Posts tagged madagascar.
Parastenophis betsileanus - the genus changed from Stenophis based on the work of Nagy et al. 2010.
Nagy, Z. T., Glaw, F. & Vences, M. 2010. Systematics of the snake genera Stenophis and Lycodryas from Madagascar and the Comoros. Zoologica Scripta 39:426–435.
Giant Malagasy Hognose Snake (Leioheterodon madagascariensis)
…a large species of Hognose Snake that is native to Madagascar and the Nosy Be, Nosy Saktia and Comoros Islands. True to their common name L. madagascariensis is quite large and can reach lengths of around 180 cm (6 ft). L. magagascariensis is diurnal and occupies a wide range of habitats, including humid and dry forests, shrublands and grasslands. They feed mainly on small birds and rodents, and are known to take reptile eggs as well.
Image: Frank Vassen
Uroplatus phantasticus (Boulenger, 1888)
The Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko.
Asked by libutron
This is a fantastic question, and one that is rather contentious, and takes quite a lot of answering. So I’m sorry this has taken weeks to put together, but here is the extremely long answer to the question:
Until recently, it was believed that mainland Africa had only pythons and a single group of boas (sandboas, genus Eryx), while the rest of the boas boas were restricted to the Americas… and Madagascar.
Madagascar’s large constricting snakes were assigned in their early descriptions to the Boidae. Indeed, so alike are Madagascar’s boas to those of the Americas that it misled phylogenetic reconstructions of them:
In 1991, based solely on morphological characters (molecular phylogenetics was in its infancy), Kluge found Acrantophis and Sanzinia to be sister to the South American genus Boa. And so he synonymised them, transferring the Malagasy boas to the South American genus, thus rendering a genus Boa with the following members: Boa constrictor (and subspecies thereof), B. madagascariensis, B. dumerili, and B. manditra - Sanzinia madagascariensis obviously couldn’t become Boa madagascariensis, because Acrantophis madagascariensis had already taken that name, so he erected a new name for this species.
As it turns out, moving Madagascar’s boas to the genus Boa was a huge mistake. But Madagascar’s boas are boas (Family Boidae: Subfamily Sanziniinae), they just don’t belong in the genus Boa. A phylogeny produced by Noonan & Chippindale (2006a) showed that the genus Boa belongs to a neotropical clade, together with Epicrates, Eunectes, and Corallus. These are closest related to a group containing Afro-Indian Eryx plus Candoia from Papua New Guinea. These together are then related to the North and Central American boas (Exiliboa+Lichanura+Charina). Finally, sister to this whole group of New World+Australiasian boas is a clade containing Calabaria, Acrantophis, and Sanzinia. This whole group is formalised as Boidae, and is sister to the Pythonidae in the Noonan & Chippindale phylogeny.
Until this point, Calabaria were thought to be allied to pythons and not to boas, but the molecular work of this and subsequent studies showed that to be quite incorrect. So boom, another group of boas is present in Africa. Woo.
All subsequent phylogenies (and several earlier ones that I can’t be bothered to go find) have supported this view that Madagascar’s boas belong in their own genera (Sanzinia and Acrantophis), and yet still Wikipedia would have you believe that they are in Boa. I will fix this in the next few weeks, but in the mean time, ignore it. Focus on my argument here.
In light of more complete taxonomic and genetic sampling by Pyron et al. (2013), it was shown that boas and pythons aren’t even sister groups (which we knew before, but never with quite such nice resolution and such high taxon sampling). Rather Boidae+Calabaridae are sister to a group containing Anomochilidae+Cylindrophiidae+Uropeltidae+Xenopeltidae+Loxocemidae+Pythonidae. Together, these two clades comprise the superfamily Henophidia (ancient snakes), which is paraphyletic with regards to all other snakes except the blind snakes, but shh we can ignore that for now.
Anyway, the important thing is that both of these reports (Noonan & Chippindale 2006a and Pyron et al. 2013) agree on one key point: Madagascar’s boas are unequivocally the oldest radiation of boas.
How, then, did Madagascar’s boas get to Madagascar? Well, Noonan & Chippindale (2006a, 2006b) suggested a vicariant origin; that they were in Madagascar when it broke off from Gondwana as it split. This vicariant origin is further supported by the rapid diversification in deep branches in the boids (Noonan & Chippindale 2006a).
However, the age of the African clade (Calabaria+Acrantophis+Sanzinia) suggested by Noonan & Chippindale (2006a, 2006b) is 30 million years after Madagascar lost contact with Antarctica, and through Antartica, South America; and 11 million years after Madagascar lost contact with India and became isolated (Samonds et al. 2013). It would be prudent therefore to interpret this as either incorrect inferrence by Noonan & Chippindale in both papers, or indication of oceanic dispersal. I lean towards the results of Noonan & Chippindale being wrong because of the way they calculated their clade ages (poor outgroup choice with an incorrect date).
