Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A new blind snake: Anilios fossor

Snakes of the tropical family Typhlopidae are blind and live underground in burrows, and since they have no use for vision, they just have light-detecting black eye spots but no fully developed eyes. Most blind snakes are small, with many species reaching less than 30 cm in length at full size. The largest, known as Schlegel's giant blind snake (Megatyphlops schlegelii) grows to about 90 cm.

Today's new species comes from central Australia and was discovered misidentified in a museum collection. The species name was derived from the Latin fossor, a miner, in allusion to the mining habits of the genus and the type locality, where the numerous garnets in the bed of the Hale River, misidentified as rubies, sparked the Northern Territory's first mining rush.

For the experts: Anilios fossor sp. nov. is described from a single specimen collected in 1989 from Ruby Gap Nature Park, Northern Territory. The species differs from all other Anilios species in the combination of 20 midbody scales, 514 dorsal scales, a rounded, non-angulate snout in lateral and dorsal profile, a nasal cleft contacting the second supralabial and not extending to the head dorsum, and a large round rostral shield in dorsal view. It is unclear whether the paucity of material of this species represents a limited distribution, or poor sampling in a remote, sparsely settled part of the continent. Evidence for the recognition of the Australian typhlopid fauna as a distinct genus Anilios is critically reviewed, and the genus is found to be recognizable only on genetic evidence. Some other recent nomenclatural and taxonomic changes in the Australian typhlopid fauna are considered and rejected. 

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