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Research Article
A new species of the genus Lycodon (Serpentes, Colubridae) from Guangxi, China
expand article infoJian Wang, Shuo Qi, Zhi-Tong Lyu, Zhao-Chi Zeng, Ying-Yong Wang
‡ Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China
Open Access

Abstract

A new species of colubrid snake, Lycodon cathaya sp. nov., is described based on two adult male specimens collected from Huaping Nature Reserve, Guangxi, southern China. In a phylogenetic analyses, the new species is shown to be a sister taxon to the clade composed of L. futsingensis and L. namdongensis with low statistical support, and can be distinguished from all known congeners by the significant genetic divergence in the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene fragment (p-distance ≥ 7.9%), and morphologically by the following combination of characters: (1) dorsal scales in 17–17–15 rows, smooth throughout; (2) supralabials eight, third to fifth in contact with eye, infralabials nine; (3) ventral scales 199–200 (plus two preventral scales), subcaudals 78; (4) loreal single, elongated, in contact with eye or not, not in contact with internasals; (5) a single preocular not in contact with frontal, supraocular in contact with prefrontal, two postoculars; (6) maxillary teeth 10 (4+2+2+2); (7) two anterior temporals, three posterior temporals; (8) precloacal plate entire; (9) ground color from head to tail brownish black, with 31–35 dusty rose bands on body trunk, 13–16 on tail; (10) bands in 1–2 vertebral scales broad in minimum width; (11) bands separate ground color into brownish black ellipse patches arranged in a row along the top of body and tail; (12) elliptical patches in 3–6 scales of the vertebral row in maximum width; (13) ventral surface of body with wide brownish black strip, margined with a pair of continuous narrow greyish white ventrolateral lines. With the description of the new species, 64 congeners are currently known in the genus Lycodon, with 16 species occurring in China.

Keywords

Colubrinae, Guangxi, Lycodon cathaya sp. nov., morphology, phylogeny, taxonomy

Introduction

The colubrid genus Lycodon Boie, 1827 currently comprises 63 known species, and is distributed widely throughout the Middle East to Southeast Asia, as well as to the Indo-Australian Archipelago (Lanza 1999; Siler et al. 2013; Neang et al. 2014; Uetz et al. 2020). Fifteen species have so far been recorded from China, i.e. L. aulicus (Linnaeus, 1758), L. fasciatus (Anderson, 1879), L. flavozonatus (Pope, 1928a), L. futsingensis (Pope, 1928b), L. gongshan Vogel & Luo, 2011, L. laoensis Günther, 1864, L. liuchengchaoi Zhang, Jiang, Vogel & Rao, 2011, L. meridionalis Bourret, 1935, L. multizonatus (Zhao & Jiang, 1981), L. rosozonatus (Hu & Zhao, 1972), L. rufozonatus Cantor, 1842, L. ruhstrati (Fischer, 1886), L. septentrionalis (Günther, 1875), L. subcinctus Boie, 1827 and L. synaptor Vogel & David, 2010 (Zhao. 1981; Zhao et al. 1998; Luo et al. 2010; Vogel and David 2010; Vogel and Luo 2011; Zhang et al. 2011).

During recent herpetological surveys in Guangxi, southern China, two colubrid snake specimens were collected from Huaping Nature Reserve (Fig. 1). Detailed morphological examinations and further molecular analyses revealed that these specimens represented a separately evolving lineage within the genus Lycodon and can be distinguished from all recognized congeners. We herein describe this overlooked Lycodon population as a new species, based on an integrative taxonomic approach.

Figure 1. 

The type locality of Lycodon cathaya sp. nov., Huaping Nature Reserve, Guangxi, China.

Materials and methods

Morphometrics

Morphological examinations were performed based on two specimens collected from Huaping Nature Reserve, Guangxi, China. All specimens were fixed in 10 % buffered formalin and later transferred to 70 % ethanol for permanent preservation, and deposited in the Museum of Biology, Sun Yat-sen University (SYS).

Morphological descriptions followed Dowling (1951), Vogel (2009), Vogel and David (2010), and Janssen et al. (2019). Measurements were taken with digital calipers to the nearest 0.1 mm. These measurements were as follows:

ED eye horizontal diameter;

HL head length (from tip of snout to posterior margin of the mandible);

HW maximum head width;

SVL snout-vent length (from tip of snout to posterior margin of cloacal plate);

TaL tail length (from posterior margin of cloacal plate to tip of tail);

TL total length (from tip of snout to tip of tail).

