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Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus (JAN, 1862)

IUCN Red List - Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus - Least Concern, LC

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Higher TaxaColubridae, Colubrinae, Colubroidea, Caenophidia, Alethinophidia, Serpentes, Squamata (snakes)
Common NamesE: Palestine Kukri Snake
G: Schwarzkopf-Zwergnatter, Schwarzkopfnatter 
SynonymHomalosoma melanocephalum JAN 1862: 34
Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus — GÜNTHER 1865: 491
Homalosoma melanocephalum — BOETTGER 1879: 60
Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus — ENGELMANN et al 1993
Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus — VENCHI & SINDACO 2006
Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus — WALLACH et al. 2014: 654 
DistributionE Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Israel, Jordan, Egypt (Sinai), Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union (Caucasus), Armenia, Azerbaijan

Type locality: Beirut, Lebanon  
TypesLectotype: MHNG 1246.77 (designated by WALLACH et al. 2014: 654, without any further explanation; V. Wallach, pers. comm., 29 Aug 2016, provided the following additional details: “Jan described Homalosoma melanocephala in 1862, based on 3 specimens (Milan, 189V + 56SC; Geneva, 202V + 55SC; Monaco, 210V + 68SC) from Beirut, Syria.  Günther, in 1864, erected Rhynchocalamus (and the species R. melanocephalus) based on a specimen (London, 218V + 54SC) from Merom, Israel.  The BMNH specimen is a holotype but Günther's name is a synonym of Jan's name.  We selected the lectotype of Jan's name (as there were 3 syntypes in the original description) based on his illustration of it in the Jan & Sordelli atlas”.) Günther’s holotype (BMNH 1946.1.3.29, from Merom in Israel) is invalid as his name is a synonym of Jan’s name. 
DiagnosisDiagnosis (genus): The genus Rhynchocalamus can be distinguished from related genera through the count of 15 dorsal scales at mid-body, by a larger rostral shield that extends backwards between the internasalia and by a very wide frontal shield. This frontal shield is nearly as wide as it is long and has special dentition features with 6–8 maxillary teeth, with mandibular teeth that are slightly longer anteriorly than posteriorly and with palatine teeth absent (Schmidt 1933; Gasperetti 1988; Baran & Atatür 1998).
CommentSubspecies: Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus satunini NIKOLSKY 1899 has been elevated to full species status by ŠMÍD et al. 2015.

Distribution: Reports from the area of the former Yugoslavia are apparently in error; not in Iraq fide Habeeb & Rastegar-Pouyani 2016. See map in ŠMÍD et al. 2015: 382. For a map see Sindaco et al. 2013.

Type species: Homalosoma melanocephalum JAN 1862: 34 is the type species of the genus Rhynchocalamus GÜNTHER 1865.

Behavior (genus): fossorial snakes that are mostly nocturnal but can also be found active during the day.

Habitat: Rhynchocalamus snakes prefer humid areas with little vegetation and are found in mountainous areas, on heavy soils but not on sand. They are also known from arid and stony steppes, sparsely vegetated rocky slopes and wadis.

Diet: predominantly small insects such as ants, crickets and locusts (Disi et al., 2001). 
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  • Arakelyan, Marine S.; Felix D. Danielyan, Claudia Corti, Roberto Sindaco, and Alan E. Leviton 2011. The Herpetofauna of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. SSAR, Salt Lake City, 154 pp. [ISBN: 978-0-916984-84-7.]
  • AVCI, A. & ILGAZ, Ç. & KUMLUTAS, Y. & OLGUN, K. & BARAN, I. 2007. Morphology and distribution of Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus saturimi (NIKOLSKY, 1899) in Turkey. Herpetozoa 20: 82–85 - get paper here
  • Avci, A., Dinçaslan, Y.E., Ilgaz, Ç. & Üzüm, N. 2008. Contributions to the distribution and morphology of Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus melanocephalus (Jan 1862) (Reptilia, Colubridae) in Turkey. North-Western Journal of Zoology 4 (1): 161-166 - get paper here
  • Avcı, Aziz; Çetin Ilgaz, Mahdi Rajabizadeh, Can Yılmaz, Nazan Üzüm, Dominique Adriaens, Yusuf Kumlutaş, Kurtuluş Olgun 2015. Molecular Phylogeny and Micro CT-Scanning Revealed Extreme Cryptic Biodiversity in Kukri Snake, Muhtarophis gen. nov., a New Genus for Rhynchocalamus barani (Serpentes: Colubridae). Russ. J. Herpetol. 22 (3): 159-174
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  • Disi, A.M.; Modry, D.; Necas, P. & Rifai, L. 2001. Amphibians and reptiles of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt, 408 pp.
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