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Rhinophis karinthandani SAMPAIO, NARAYANAN, CYRIAC, VENU & GOWER, 2020

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Higher TaxaUropeltidae, Henophidia, Alethinophidia, Serpentes, Squamata (snakes)
Common Names 
SynonymRhinophis karinthandani SAMPAIO, NARAYANAN, CYRIAC, VENU & GOWER 2020
Rhinophis sanguineus — CYRIAC et al. 2020 (part) 
DistributionIndia (Kerala)

Type locality: “Manantoddy, Wynad, 2,000 ft” [= Mananthavady, Wayanad district], Kerala, India (Fig. 3). Mananthavady today is a small town, the centre of which (according to GoogleEarth) is at 11.8035° N, 76.005° E and an elevation of ca. 760 m.  
TypesHolotype: BMNH, female. Sampaio et al could not find any collection date associated with this specimen, but it was accessioned into the collection of the Natural History Museum, London in July 1879. See Fig. 2 in Sampaio et al. 2020.
Paratypes (n = 6). The paratypes were collected on different dates between 2013–2019. Five are from Lakkidi, Wayanad district, Kerala, India (11.514944° N, 76.038242° E; 835 m): BNHS 3540, female; BNHS 3542, male; BNHS 3544, female; BNHS 3545, male; BNHS 3546, female. The other paratype is ZSI/WGRC/V-3143 from Chandanathodu, Mananthawady, Wayanad district, Kerala, India (11.844758° N, 75.807739° E; 824 m).
Other specimens: BMNH, female, same data as for holotype, lacks head and anterior end of body. BMNH, Wynad [Wayanad district, Kerala, India], ZMB 10358, Wayanad, India. MNHN 1895.75, “Sri Lanka” (presumably in error). BNHS 3153, Anakkampoil, Wayanad district, Kerala (listed as R. sanguineus by Cyriac et al. 2020). BNHS 3541 and 3543, Lakkidi, Wayanad district, Kerala, India. BNHS 3605 and 3606, near Pookode, Wayanad district, Kerala, India 
DiagnosisDiagnosis. Rhinophis karinthandani sp. nov. differs from all other species of Rhinophis except R. fergusonianus Boulenger, 1896, R. melanoleucus, and R. sanguineus in having 15 dorsal scale rows at (or just behind) midbody (versus 17 or 19 in other congeners). Rhinophis karinthandani sp. nov. differs from R. fergusonianus and R. melanoleucus in having a reduction from 17 to 15 dorsal scale rows that occurs anterior to the 80th ventral (versus posterior to the 90th ventral in R. fergusonianus and posterior to the 99th ventral in R. melanoleucus: Cyriac et al. 2020), and in having dark spots or speckles ventrally (versus dark blotches). Rhinophis karinthandani sp. nov. differs from R. melanoleucus also in having fewer ventrals (< 206 versus > 217) and fewer subcaudals (in males: 4–5 versus 6–7). The new species is most similar superficially to the parapatric (possibly partly sympatric) R. sanguineus, but the two species can be distinguished on the basis of the former having fewer subcaudals (left-right means of 4–5 in females and 6.5–8 in males versus 5–7 and 8.5–10.5, respectively), having a reduction from 19 to 17 dorsal scale rows that occurs anterior to the 34th ventral (mean 28th ventral [n = 18 sides]; versus posterior to the 26th ventral, mean 34 [n = 28]) and a reduction from 17 to 15 dorsal scale rows that occurs anteriorly to the 78th ventral (mean 68th ventral [n = 18 sides]; versus posterior to the 67th ventral, mean 79th [n = 28]) (Appendix 4; Cyriac et al. 2020), in mitochondrial DNA sequences (e.g. >7.6% uncorrected p-distance for nd4: Table 1), and in colour pattern. In terms of colour pattern, both species have a dark dorsum and generally pale venter, but R. karinthandani sp. nov. has an extensively darkly mottled or speckled or spotted venter, except for a narrow (approximately one scale wide, generally across second and third and/or third and fourth dorsal scale rows), longitudinal, ventrolateral pale line along each side, immediately below the dark dorsum (and sometimes other, subparallel pale lines further ventrally), whereas R. sanguineus has a less mottled venter with the paler colour below the darker dorsum being much more extensive than a narrow regular line. In life, the paler venter of R. karinthandani sp. nov. is whitish (to pale pinkish more anteriorly), but in R. sanguineus is a vivid red (paler in smaller specimens, see Discussion). The colour pattern differences in preservation hold well for almost all specimens we have identified, although in R. sanguineus specimen VPRS0918093, many of the mostly pale scales in the broad pale areas below the darker dorsum have small blackish dots. At least in life, the dorsal colour of R. sanguineus appears to be darker, more blackish than in R. karinthandani sp. nov. Photographs of the type specimens of R. sanguineus and its junior synonym R. microlepis are presented in Figs. 4 and 5 in Sampaio et al. 2020.