After the split from Africa, Madagascar maintained connection with India and, through a land bridge connecting to Antarctica, was connected to South America, and could continue to exchange species with it for at least a few million years (Noonan & Chippindale 2006a; Samonds et al. 2013). This left Madagascar with its own boas, one of which apparently dispersed to Africa to give rise to Calabaria. Not until much later did Madagascar’s modern boa genera arise on the island.
Today, most authors (e.g. Pyron et al. 2013; Reynolds et al. 2014) tend to assume that Calabaria, which is a troublesome group, genetically, is actually basal to all boas, and do not include it in the true boas. They do not, however ,make any comment on the implications of this, in terms of origins.
Bizarrely, the Round Island Boa (Casarea dussumieri) is not related to those of Madagascar at all (Round Island is very close to Madagascar - just north of Mauritius), but is instead most closely related to a Malaysian lineage, and only distantly related to other constrictors at all (Reynolds et al. 2014). How it fits into this picture is very unclear.
The implication then is that pythons and boas split long before Madagascar broke off from Africa. Very recent (read: not yet physically published but available online) research by Reynolds et al. (2014) has suggested an origin for the modern pythons in what is today northern Africa, whence they then spread south, north, and east. The boas, on the other hand, are suggested to have arisen in southern Gondwana by some authors (Reynolds et al. 2014) and Asia by others (Noonan & Sites 2010).
But the problem is that Reynolds et al. (2014), and indeed all authors working on the relationships of the Henophidian snakes, have not attempted to figure out where and when the other families arose. Thus, we have no idea where the ancestors were at the time of the split of Gondwana. All we can postulate is that Madagascar had boas when it split off (perhaps getting them after Africa was isolated from the rest of Gondwana via land bridges to Antarctica+South America; Samonds et al. 2013), while pythons were further up in Africa somewhere. Then, when pythons radiated down into Africa, they didn’t make it across to Madagascar - or if they did, they went extinct soon afterwards.
tl;dr: Nobody knows for sure. Nobody has really even tried to find out. Probably because it’s not a very interesting question (relatively speaking).
Kluge, A. G. (1991) ‘Boine snake phylogeny and research cycles' Miscellaneous Publications, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan 178:1-58
Noonan, B. P. & P T. Chippindale (2006a) ‘Dispersal and vicariance: The complex evolutionary history of boid snakes' Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 40:347-358
Noonan, B. P. & P T. Chippindale (2006b) ‘Vicariant Origin of Malagasy Reptiles Supports Late Cretaceous Antarctic Land Bridge' The American Naturalist 168(6):730-741
Noonan, B. P. & J. W. Sites Jr. (2010) ‘Tracing the origins of iguanid lizards and boine snakes of the Pacific' The American Naturalist 175(1):61-72
Pyron, R. A., F. T. Burbrink & J. J. Wiens (2013) ‘A phylogeny and revised classification of Squamata, including 4161 species of lizards and snakes' BMC Evolutionary Biology 13:93
Reynolds, R. G., M. L. Niemiller & L. J. Revell (2014) ‘Toward a Tree-of-Life for the boas and pythons: Multilocus species-level phylogeny with unprecedented taxon sampling' Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 71:201-213
Samonds, K. E., L. R. Godfrey, J. R. Ali, S. M. Goodman, M. Vences, M. R. Sutherland, M. T. Irwin & D. W. Krause (2013) ‘Imperfect isolation: factors and filters shaping Madagascar’s extant vertebrate fauna' PLoS One 8(4):e62086
Calumma vohibola Gehring, Ratsoavina, Vences & Glaw, 2011
The Vohibola Short-nosed Chameleon
This species is currently only known from the primary and secondary littoral forest of Vohibola in the north-central range of Madagascar’s eastern rainforest belt.
Morphology & Colouration:
Calumma vohibola is a fairly small chameleon, reaching a total length of nearly 10 cm. It has a low casque (brain case) and a very small, soft rostral (nose) appendage, which is almost completely absent in females. This species lacks axillary pits (arm pits), a useful character to distinguish it from several closely related and superficially similar species.
A dorsal crest of seven well-spaced spines is present only in some males of the species. The reason for this intra-specific variation is unclear.
Calumma vohibola is typically brown to greyish in colour. Females exhibit a distinct stress colouration of dark-red/brownish with irregularly arranged blueish spots.
Little to nothing is known about the habits of this species, other than the typical hallmarks of Calumma chameleons: it is a diurnal, arboreal insectivore, which roosts at night at the tips of branches.