Scalation features and their abbreviations are as follows: dorsal scale rows (DSR) counted at one head length behind head, at midbody, and at one head length before vent, respectively; supralabials (SPL); numbers of supralabials in contact with the eye (SPL-E); infralabials (IFL); chin shields (CS); numbers of infralabials in contact with the anterior chin shield (IFL-aCS); number of infralabials in contact with the posterior chin shield (IFL-pCS); preoculars (PrO); postoculars (PtO); loreal (LoR); loreal in contact with the eye or not (L-E); anterior temporals (aTMP); posterior temporals (pTMP); preventral scales (PrV); ventral scales (V); precloacal plate (PrC); subcaudals (SC); and body scale surface (BSC). Sex was determined by dissection or by the presence/absence of everted hemipenis. The number of maxillary teeth (MT) were counted by carefully dissecting the gums of the right maxilla under the stereo microscope. The light bands on the body and tail were counted on one side; hardly visible or incomplete bands were counted as one band; obviously fused bands were counted as two bands. The collar band on the neck was not included in counts and bands covering the cloacal plate were regarded as body bands.

Morphological characters of recognized Lycodon species were obtained from examination of museum specimens (see Appendix 1) and from the following references: Günther (1864), Günther (1875), Blanford (1878), Boulenger (1893), Boulenger (1900), Wall (1906), Stejneger (1907), Griffin (1909), Taylor (1922), Pope (1928a, b), Smith (1943), Taylor (1950), Leviton (1965), Hu et al. (1975), Zhao (1981), Ota and Ross (1994), Manthey and Grossman (1997), Captain (1999), Lanza (1999), Slowinski et al. (2001), Daltry and Wüster (2002), Gaulke (2002), Gaulke et al. (2003), Jackson and Fritts (2004), Vijayakumar and David (2005), Zhao (2006), Mukherjee and Bhupathy (2007), Mistry et al. (2007), Vogel et al. (2009), Bahuguna and Bhuta (2010), Vogel and David (2010), Vogel and Luo (2011), Zhang et al. (2011), Vogel et al. (2012), Guo et al. (2013), Vogel and Harikrishnan (2013), Grismer et al. (2014), Lei et al. (2014), Neang et al. (2014), Zhang et al. (2015), Gawor et al. (2016), Do et al. (2017), Wostl et al. (2017), Ganesh and Vogel (2018), Luu et al. (2018), Melvinselvan et al. (2018), Janssen et al. (2019), Luu et al. (2019), and Vogel and David (2019). Data shown in Table 1 was modified based on Janssen et al. (2019), with distinguishing characters marked in bold.

Table 1.

Selected morphological characters of Lycodon species for comparison (after Janssen et al. 2019, see Materials and methods). Bold font indicates distinguishing characteristics.

