taxonfiles

5

Uroplatus phantasticus (Boulenger, 1888)

The Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko.

Distribution:

These geckos are found throughout much of the rainforest belt spanning Madagascar’s eastern side. The holotype of the species is from ‘southern central eastern’ Madagascar.

Morphology and Colouration:

These geckos receive their common name from their large superciliary spines (eyebrow spines).

The bodies of the U. ebenaui-group of geckos (U. ebenaui, U. phantasticus, U. finiavana, U. malama, and at least four undescribed species) are laterally compressed (as opposed to the dorso-ventrally compressed form of all other members of the genus). This makes them highly effective leaf-mimics.

Colouration in this species is extremely variable. Generally, however, a dark line extends from the posterior of the head down the dorsal mid-line. The iris is silvery in its periphery and reddish-brown towards the centre, but this too varies to some extent.

These geckos are characterized by a large tail that is roughly half or equal to the full length of the body of the geckos. There is a moderate degree of sexual dimorphism: females tend to lack serration in the tail. Males can have either serrated or non-serrated tail edges, but extensive serration appears to be entirely restricted to males.

Uroplatus phantasticus cannot regenerate its tail once lost.

Habits:

Uroplatus phantasticus is a nocturnal, arboreal gecko species.

These geckos rely on their extremely cryptic colouration and morphology to shelter from predation during the day. At rest, they typically hold their tails alongside their bodies, hiding their feet beneath them, for maximum crypsis.

At night, these geckos typically hunt between ground level and three metres up. Often they are observed at night hanging from branches in the position seen in the third photo above.

Curiously, these geckos, and indeed the rest of the Uroplatus genus, are unable to run like most geckos. Instead, if they are in need of rapid locomotion, they leap in a frog-like fashion.

Conservation Status:

Uroplatus phantasticus is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List due to its wide distribution and occurrence in several well protected areas of rainforest.

Taxonomy:

Uroplatus phantasticus is superficially similar to all of the other members of the U. ebenaui-group. The following characteristics however set it apart from other members of the clade: U. phantasticus has a blackish oral mucosa, setting it apart from U. finiavana. It is also larger in size and has a larger tail than that species. It also lacks an armpit, which sets it apart from U. ebenaui. The tail is also much larger than that of U. ebenaui, and the head smaller in proportion to the body. The body possesses a large number of spines, which set it apart from the smooth-skinned U. malama. In most other respects, U. malama and U. phantasticus are highly similar.

The U. ebenaui-group’s taxonomy is still complicated and at least four species remain to be described.

Phylogeny:

Animalia-Chordata-Reptilia-Squamata-Gekkonidae-Uroplatus-U. phantasticus

First two photos by Olaf Pronk. Third photo by Mark Scherz. Fourth photo by Paul Bertner.

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2

Brookesia perarmata (Angel, 1933)

The Antsingy Leaf Chameleon

Distribution:

These chameleons are restricted to the deciduous dry forests within the valleys of the limestone karst formations of the Tsingy de Bemaraha.

Morphology and Colouration:

B. perarmata has a unique morphology among Brookesia species. The skull is ornamented with a series of crests, and the body has a lateral line of horny protrusions. These do not develop to their full extent until adulthood.

They reach a maximum total length of 110mm.

The head of adults is yellow, and the rest of the body a rusty red.

Habits:

Like all Brookesia species, B. perarmata hunts among the leaf litter of the forest during the day, and roosts on small roots at night.

Conservation Status:

B. perarmata is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. It is found only within an area of forest of ~400km2, which is threatened by illegal logging, overgrazing, and fire. There may also be some illegal collection. B. perarmata is a CITES Appendix I species.

Taxonomy:

B. perarmata is so physically distinct from all other Brookesia species that Angel placed it in its own genus, Leandria, in his description of it in 1933. This was later rectified. Today, B. perarmata remains easily distinguished from all known Brookesia species, although juveniles may be mistaken for B. brygooi.

Phylogeny:

Animalia-Chordata-Reptilia-Squamata-Chameleonidae-Brookesia-B. perarmata

First photo by David d’O. Second by Jörn Köhler.

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Scaphiophryne gottlebei Busse & Böhme, 1992

The Malagasy Rainbow Frog

Distribution:

These frogs are found only amongst the humid canyons of the Isalo Massif of south-central Madagascar.