Calumma vohibola has not been assessed for the IUCN Red List. Its habitat is highly threatened and fragmented however, so it may be a threatened species. Nonetheless, it appears to be relatively tolerant to forest disturbance, so its survival may not be so threatened.
Calumma vohibola is a member of the C. nasutum species complex. These chameleons have a very characteristic body shape, but identification between species is often difficult. This group contains several candidate species.
Photo is the male holotype of the species, and is taken from Gehring et al. 2011.
Gehring, P.-S., F. Ratsoavina, M. Vences & F. Glaw (2011) ‘Calumma vohibola, a new chameleon species (Squamata: Chameleonidae) from the littoral forests of eastern Madagascar' African Journal of Herpetology, 60(2):130-154
Thamnosophis mavotenda Glaw, Nagy, Köhler, Franzen & Vences, 2009
This species is known only from one individual found in the Tsingy de Bemaraha karstic massif in central western Madagascar. A possible second individual was found 300km north, in the Tsingy de Namoroka Special Reserve.
Morphology & Colouration:
Like all members of the genus Thamnosophis, T. mavotenda has 19 scale rows at midbody. This species has more ventral and subcaudal scales than any other members of the genus however.
T. mavotenda receives its name from the characteristic yellow colouration of its throat (Malagasy: mavo = yellow, tenda = throat).
When disturbed, this species can flatten its neck and expand its body, revealing the shocking white colouration of the borders of its dorsal scales.
This is a diurnal snake species. Nothing else is known about its habits.
T. mavotenda is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List due to its apparently small range which is declining in quality.
Genetically, T. mavotenda is closest related to T. martae, a species found in far northern Madagascar. Glaw et al. (2009) argue that these sister species exemplify historical biogeographical links between western and northern Madagascar, as have been recovered with weaker support for several other species pairs.
Photo is of the male holotype of the species, and is from Glaw et al. 2009
Glaw, F., Z.T. Nagy, J. Köhler, M. Franzen & M. Vences (2009) ‘Phylogenetic relationships of a new species of pseudoxyrhophiine snake (Reptilia: Lamprophiidae: Thamnosophis) suggest a biogeographical link between western and northern Madagascar' Organisms, Diversity & Evolution 9:13-22
Phelsuma borai Glaw, Köhler & Vences 2009
This species is currently known exclusively from the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park and surrounding forest in western Madagascar. However, it is probably more widely distributed.
Morphology & Colouration:
P. borai is a medium-sized day gecko. It has an unusually large number of supralabial (upper-lip) scales (9-10), but is best distinguished from all closely related species by peculiarities of the throat scalation.
Like all Phelsuma species, P. borai has highly reduced first digits on its hands and feet.
Unlike most members of the genus Phelsuma, P. borai has (a) highly cryptic colouration and (b) an astonishing capacity for colour change. The two photos above are the same individual - a male (the holotype of the species) - under different conditions. The cryptic phase blends well with mottled tree surfaces. The so-called ‘brilliant’ phase with the blue tail is expressed under conditions of bright sunlight.
P. borai is a diurnal, arboreal gecko, like almost all other members of the genus Phelsuma. Very little else is known about its habits.
P. borai is currently listed as ‘Data Deficient’ in the IUCN Red List.
Genetically, this species is very distinct from all other species of Phelsuma. It groups together with P. mutabilis and P. breviceps, which have similar cryptic colouration, at the base of the Phelsuma tree.
Images are of the holotype of the species, and are from Glaw et al. 2009.
Glaw, F., J. Köhler & M. Vences (2009) ‘A new species of cryptically coloured day gecko (Phelsuma) from the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park in western Madagascar' Zootaxa 2195:61-68
Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world and is home to over 5% of the total species found on Earth.
Blaesodactylus ambonihazo Bauer, Glaw, Gehring & Vences, 2011
This species is known only from the Ankarafantsika National Park, in north-western Madagascar, but its distribution is likely to be more extensive than this.
Morphology and Colouration:
B. ambonihazo reaches a snout-vent length of at least 108mm.
This species is characterised by a series of dark bands around its body, becoming increasingly bold down the tail.
The dorsal scalation is quite heterogeneous - there are 17-20 lateral rows of enlarged scales, ending at the base of the tail.
This species has a uniquely homogeneous chin scalation, which is the most reliable morphological character for distinguishing it from other members of the genus Blaesodactylus.
This species is arboreal, as its name reflects (Malagasy: ambony = on, hazo = tree). Like all Blaesodactylus species, B. ambonihazo is predominantly nocturnal. Other than this, little to nothing is known about the habits of this species.
B. ambonihazo is listed as Data Defficient on the IUCN Red List.
Genetically, B. ambonihazo is quite distinct from all related species. It is most closely related to B. antongilensis and B. sakalava.
Photo from Bauer et al., 2011.
