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Rhinophis melanoleucus CYRIAC, NARAYANAN, SAMPAIO, UMESH & GOWER, 2020

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Higher TaxaUropeltidae, Henophidia, Alethinophidia, Serpentes, Squamata (snakes)
Common Names 
SynonymRhinophis melanoleucus CYRIAC, NARAYANAN, SAMPAIO, UMESH & GOWER 2020 
DistributionIndia (Kerala)

Type locality: Wayanad Wild resort, Lakkidi, Wayanad district, Kerala state, India (11.515071° N, 76.036644° E; 825 m elevation  
TypesHolotype: BNHS 3534, adult female (Fig. 4 in Cyriac et al. 2020). Collected by Surya Narayanan and Pavukandy Umesh, 5 September 2018.
Paratypes (n = 6). BNHS 3535 (male), Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Pookode, Wayanad district (11.53336° N, 76.024821° E; 760 m elevation), Vivek Philip Cyriac, 8 October 2011; BNHS 3536 (male), Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Pookode, Wayanad district (11.53336° N, 76.024821° E; 760 m elevation), Nithin Divakar, Ashok Kumar and Vivek Philip Cyriac, 31 October 2014; ZSI/WGRC/IR/V/3100 (sex not determined), Vythiri road, Pookode, Wayanad district (11.53357°3 N, 76.025864° E; 760 m), Nithin Divakar and Vivek Philip Cyriac, 2 September 2014; ZSI/WGRC/IR/V/3101 (female), Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Pookode, Wayanad district (11.53336° N, 76.024821° E; 760 m elevation), Gnana Kumar, Nithin Divakar and Vivek Philip Cyriac, 14 June 2015; BNHS 3537 (male: Figs. 5–6), Lakkidi (11.514941° N, 76.033989° E; 815 m), Surya Narayanan, 26 April 2017; BNHS 3538 (female: Figs. 5–6), Lakkidi (11.513941° N, 76.037782° E; 850 m), Surya Narayanan, 12 June 2017. 
DiagnosisDiagnosis. Rhinophis melanoleucus sp. nov. differs from all other species of Rhinophis except R. sanguineus and R. fergusonianus in having 15 dorsal scale rows at (or just behind) midbody (versus 17 or 19 in other congeners). Rhinophis melanoleucus sp. nov. differs from R. fergusonianus in having > 215 ventrals (known range 218–236) versus 195 in the only known specimen of R. fergusonianus. Rhinophis melanoleucus sp. nov. differs from R. sanguineus in having more ventral scales (218–236 versus 181–214 in specimens examined here – see Discussion for comment on Wall’s 1919 report of ventral counts in R. sanguineus of up to 218), in having dark blotches (versus spots) on the ventral surface, and in having a proportionately longer rostral shield: 40.8–42.9% (n = 7; mean 42.0%) versus 32–39.3% (n = 17; mean 36.9%) of head length (= distance between snout tip and posterior edge of fourth supralabial). Only a single nomen is currently considered a synonym of any Indian Rhinophis species—R. microlepis Beddome, 1863 is a subjective junior synonym of R. sanguineus (e.g. Beddome 1886, Smith 1943, Gans 1966, McDiarmid et al. 1999, Pyron et al. 2016). The holotype of R. microlepis differs from the type series of the new species in having a mottled or speckled rather than blotched venter, in having fewer than 218 ventrals (214), and in having a shorter rostral shield (35.8% of head length versus 41% or more) (Cyriac et al. 2020).

Colour in life. Dorsal surface uniformly glossy blackish and somewhat iridescent. Lateral and ventral pale blotches on body whitish, more purely so on mid and posterior of body than anteriorly (where whitish scales appear translucent so that darker spots beneath scales slightly visible). Head scales blackish except for paler, orangebrownish rostral and whitish lower and/or posterior parts of supralabials. Ventral surface of tail blackish except for whitish ventrolateral markings. Pale elongate markings on tail shield pale orange, paler and more whitish anteriorly than posteriorly (Cyriac et al. 2020).

Sexual dimorphism. There is no clear evidence of sexual dimorphism in number of ventral scales in the types, with the three females having 225–235 and three males having 218–236 (Table 1). Males tend to have proportion- ately slightly longer tails (2.6–3.5 % of total length) than females (2.3–2.8 %) and have more subcaudals (7,7 or 8,8) than females (6,6 or 6,7). Both females and males have ridges on scales on the underside of the tail and posterior- most part of the body, but these are more prominent in males (Cyriac et al. 2020). 
EtymologyFrom the Ancient Greek mélas (black) and leukós (white), in reference to the unusual (for uropeltids) black and white colouration. For nomenclatural purposes, the species name melanoleucus is a noun in the genitive case. 
  • CYRIAC, VIVEK PHILIP; SURYA NARAYANAN, FILIPA L. SAMPAIO, PAVUKANDY UMESH, DAVID J. GOWER 2020. A new species of Rhinophis Hemprich, 1820 (Serpentes: Uropeltidae) from the Wayanad region of peninsular India. Zootaxa 4778 (2): 329–342 - get paper here
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