Lycodon species cathaya sp. nov. albofuscus alcalai anamallensis aulicus banksi bibonius butleri capucinus cardamomensis carinatus
DSR 17–17–15 ?–17–? 19–17–15 17–17–15 17–17–15 17–17–15 19–17–15 ?–17/19–? 17–17–15 19–17–15 17/19–19–17
MT 10 12 1113 ? ? ? 1114 ? 15 10–12 ?
SPL 8 8 9 9 8–10 8 7–9 8–9 910 910 8–9
SPL-E 3rd–5th 3rd–5th 4th5th 3rd–5th 3rd–5th 3rd–5th 3rd/4th–5th 3rd–5th 3rd–5th 3rd–5th 3rd–5th
IFL 9 ? 10 1011 1011 10 9–10 9–10 9–10 9–10 ?
PrO 1 1 2 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1
PtO 2 2 3 2–3 2 2 2–3 2 2 2–3 2
Loreal 1 1 1 1–2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
L-E yes/no no no ? no no no yes no no no
aTMP 2 2 2 2 2 2 2+3 2 2 2 2
pTMP 3 2 3 3+4 3 3 2+3+3 2 3 2–3 2–3
V 199–200 241 203207 174–204 180–215 241 204212 220227 182–211 215228 185–202
SC 78 155208 108126 6074 57–78 26 (broken tail) 110120 8196 5974 8793 5164
PrC entire divided entire entire /divided divided entire entire entire divided entire entire
BSC smooth keeled smooth smooth smooth and glossy smooth (six central DSR of posterior 1/3 feebly keeled) smooth keeled weakly keeled weakly keeled strongly keeled
Lycodon species cavernicolus chrysoprateros davidi davisonii dumerilii effraenis fasciatus fausti ferroni flavicollis flavomaculatus
DSR 17–17–15 19–17–15 17–17–15 ?–13–? 19–17–15 ?–17–? 17–17–15 19–17–15 19–17–15 17–17–15 17–17–15
MT ? 1113 11 ? 1315 ? 11 13 12 ? ?
SPL 910 9 8 7 1113 9 8 9 10 9 9
SPL-E 4th6th 3rd–5th 3rd–5th 3rd4th 4th5th 3rd–5th 3rd–5th 4th5th 4th6th 3rd–5th 3rd–5th
IFL 1011 10 10 8 9–10 1011 8–10 9–10 10 11 10
PrO 1 2 1 1 1–2 1 1 2 2 1 1
PtO 2 2–3 2 2–3 2 2–3 2 3 2 2 2
Loreal 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 1
L-E yes no no yes yes/no no LoR yes ? no no no
aTMP 2–3 2+3+4 2 1–2 2 2 2 2 2 2–3 1–2
pTMP 3–4 2+3+4 2–3 2 3 2–3 2 2–3 3+4 3 (rarely 2) 3 (rarely 2)
V 232245 186194 224 233265 195–221 215228 182–225 207215 203 210224 165183
SC 92113 111117 99 90108 111120 72–99 65–94 135148 109 6572 5363
PrC entire entire entire entire entire entire entire entire entire divided divided
BSC the 8 medial rows weakly keeled smooth middorsal scale rows slightly keeled smooth ? smooth keeled smooth smooth smooth with single apical pit smooth
Lycodon species flavozonatus futsingensis gammiei gibsonae gongshan gracilis hypsirhinoides jara kundui laoensis liuchengchaoi
DSR 17–17–15 17–16/17–15 17–17/19–15 17–17–15 17–17–15 ?–15–? 17–17–15 17–17–15 151515 17–17–15 17–17–15
MT 13 1215 ? 13 ? 9 ? ? ? ? 89
SPL 8 7–8 7–9 8 8 8 9 8–9 7 910 7–8
SPL-E 3rd–5th 2–4; 3/4–5; 4–6 3rd–4th/5th 3rd–4th/5th 3rd–5th 3rd4th 3rd–5th 3rd–5th 3rd4th 3rd–5th 3rd–5th
IFL 10 9–11 ? 10 8 ? 10 ? ? 10 7–9
PrO 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 ? 1 1
PtO 2 2–3 1–2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2–3 2
Loreal 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
LoR-E no no no yes yes yes no no no no yes
aTMP 2 1–2 2 or irregular 2 2 2 2 1–2 1 2 1–3
pTMP 2–3 2–3 2 or irregular 3 2–3 3 3 2–3 2 3 1–3
V 211221 193–208 205220 223226 210216 234 188–210 167188 186 163192 190–228
SC 8088 72–87 98111 9192 9296 8183 6175 5274 70 6076 6875
PrC entire /divided entire entire entire entire entire divided divided entire /divided divided divided
BSC the 7 medial rows feebly keeled smooth the 9 medial rows keeled upper 3 or 4 rows keeled the 7–13 medial rows keeled keeled smooth smooth smooth smooth feebly keeled in median rows
Lycodon species mackinnoni meridionalis muelleri multifasciatus multizonatus namdongensis nympha ophiophagus orientalis paucifasciatus philippinus
DSR 17–17–15 17–17–15 19–17–15 17–17–? 17–17–15 17–17–15 131313 17–17–15 ?–17–? 19–17/19–15 ?–15–?
MT ? 11 1415 ? 10–11 12 8–10 1113 10–11 1112 8
SPL 7–8 8 9 ? 7–8 8 6–8 8 8 8 7