Bauer, A.M., F. Glaw, P.-S. Gehring & M. Vences (2011) ‘New species of Blaesodactylus (Squamata: Gekkonidae) from Ankarafantsika National Park in north-western Madagascar' Zootaxa 2942:57-68
Lygodactylus miops Günther, 1891
These geckos are native to the rainforest belt that runs the length of eastern Madagascar.
Morphology and Colouration:
The species reaches a total length of ~40-60mm.
The colouration of this species is highly variable, but generally is very cryptic.
This is a diurnal, arboreal gecko species. Very little is known of its behaviour.
Their diet may include invertebrates and nectar, and possibly also honeydew excreted by flatid hoppers.
L. miops is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List due to its broad distribution.
The taxonomy of the whole Lygodactylus genus is complex. L. miops is in the L. madagascariensis-group - a group at the base of the Lygodactylus species tree, according to genetic analyses performed by Röll et al. 2010.
Röll, B.; H. Pröhl & K.-P. Hoffman 2010 ‘Multigene phylogenetic analysis of Lygodactylus dwarf geckos (Squamata: Gekkonidae)’, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 56:327-335
rhamphotheca: First Large-Scale DNA Barcoding Assessment of Reptiles in the Biodiversity Hotspot of Madagascar, Based on Newly Designed COI Primers 
DNA barcoding of non-avian reptiles based on the cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI) gene is still in a very early stage, mainly due to technical problems. Using a newly developed set of reptile-specific primers for COI we present the first comprehensive study targeting the entire reptile fauna of the fourth-largest island in the world, the biodiversity hotspot of Madagascar…
(read more: NovaTaxa)
rhamphotheca: The Turtle Conservancy in Madagascar:
The ploughshare tortoise is not only the rarest tortoise in the world, it is arguably the most beautiful of them all.
Turtle Conservancy Team members have been involved with the ploughshare tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora) for decades, and in 2008 we began a major new effort with this most critically endangered tortoise. Funds are financing in situ work, enhancing protection of the ploughshare tortoise in Baly Bay National Park, where poaching is devastating the wild population.
With these funds we have now hired additional park rangers and guards, and purchased a boat - decreasing the time to mobilize and increasing law enforcement within the park. Although completely protected by law, the political instability in Madagascar has made it all too easy for poachers to remove a significant portion of the remaining wild population, estimated at 200-600 tortoises…
(read more: Turtle Trust)
is a large species of chameleon native to the forests of eastern and northern Madagascar. Largely considered to be the second largest chameleon alive (the Malagasy Giant Chameleon being the largest) with adults growing up 27 inches long (a little smaller than a cat). There are two subspecies/morphs of this species. One where the males eyes are orange and the body is a green or turquoise color (as shown in the 1st picture), and the Second where the male has a yellow mouth and is usually larger, females don’t exhibit these morphs.
…is a extremely small species of chameleon native to the islet of Nosy Hara in Northern Madagascar. B. micra is one of the smallest known reptiles as adults only grow to around 29 mm (1.1 in) that’s small enough to stand on a match head! It is thought that B.micra’s unusual size is linked to its habitats, via insular dwarfism but that has not yet been confirmed. B. micra is primarily diurnal and hunts in the leaf litter for insects and other small invertebrates. Like other members of the genus Brookesia B. micra uses its tail as an extra limb, using it to grasp onto branches for added stability.
rhamphotheca: Tortoise Trafficking Raging Out of Control in Madagascar
Conservation groups urge authorities to clamp down on black market trade
WCS Press release
Since the beginning of the year, more than 1,000 individual tortoises have been seized from would-be smugglers.
Illegal trafficking of two critically endangered tortoise species from Madagascar has reached epidemic proportions, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Turtle Survival Alliance, Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership, Turtle Conservancy, Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund and other groups who urge authorities to clamp down on wildlife smuggling before some species are collected out of existence.
According to the groups, more than 1,000 radiated and ploughshare tortoises have been confiscated from smugglers in the first three months of 2013 alone. In late March, 54 ploughshare tortoises made it as far as Thailand before being seized by authorities. A recent report by TRAFFIC states that the radiated tortoise is now the most common tortoise for sale in Bangkok’s infamous Chatuchak wildlife market.
The groups say that since the beginning of Madagascar’s continuing political crisis in 2009, smuggling has increased by at least ten-fold due to weak governance and rule-of-law. In addition, erosion of cultural protection of the tortoises for short term monetary gain has contributed to their sharp decline. In the past, tortoises were protected by “fady” – a local belief that harming the tortoises is taboo. However, with years of drought and increasing levels of poverty, people from regions outside the tortoise’s natural range, who do not practice these types of fady, are capturing and illegally selling tortoises…
(read more: Wildlife Conservation Society)
(photo: Tortoise Trust)