Morphology and Colouration:

This is a small frog. There is a sexual dimorphism in size: males reach 30mm in length, while females reach up to 40mm.

The toes are weakly webbed.

The unique colouration of this frog means that it cannot be confused with any other species, despite general morphological similarities.

Habits:

These frogs are generally terrestrial and semi-fossorial (burrowing), but they are able to climb canyon walls.

Andreone et al. (2013) showed, using small radio trackers attached to frogs, that there is no difference in activity between sexes. They found that meteorological conditions determined activity patterns, and that individuals only very rarely range more than 50m in a single day. They concluded that these frogs disperse primarily in their larval tadpole form, and remain relatively localised upon metamorphosing into adults. This metamorphosis coincides with the cyclone season - the peak period of rainfall.

These frogs respond to the first rains of the wet season with a burst of mating activity.

Conservation Status:

S. gottlebei is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, due to its extremely narrow distribution (<5000km2), decline in habitat quality, and heavy collection for the pet trade.

S. gottlebei is a CITES Appendix II species: trade in this species is carefully controlled, and only 250 individuals may be exported per year.

Taxonomy:

This species is quite clearly resolved and not considered to be of complex taxonomic status.

S. gottlebei is apparently tetraploid - it is the only Malagasy frog known to have such a genetic arrangement.

Phylogeny:

Animalia-Chordata-Amphibia-Anura-Microhylidae-Scaphiophryne-S. gottlebei

Photo by Olaf Pronk.

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References:

Andreone, F., P.E. Bergò, V. Mercurio, & G.M. Rosa (2013) ’Spatial ecology of Scaphiophryne gottlebei in the canyons of the Isalo Massif, Madagascar’, Herpetologica 69(1):11-21

Phelsuma grandis Gray, 1870

The Madagascar Giant Day Gecko.

Distribution:

These geckos are native to the rainforest and dry deciduous forests of northern Madagascar. They are often found near small human settlements, where they take advantage of the available perches and the attracted insects.

This species is invasive in Florida and Hawaii, where it has escaped from captivity.

Morphology and Colouration:

This is one of the largest extant gecko species in the world, reaching a maximum length of 30cm (12in).

All individuals possess a red frenal stripe (between the nostril and the front of the eye). The back and top of the head usually also exhibit red spots, but these are not always present.

Both sexes possess femoral pores. Males produce waxy secretions from these, which exude pheromones.

Habits:

P. grandis is a diurnal, arboreal species, living on a variety of tree types. Males of this species are territorial.

These geckos eat invertebrates, small vertebrates, and nectar.

Eggs are laid alone or in pairs, typically in small tree hollows or other tight spaces where they are at low risk from predation.

In captivity, these geckos can live up to 20 years of age.

Conservation Status:

P. grandis is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. They are a CITES Appendix II species - the export quota for 2013 is 103 individuals.

Taxonomy:

This species is part of the P. madagascariensis-complex - a group of very closely related geckos. It was elevated from sub-species status (P. madagascariensis grandis) in 2007, after ecological niche modelling revealed clear differences between lineages. This conclusion received further genetic support by Rocha et al. 2010.

Phylogeny:

Animalia-Chordata-Reptilia-Squamata-Gekkonidae-Phelsuma-P. grandis

Photo by Mark Scherz.

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References:

Raxworthy, C.J.; C.M. Ingram; N. Rabibisoa and R.G. Pearson (2007) ’Applications of Ecological Niche Modeling for Species Delimitation: A Review and Empirical Evaluation Using Day Geckos (Phelsuma) from Madagascar’, Systematic Biology 56(6):907-923

Rocha, S.; H. Rösler; P.-S. Gehring; F. Glaw; D. Posada; D.J. Harris; M. Vences (2010) ’Phylogenetic systematics of day geckos, genus Phelsuma, based on molecular and morphological data (Squamata: Gekkonidae)’, Zootaxa 2429:1-28

2

Furcifer rhinoceratus (Gray, 1843)

The Rhinoceros Chameleon

Distribution:

These impressively ornamented chameleons are native to the dry deciduous forests of north western Madagascar.

Morphology and Colouration:

Both sexes have large rostral appendages. These differ in morphology however - the top photo is a male, and the bottom is a female. Astute observers may also notice the differences in dorsal crest spines between the sexes - males possess a larger number of larger spines than females. This species lacks a gular (chin) crest.