SPL-E 3rd–5th 3rd–5th 4th5th ? 3rd–5th 3rd–5th 3rd4th 3rd–5th 3rd–5th 3rd–5th 3rd4th
IFL 8 10 10 ? 78 10 ? 10 ? 10 7
PrO 1 1 1–2 ? 0–1 1–2 1–2 1 0 1 0–1
PtO 2 2 2–3 ? 2 3 2 2 2 2 2–3
Loreal 0–1 1 1 ? 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
L-E no no no no yes no yes no yes no yes
aTMP 1–2 2 2 ? 1–2 2 2 2 2 2 2
pTMP 2–3 3 3+4 ? 2–3 2 2–3 3 3 3 3
V 163187 227240 205213 229237 190195 218 200–243 211212 200–208 219222 216225
SC 4856 96106 112117 106119 6875 85 65–88 8790 6874 9092 8799
PrC divided divided entire ? divided entire divided entire divided entire entire
BSC smooth the 10–12 medial rows feebly keeled ? keeled smooth smooth keeled smooth scales with a very faint keel along their anterior half the 3–5 medial rows distinctly keeled smooth
Lycodon species pictus rosozonatus rufozonatus ruhstrati ruhstrati ruhstrati abditus sealei semicarinatus septentrionalis sidiki solivagus stormi
DSR 17–17–15 1919–15/17 17/19–17–15 17–17–15 ?–17–? ?–17–? 17–17–15 17–17–15 19–17–15 ?–19–?
MT 1314 1213 1113 ? 1113 ? ? 7 7 1113 ?
SPL 8 8 8 8 ? 8 8 8 9 8
SPL-E 3rd–5th ? 3rd–5th 3rd–5th ? 3rd–5th 3rd–5th 3rd–5th 4th5th 3rd4th
IFL 10 ? 9–10 9–10 9–11 ? ? 78 9–10 10 ?
PrO 1 1 1 1 0 1 1 0 2 1
PtO 2 2 2 1–2 2 ? 2 2 2 2–3 2
Loreal 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
L-E yes no no no yes no no yes no no
aTMP 2 2 2 1–2 ? 2 2 2 2 1
pTMP 3 3 3 2–3 ? 3 3 2 3 3
V 212218 221234 184–225 212228 197–229 ? 211234 202224 195 198–203 217
SC 9091 ? 53–98 97114 90103 ? 65–105 83104 85 112115 75
PrC entire ? entire entire divided entire entire divided entire entire
BSC smooth weakly keeled feebly keeled in the posterior body part the 7–13 medial rows distinctly keeled the 5 medial rows distinctly keeled ? keeled along anterior half (4 outer rows smooth) the 7/9 medial rows feebly keeled keeled smooth smooth
Lycodon species striatus subannulatus subcinctus striatus subannulatus subcinctus synaptor tessellatus tiwarii travancoricus tristrigatus
DSR 17–17–15 151515 17–17–15 17–17–15 151515 17–17–15 15/17–17–15 17–17–15 ?–17–15 17–17–15 ?–15–?
MT ? 8–10 8–14 ? 8–10 8–14 10 ? ? ? 8–10
SPL 9 7 8 9 7 8 8 8–9 ? 9 7
SPL-E 3rd–5th 3rd4th 3rd–5th/6th 3rd–5th 3rd4th 3rd–5th/6th 3rd–5th 4th5th ? 3rd–5th 3rd4th
IFL 11 8 78 11 8 78 8 ? ? ? ?
PrO 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 1 ? 1 0
PtO 2 2 2–3 2 2 2–3 2 2 ? 2 2
Loreal 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 ? 1 1
L-E no yes yes no yes yes no no ? no yes
aTMP 2 (rarely 1) 2 1 2 (rarely 1) 2 1 2 2 ? 2–3 2
pTMP 3 (rarely 2) 2 2 3 (rarely 2) 2 2 2 2–3 ? 3 2–3
V 153178 225244 190–230 153178 225244 190–230 201203 222232 218237 176–206 224
SC 4266 93111 60–91 4266 93111 60–91 6869 56 61–102 6476 86
PrC divided entire entire /divided divided entire entire /divided entire divided divided entire entire
BSC smooth keeled feebly keeled smooth keeled feebly keeled the 6–7 medial rows keeled smooth ? smooth keeled
Lycodon species striatus subannulatus subcinctus synaptor tessellatus tiwarii travancoricus tristrigatus zawi zoosvictoriae
DSR 17–17–15 151515 17–17–15 15/17–17–15 17–17–15 ?–17–15 17–17–15 ?–15–? 17–17–15 17–17–15
MT ? 8–10 8–14 10 ? ? ? 8–10 12 9
SPL 9 7 8 8 8–9 ? 9 7 8–9 8
SPL-E 3rd–5th 3rd4th 3rd–5th/6th 3rd–5th 4th5th ? 3rd–5th 3rd4th 3rd–5th 3rd/4th–5th
IFL 11 8 78 8 ? ? ? ? 9–10 10
PrO 1 1 0 1 1 ? 1 0 1 1–2
PtO 2 2 2–3 2 2 ? 2 2 1–2 2
Loreal 1 1 1 1 1 ? 1 1 1 1
L-E no yes yes no no ? no yes no no
aTMP 2 (rarely 1) 2 1 2 2 ? 2–3 2 2–3 2
pTMP 3 (rarely 2) 2 2 2 2–3 ? 3 2–3 3–4 2
V 153178 225244 190–230 201203 222232 218237 176–206 224 179–207 213
SC 4266 93111 60–91 6869 56 61–102 6476 86 4575 85
PrC divided entire entire /divided entire divided divided entire entire divided entire
BSC smooth keeled feebly keeled the 6–7 medial rows keeled smooth ? smooth keeled smooth weakly keeled

