other two and 2+3 on the left side of the NCBS-AU733 and the lower anterior temporal being the largest in all the paratypes on both sides. Posterior margin of the parietals surrounded by nine scales in BNHS 3516, fourteen scales in NCBS-AU733 and twelve scales in ZSI-CZRC-6639. Ten sublabials on both sides in BNHS 3516, NCBS-AU733, NMW 24565: 2 and ZSI-CZRC-6639 with only the first four in contact with the anterior inframaxillars in ZSI-CZRC-6639. One preventral in ZSI-CZRC-6639 and two pre-ventrals in NMW 24565: 2 and BNHS 3516 and preventrals absent in NCBS-AU733. Terminal scute sharp and intact in both BNHS 3516 and ZSI-CZRC-6639. Apical pits in BNHS 3516 and NCBS-AU733 are mostly single or double in the dorsal and double (single in few scales) above sacral but from the anterior part of the body, it is consistently double in all the scales from the position of the 10th ventral (single before that) until the tip of the tail for ZSI-CZRC-6639. NCBS-AU733 differs from the holotype in having a slightly darker frontal and suprocular scales, presence of irregular white spots in the temporal scales, and a small white line along the midline between the two prefrontals. The first band on the body is separated from the “∏” shaped markings by 2 scales on both the sides along the lateral side. 46–48 bands on the dorsum from neck to vent, anterior 18 bands are prominent with white and black edges which fades and become wider towards the vent.
BNHS 3516 differs from the holotype by having dorsum darker, two prominent and two less prominent white spots parallel to each other in each parietal. The slanting “∏” mark behind the head, two corners starts from the first row of scales behind parietal but shifts to the next row of dorsal after 4 (right) and 5 (left) scales, the other two diagonal corners ends on the first dorsal scales near 4th ventral. There are 16 subequal horizontal bands on 2–3 dorsal scales, first band on the body separated from the “∏” shaped markings by three scale on right and two scales on left and all the other bands laterally connected with a mix of broken pale and black markings. There are 34 bands on the dorsum from neck to vent, anterior 16 prominent which becomes less prominent but wider towards the vent. ZSI-CZRC-6639 is overall similar to the holotype in the dorsum colours but with irregular white spots on the dorsal side of the head, a faint white spot at the junction of preocular, supraocular, prefrontal and frontal on both the sides; a faint white stripe in the anterior end of the frontal, the white spot in the suture between frontal and suproculars on both the sides, faint; 8–10 irregular spots together on both parietals. The slanting “∏” marking in the back of the head starts from the second row after the parietals on both the sides and continues towards the body but irregular. The first band on the body is separated from the “∏” shaped markings by 2 scales on both the sides along the lateral side. There are 42–44 bands on the dorsum from neck to vent, 14 prominent (white with black edges on each scale) which becomes less prominent but wider towards the vent. NMW 24565: 2 differs from holotype in having much lighter dorsum, by the presence of a white spot on the preocular-anterior frontal on both sides, two white spots along the midline suture on both parietals, one pair adjoining to frontal edge and other in the middle. The slanting “∏” shaped markings are much shorter extending only up to 7 rows of dorsal scales. About 39 visible bands on the dorsum of which anterior 13 are distinctly visible (see Figs 16–18). (DEEPAK et al. 2021) 
CommentDistribution: The Area Of Occupancy (AOO) of P. josephi sp. nov. is 72.000 km2 and Extent Of Occupancy (EOO) is 70,698 km2. Even though this is a relatively large area of distribution for a species, our field surveys and records suggest that this species has patchy distribution within its range. (Deepak et al. 2022)

Conservation: much of the habitat in these regions where P. josephi sp. nov. is reported are under severe threats like conversion of grasslands to farmlands, widescale monoculture plantations (Eucalyptus sp.) and urbanization. Deepak et al. 2022 suggest that P. josephi sp. nov. should be considered a species in the Vulnerable category according to the IUCN criteria. Platyceps josephi sp. nov. is reported only from one protected area (Megamalai) in its known range. The species faces a number of threats across its distributional range, including habitat destruction, because the grasslands in southern Tamil Nadu are being actively converted into plantations, farmlands and urbanisation. Although there are records from such converted plantations and human settlements, the species’ ability to adapt and its reproductive success is not known. Rocky habitats in Madurai region are also highly affected by the mining activities and road traffic is another important threat to P. josephi sp. nov. (Deepak et al. 2022)

Snakebite: Although local envenoming by congeners is reported for P. rhodorachis and P. najadum (Minton 1990; Kuch and Mebs 2002; Weinstein et al. 2011), bites from P. josephi sp. nov. seem to be harmless and without any local symptoms. Rajendran (1986) reported two bite cases, one being himself got bitten while trying to catch an individual in a paddy field and another for an adult male got bitten while harvesting the paddy. No local symptoms were observed after a bite from a later preserved specimen (BNHS 3516, paratype) to one of the authors (NJ) upon handling. (Deepak et al. 2022)

Similar species: Juvenile Platyceps josephi sp. nov. can easily be confused with juveniles of Platyceps plinii but may be differentiated by the two slanting roughly “∏” shaped markings on the back of the head. (Deepak et al. 2022)

Sympatry: Platyceps josephi sp. nov. is found in sympatry with the Common cobra (Naja naja) and the Common ratsnake, Ptyas mucosa, and can potentially also be confused with these two species. (Deepak et al. 2022)

Behavior: Platyceps josephi sp. nov. is a diurnal snake, terrestrial and swift in locomotion. However, there is a report of arboreal behaviour under artificial conditions (Rajendran 1986), but this is not known in the wild. It is an aggressive snake, flattening its head as a mock hood display mimicking a cobra, when agitated and biting freely, but it becomes docile after a few days in captivity (Rajendran, 1986; Hutton, 1949). Similar behaviour was observed during this study for specimens from Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu (NCBS-AU732, NCBS-AU733 and BNHS 3516). (Deepak et al. 2022) 
EtymologyNamed after the late Mr Naveen Joseph. Naveen was a naturalist from Tuticorin, well known for his research on reptiles, particularly snakes in that region. He was a friend of VD, SN, and GM and helped them collect specimens of the new species. 
References
  • Deepak V, Narayanan S, Mohapatra PP, Dutta SK, Melvinselvan G, Khan A, Mahlow K, Tillack F 2021. Revealing two centuries of confusion: new insights on nomenclature and systematic position of Argyrogena fasciolata (Shaw, 1802) (auctt.), with description of a new species from India (Reptilia: Squamata: Colubridae). Vertebrate Zoology 71: 253-316 - get paper here
 
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