Habits:

Very little is known about the habits of these chameleons. In general, they probably share the habits of most chameleons: arboreal, predominantly solitary, insectivorous, oviparous (egg-laying) lizards, which roost at night at the tips of branches.

Conservation Status:

F. rhinoceratus is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Their habitat is declining due to slash-and-burn agriculture, cattle grazing and logging. It is assumed that these chameleons are intolerant to habitat disturbance, and they are therefore threatened, but this is currently uncertain.

Taxonomy:

Closely related to F. labordi (western Madagascar) and F. antimena (south western Madagascar). Morphologically also relatively similar to these species.

Phylogeny:

Animalia-Chordata-Reptilia-Squamata-Chameleonidae-Furcifer-F. rhinoceratus

Photos by Olaf Pronk.

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2

Palleon gen. nov., a new genus of chameleons from Madagascar

Today, a new genus was erected for two of Madagascar’s chameleons, Palleon nasus, and Palleon lolontany.

It has been known for some time that these species differ significantly from the other members of the genus Brookesia to which they had been assigned previously. Morphologically, they have longer heads and a different back shape. More recently, molecular work showed that the two species that now comprise the new genus split from the rest of the Brookesia more than 66 million years ago.

The name Palleon is a condensed composite of the Greek ‘Palae-’ meaning 'old’, referring to the age of the genus, and ’-leon’ meaning 'lion’, as is used in the word 'chameleon’.

The new genus description, which is a pleasant read at just two pages long, contains a 3D interactive model of one of the chameleons’ skeletons, and the first published photo of P. lolontany (shown above), a distinct sign of the direction in which taxonomic will be moving in the future.

The paper is available here. (down at the bottom of that page - you’re going to want to download it and open it in Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat Pro so you can play with the amazing model!)

Ref:

Glaw, F., O. Hawlitschek & B. Ruthensteiner (2013) 'A new genus name for an ancient Malagasy chameleon clade and a PDF-embedded 3D model of its skeleton’ Salamandra 49(4):237-238.

2

Mimophis mahfalensis (Grandider, 1867)

Madagascar’s grass snake.

Distribution:

These snakes are widespread across Madagascar, but are generally not found in rainforest. I tend to refer to them as ‘common-as-dirt’ snakes, because they are usually one of the most common herps we see in the field.

These snakes are extremely tolerant to environmental change, so we tend to find them a lot in highly disturbed areas.

Morphology and Colouration:

This species is usually sexually dimorphic, but distinction is complicated by natural variation. Males tend to have a dark dorsal stripe, as shown in both of the pictures above. Females tend to be lighter and relatively uniformly grey.

Habits:

M. mahfalensis love open, bright areas. They are a terrestrial species. They feed predominantly on lizards, but also eat insects and small mammals.

Conservation Status:

M. mahfalensis is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Taxonomy:

There is some indication that this species is not a simple monotypic genus, but rather a complex of species. Work remains to be done on this, however.

Phylogeny:

Animalia-Chordata-Reptilia-Serpentes-Lamprophiidae-Mimophis-M. mahfalensis

First photo by Niall Corbet. Second by Daniel Austin.

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A New Project!

Hello friends and followers!

It’s time to tell you about a new project I’m starting here on tumblr!

TaxonFiles! <— that’s a hyperlink. Clicky.

TaxonFiles is a new part of my tumblr. I have written up lists, divided by Family, of all of the described reptile and amphibian species from Madagascar.

The lists will, once fully updated (they are still being modified and extended, and I’ve only just started the amphibian section), show the full diversity of herp species known from Madagascar - possibly the only place on the internet where such a thing exists.

I am going to produce Taxon Files for different species (see Guibemantis pulcher and Matoatoa brevipes for examples) from Madagascar. Each Taxon File (tagged: #taxonfiles) will then be linked from its respective page. They will therefore still be searchable en masse through the tag, but also taxonomically sorted to facilitate easy navigation.

This project is still in the early phases of implementation, but I hope that you will take advantage of it and find it interesting and useful.

To access it, simply click where it says ’TaxonFiles!’ on the navigation panel of my blog!

I hope you will enjoy it. I would love to hear your thoughts. :)