Phylogenetic analyses

For molecular analysis, a total of 20 samples was used, encompassing 18 samples from eight known Lycodon species (one sample of L. fasciatus, two samples of L. flavozonatus, four samples of L. futsingensis, two samples of L. liuchengchaoi, one sample of L. multizonatus, two samples of L. rufozonatus, four samples of L. ruhstrati, and two samples of L. subcinctus) and two samples of the unnamed species. Tissue samples were taken prior to fixation, and preserved in 99 % alcohol and stored at -40 °C.

Genomic DNA was extracted from muscle or liver tissue samples, using a DNA extraction kit from Tiangen Biotech (Beijing) Co., Ltd. A fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome b (CYTB) gene was amplified using the primer pair L14910 (5’–GACCTGTGATMTGAAAACCAYCGTTGT-3’) and H16064 (5’– CTTTGGTTTACAAGAACAATGCTTTA-3’) following Burbrink et al. (2000). PCR amplification was run using the following cycling conditions: initial denaturing step at 94 °C for 5 min; followed by 35 cycles of 94 °C for 30 s, 48 °C for 1 min and 72 °C for 70 s; and final extension step at 72 °C for 10 min. PCR products were purified with spin columns and then sequenced with forward primers using BigDye Terminator Cycle Sequencing Kit as per the guidelines on an ABI Prism 3730 automated DNA sequencer by Guangzhou Tianyi Huiyuan Bio-tech Co., Ltd.

Twenty sequences from 12 known Lycodon species and two out-group sequences Boiga cynodon (Boie, 1872) and Dasypeltis atra Sternfeld, 1912, following Janssen et al. (2019) were obtained from GenBank and incorporated into our dataset (Table 2). DNA sequences were aligned by the Clustal W algorithm with default parameters (Thompson et al. 1997) and trimmed with gaps partially deleted in MEGA 6 (Tamura et al. 2013). The aligned dataset was tested in jmodeltest v2.1.2 (Darriba et al. 2012) with Akaike and Bayesian information criteria, all resulting the best-fitting nucleotide substitution models of GTR+I+G. Sequence data was analyzed using Bayesian inference (BI) in MrBayes 3.2.4 (Ronquist et al. 2012), and maximum likelihood (ML) in RaxmlGUI 1.3 (Silvestro and Michalak 2012). In the BI analysis, three independent runs were conducted, each being run for 2 million generations and sampled every 1000 generations with the first 25% samples were discarded as burn-in. In the ML analysis, the bootstrap consensus tree was inferred from 1000 replicates. Pairwise distances (p-distance) were calculated in MEGA6 using the uncorrected p-distance model.

Table 2.

Localities, voucher information, and GenBank numbers for all samples used in this study.

Lycodon species Voucher No. Collection locality GenBank No. References
(1) Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. SYS r001542 China: Huaping National NR, Longsheng County, Guangxi MT602075 This study
(2) Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. SYS r001630 China: Huaping National NR, Longsheng County, Guangxi MT602076 This study
(3) L. banksi VNUF R.2015.20 Laos: Khammouane Province MH669272 Luu et al. 2018
(4) L. butleri LSUHC:8365 Malaysia: Bukit Larut, Perak KJ607892 Grismer et al. 2014
(5) L. butleri LSUHC:9137 Malaysia: Bukit Larut, Perak KJ607891 Grismer et al. 2014
(6) L. cavernicolus LSUHC 9985 Malaysia: Perlis KJ607889 Grismer et al. 2014