Identification. The new uropeltid species is referred to Rhinophis because it has an eye that lies within an ocular scale (eye distinct from adjacent scales in Platyplectrurus Günther, 1868), has a clearly discrete tail ‘shield’ comprising a single, enlarged terminal scute (absent in Melanophidium, Brachyophidium, Platyplectrurus, Plectrurus and Teretrurus), lacks a mental groove (present in Melanophidium), lacks supraor postoculars or temporals (at least one of which is present in Brachyophidium, Platyplectrurus, Plectrurus and Teretrurus), and lacks midline contact between the nasals (present in Brachyophidium, Melanophidium, Platyplectrurus, Plectrurus, Pseudoplectrurus Boulenger, 1890, Teretrurus, and almost all Uropeltis [those Uropeltis that lack nasal-nasal contact have small terminal scutes and > 15 dorsal scales rows at, or just behind, midbody]) (Sampaio et al. 2020).

Colour in life. The darker head, dorsal and ventral body markings are dark brown to dark grey or black. The paler colours on the lateral and ventral surfaces of the body are off-white, to slightly pale pinkish anteriorly where underlying tissues are infused with oxygenated blood. The underside of the tail, and the tail shield, has some bright orange to yellow-orange patches. See Fig. 7 for examples of live animals (Sampaio et al. 2020).

Sexual dimorphism. As in some other species of Rhinophis (e.g. Wickramasinghe et al. 2017, 2020; Gower 2020), including R. sanguineus (Wall 1919), females tend to have fewer subcaudals (and shorter tails) and more ventrals. The number of ventrals is broadly overlapping between the sexes, but the subcaudal counts are not, being a mean (of left and right counts) of 4–5 in females and 6.5–8 in males (Fig. 8). Cyriac et al. (2020) reported that the ridges on the scales on the underside of the tail were more prominent in males than in females of R. melanoleucus; the most prominent ridges in R. karinthandani sp. nov. are also seen in males, though it should be noted that they are absent in the smallest male paratype (BNHS 3542) (Sampaio et al. 2020). 
EtymologyThe species is named in honour of Karinthandan, a member of the Paniya (also Paniyar, Paniyan) tribe indigenous primarily to the tri-state region of Kerala-Karnataka-Tamil Nadu. Karinthandan is believed to have been a chieftain (= moopan) who was murdered in the 1700s by colonial British after he showed them the Thamarassery churam mountain pass between the Adivaram (foothills) and Wayanad plateau. Legend has it that Karinthandan’s spirit is today chained to a banyan tree at Lakkidi (a paratype locality of the new species), which has become a place of worship. In addition, Karinthandan in Malayalam is from “kari” meaning black and “thandan” (thandu) meaning stem or backbone, which also seems appropriate given the blackish dorsal colour of the newly described species. For nomenclatural purposes, the species epithet is considered a noun in apposition. 
  • SAMPAIO, FILIPA L.; SURYA NARAYANAN, VIVEK PHILIP CYRIAC, GOVINDAPPA VENU, DAVID J. GOWER 2020. A new Indian species of Rhinophis Hemprich, 1820 closely related to R. sanguineus Beddome, 1863 (Serpentes: Uropeltidae). Zootaxa 4881 (1): 1–24 - get paper here
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