(7) L. cavernicolus LSUHC 10500 Malaysia: Perlis KJ607890 Grismer et al. 2014
(8) L. fasciatus CAS 234875 Myanmar: Chin State KC010365 Siler et al. 2013
(9) L. fasciatus CAS 234957 Myanmar: Chin State KC010366 Siler et al. 2013
(10) L. fasciatus SYS r002401 China: Ruili City, Yunnan MT625862 This study
(11) L. flavozonatus SYS r001357 China: Bamianshan National NR, Guidong County, Hunan MT625850 This study
(12) L. flavozonatus SYS r001358 China: Bamianshan National NR, Guidong County, Hunan MT625851 This study
(13) L. futsingensis SYS r001250 China: Mt. Nankun, Huizhou City, Guangdong MT625847 This study
(14) L. futsingensis SYS r001494 China: Shimentai National NR, Yingde City, Guangdong MT625853 This study
(15) L. futsingensis SYS r001667 China: Gaoping Provincial NR, Renhua County, Guangdong MT625857 This study
(16) L. futsingensis SYS r002123 China: Gaoping Provincial NR, Renhua County, Guangdong MT625861 This study
(17) L. gongshan GP 3516 China: Lincang City, Yunnan KP901022 Guo et al. 2015
(18) L. gongshan GP 3546 China: Lincang City, Yunnan KP901024 Guo et al. 2015
(19) L. laoensis FMNH 258659 Laos: Salavan Province KC010368 Siler et al. 2013
(20) L. laoensis LSUHC 8481 Cambodia: Pursat Province KC010370 Siler et al. 2013
(21) L. liuchengchaoi SYS r001654 China: Shennongjia National NR, Hubei MT625855 This study
(22) L. liuchengchaoi SYS r001655 China: Shennongjia National NR, Hubei MT625856 This study
(23) L. namdongensis VNUF R.2017.23 Vietnam: Nam Dong Nature Reserve, Thanh Hoa MK585007 Luu et al. 2019
(24) L. meridionalis VNUF R.2017.54 Vietnam: Ninh Binh MH669268 Luu et al. 2018
(25) L. meridionalis VNUF R.2017.88 Vietnam: Ninh Binh MH669269 Luu et al. 2018
(26) L. multizonatus KIZ01623 China: Luding County, Sichuan KF732926 Lei et al. 2014
(27) L. multizonatus SYS r002411 China: Baishuijiang National NR, Longnan City, Gansu MT625863 This study
(28) L. pictus ZFMK93746 Vietnam: Ha Lang District, Cao Bang MN395829 Janssen et al. 2019
(29) L. pictus ZFMK93747 Vietnam: Ha Lang District, Cao Bang MN395830 Janssen et al. 2019
(30) L. rufozonatus SYS r001770 China: Mt. Tiantai, Zhejiang MT625858 This study
(31) L. rufozonatus SYS r002061 China: Yangjifeng National NR, Guixi City, Jiangxi MT625860 This study
(32) L. ruhstrati SYS r001275 China: Shaowu Jiangshi Provincial NR, Nanping City, Fujian MT625848 This study
(33) L. ruhstrati SYS r001309 China: Jiulianshan National NR, Longnan County, Jiangxi MT625849 This study
(34) L. ruhstrati SYS r001362 China: Bamianshan National NR, Guidong County, Hunan MT625852 This study
(35) L. ruhstrati SYS r001631 China: Huaping National NR, Longsheng County, Guangxi MT625854 This study
(36) L. semicarinatus N/A Japan: Ryukyu Archipelago AB008539 Kumazawa et al. 1996
(37) L. subcinctus SYS r001155 China: Neilingding Island, Shenzhen City, Guangdong MT625846 This study
(38) L. subcinctus SYS r001943 China: Shimentai National NR, Yingde City, Guangdong MT625859 This study
(39) L. synaptor GP 3515 China: Lincang City, Yunnan KP901021 Guo et al. 2015
(40) L. synaptor GP 3545 China: Lincang City, Yunnan KP901023 Guo et al. 2015
Outgroups
(41) Boiga cynodon KU 324614 Philippines: Negros Occidental KC010340 Siler et al. 2013
(42) Dasypeltis atra CAS 201641 Uganda: Kabale district AF471065 Lawson et al. 2005

Results

The CYTB nucleotide sequence matrix contained 1050 characters without insertion deletions. The MP and BI analyses produced essentially identical topologies, which were integrated in Fig. 2. Major nodes of the tree were supported with the Bayesian posterior probabilities (BPP) > 0.95 and the bootstrap supports (BS) for Maximum Likelihood analysis > 75. Uncorrected p-distances among Lycodon species based on the CYTB gene are shown in Table 3.

Figure 2. 

Bayesian Inference and Maximum Likelihood phylogenies.

Table 3.

Uncorrected p-distances among Lycodon species based on partial mitochondrial CYTB gene.

ID Lycodon species 1–2 3 4–5 6–7 8–10 11–12 13–16 17–18 19–20 21–22 23 24–25 26–27 28–29 30–31 32–35 36 37–38 39–40
1–2 Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. 0
3 L. banksi 9.6
4–5 L. butleri 17.3 20.2 0
6–7 L. cavernicolus 17 18.7 9.6 0
8–10 L. fasciatus 12–13.7 14.6–16.3 10.4–11.5 9.8–10.7 0.7–1.8
11–12 L. flavozonatus 9.3 10.1 18 17.4 14.2–14.6 0
13–16 L. futsingensis 8.9 9.5 16.9 17.1 14.8–15.4 9.2 0
17–18 L. gongshan 14.5–14.7 14.9–15.1 8.9–9.1 7.6–7.7 7.1–8.5 14.1–14.3 14.1–14.3 0.1
19–20 L. laoensis 16.6–17.4 17–17.2 20.1–21.3 17.6–19.2 16.3–17.9 16.6–17.2 17.8–18.8 15.4–17 0.2
21–22 L. liuchengchaoi 16.3–16.5 17–17.2 13.7–13.8 13.4–13.5 12.3–13 16.3–16.5 14.6–14.8 10.1–10.5 18.7–20.1 0.1
23 L. namdongensis 7.9 8.8 17.1 16.5 14.2–15.2 8 6.8 14.3–14.5 17.2–18.2 15.7–15.9
24–25 L. meridionalis 7.9 9.6 17.2 17.4 13.1–13.6 2.7 8.5 13.7–13.9 15.9–16.5 15.3–15.5 8.1 0
26–27 L. multizonatus 14.8–15.1 16–16.7 14.2–14.5 15.6–15.8 12.7–13 16.1–16.5 14.6–15.4 11.9–12.1 18–19.4 6.7–7.1 15.2–15.9 15.3 1.6
28–29 L. pictus 14.3–14.7 15.7–15.9 14.2–14.8 15.3–16 12.8–13.6 13.8–14.2 14.9 12–12.5 17.6–18.6 9.5–9.7 14.1–14.5 14 10–10.4 0.6
30–31 L. rufozonatus 10.7–11.2 12.2–12.7 17.1 17.9–18.6 15.2–15.9 8.9–9.4 10.1–11 14.5–14.8 17.7–18.7 15.9–16.7 10.4–10.6 9.4–9.6 15.2–15.7 14–15.1 2
32–35 L. ruhstrati 14–14.4 15.9–16.3 13.4–13.6 12.9–13.1 12.2–13.2 13.8–14 15.1–15.3 9.7–10.3 16–17.6 11.5–11.9 14.9–15.3 13.4–13.6 10.6–11.1 10.8–11.4 14–14.6 0–0.3
36 L. semicarinatus 11.2 12.2 17.7 18.9 15.2–15.5 11.8 12.8 15.1–15.3 18.1–18.3 16.4–16.6 12.3 11.2 15.6 15.9–16.1 10.5–10.9 15–15.4
37–38 L. subcinctus 15.8 17.3 18.4 16.5 16.2–16.8 15.5 16.2 16.1–16.3 15.7–16.5 17.9–18.1 16.1 15.9 17.9–18.1 16.1–17.1 16.4–17 13.6–13.8 17.9 0–0.3
39–40 L. synaptor 16.6 18 15.4 13 12.8–13 15.3 15.4 11.5–11.6 18.9–19.5 14–14.2 15.4 15.1 14.3–14.7 12.2–12.4 14.1–14.5 11.1–11.2 17.1–17.6 17.6 0

The phylogenetic topologies are very similar to those recovered by previous study (Janssen et al. 2019). The unnamed Lycodon samples from Guangxi, southern China clustered in a monophyletic lineage with high nodal supports (BPP = 1.00 and = BS 100). This lineage are genetically differentiated from all congeners with the uncorrected p-distance ≥ 7.9%, which is significant when compared with that between other recognized species (e.g., p-distance = 2.7 % between L. flavozonatus and L. meridionalis, p-distance 6.8 % between L. futsingensis and L. namdongensis, and p-distance = 6.7–7.1 % between L. liuchengchaoi and L. multizonatus). The phylogenetic placement of the new lineage is largely unresolved, even though it forms the sister taxon to the clade composed of L. futsingensis and L. namdongensis while the nodal support is insignificant.

Moreover, it is noteworthy that the unnamed Lycodon possesses significant morphological differences that can be easily distinguished from all other congeners (see below). Therefore, based on the combination of molecular and morphological data, we describe the unnamed population from Huaping Nature Reserve, Guangxi, southern China as a new species, Lycodon cathaya sp. nov.

Taxonomic account

Lycodon cathaya sp. nov.

Figures 3A, 4, 5A, B

Holotype

SYS r001542, adult male, collected on 20 July 2016 by Jian Wang from Huaping Nature Reserve (25.62521N, 109.91376E (DD); ca 1000 m a.s.l.), Longsheng County, Guilin City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China.

Figure 3. 

General aspects in life and close-ups of body scales of A Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. (SYS r001542, holotype) from Huaping Nature Reserve, Guangxi, China B L. futsingensis (SYS r002123) from Gaoping Nature Reserve, Shaoguan City, Guangdong, China, and C L. ruhstrati (SYS r001631) from Huaping Nature Reserve, Guangxi, China.

Paratypes

SYS r001630, adult male, collected on 2 September 2016 by Jian Wang from Huaping Nature Reserve (25.62667N, 109.91351E (DD); ca 850 m a.s.l.).

Etymology

The specific name cathaya is a noun referring to the monotypic botanic genus Cathaya Chun & Kuang, 1958. The single species C. argyrophylla Chun & Kuang, 1958 is an endangered relict plant, and was firstly discovered from Huaping Nature Reserve by the investigation team of Sun Yat-sen University. In memory of the predecessors and their contributions on the taxonomy of Chinese flora and fauna, we denominate this new snake species from Huaping Nature Reserve as Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. Its common name is suggested as “Huaping wolf snake” in English and “Hua Ping Bai Huan She (花坪白环蛇)” in Chinese.

Diagnosis

Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. can be differentiated from its congeners by the combination of the following morphological characters: (1) dorsal scales in 17–17–15 rows, smooth throughout; (2) supralabials eight, third to fifth in contact with eye, infralabials 9; (3) ventral scales 199–200 (plus two preventral scales), subcaudals 78; (4) loreal single, elongated, in contact with eye or not, not in contact with internasals; (5) a single preocular not in contact with frontal, supraocular in contact with prefrontal, two postoculars; (6) maxillary teeth 10 (4+2+2+2); (7) two anterior temporals, three posterior temporals; (8) precloacal plate entire; (9) ground color from head to tail brownish black, with 31–35 dusty rose bands on body trunk, 13–16 on tail; (10) bands in 1–2 vertebral scales broad in minimum width; (11) bands separate ground color into brownish black ellipse patches, similar arrangement in a row along the top of body and tail; (12) elliptical patches in 3–6 scales of the vertebral row in maximum width; (13) ventral surface of body with a wide brownish black strip, margined with a pair of continuous narrow greyish white ventrolateral lines.

Comparisons

The detailed comparisons among all Lycodon congeners are given in Table 1, with distinguishing characters marked in bold.

In our phylogenetic tree (Fig. 2), Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. (Figs 3A, 4, 5A, B) is relatively close to L. futsingensis (Figs 3B, 5C) and L. namdongensis. However, the new species possesses significant morphological differences: (1) 10 maxillary teeth (vs. MT 12–15 in L. futsingensis), bands on dorsal body and tail link with each other and separate ground color into ellipse patches (vs. bands on dorsal body and tail separate with each other in L. futsingensis), venter line on ventral body margined with a pair of continuous ventrolateral line (vs. ventrolateral lines discontinuous, interrupted by black patches in L. futsingensis); (2) ten maxillary teeth (vs. MT 12 in L. namdongensis), nine infralabials (vs. IFL ten in L. namdongensis), two postocular (vs. PtO 3 in L. namdongensis), three posterior temporals (vs. pTMP 3 in L. namdongensis), ventral scales 199–200 (vs. V 218 in L. namdongensis), dorsal body with 31–35 dusty rose bands (vs. dorsal body with 23 greyish cream bands in L. namdongensis).

Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. can be further distinguished from L. ruhstrati (Figs 3C, 5D), which used to be confused with L. futsingensis, to which it is morphologically similar (Pope 1935; Vogel et al. 2009), by the following morphological characters: (1) dorsal scales smooth throughout (vs. dorsum with keeled scales); (2) subcaudals 78 (vs. subcaudals ≥ 90); (3) bands on dorsal body and tail link with each other and separate ground color into ellipse patches (vs. bands on dorsal body and tail separate with each other); (4) ventral with a brownish black venter strip margined with a pair of continuous greyish white ventrolateral lines (vs. brownish black venter strip absent, and ventrolateral lines discontinuous, interrupted by black patches).

Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. can be significantly distinguished from L. albofuscus, L. banksi, L. butleri, L. capucinus, L. cardamomensis, L. carinatus, L. cavernicolus, L. davidi, L. fasciatus, L. flavozonatus, L. gammiei, L. gibsonae, L. gongshan, L. gracilis, L. liuchengchaoi, L. meridionalis, L. multifasciatus, L. nympha, L. orientalis, L. paucifasciatus, L. rosozonatus, L. semicarinatus, L. septentrionalis, L. sidiki, L. subannulatus, L. subcinctus, L. synaptor, L. tristrigatus and L. zoosvictoriae by its smooth dorsal scales (vs. dorsal body with keeled scales). By having dorsal scales in 17–17–15 rows, Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. can be easily distinguished from L. alcalai (DSR 19–17–15), L. bibonius (DSR 19–17–15), L. chrysoprateros (DSR 19–17–15), L. davisonii (DSR ?–13–?), L. dumerilii (DSR 19–17–15), L. fausti (DSR 19–17–15), L. ferroni (DSR ?–13–?), L. kundui (DSR 15–15–15), L. muelleri (DSR 19–17–15), L. philippinus (DSR ?–15–?), L. solivagus (DSR 19–17–15) and L. stormi (DSR ?–19–?). From the remaining 18 congeners, Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. can be easily distinguished from L. ophiophagus, L. pictus, and L. zawi by having fewer maxillary teeth; from L. anamallensis, L. effraenis, L. flavicollis, L. flavomaculatus, L. hypsirhinoides, L. laoensis, L. striatus, and L. travancoricus by having fewer supralabials; from L. anamallensis, L. aulicus, L. effraenis, L. flavicollis, L. flavomaculatus, L. hypsirhinoides, L. laoensis, L. multizonatus, L. ophiophagus, L. pictus, and L. striatus by having fewer infralabials and from L. mackinnoni by having more infralabials; from L. aulicus, L. flavicollis, L. flavomaculatus, L. hypsirhinoides, L. jara, L. laoensis, L. mackinnoni, L. multizonatus, L. sealei, L. striatus, L. tessellatus, and L. tiwarii by having an entire precloacal plate (vs. precloacal plate divided); from L. jara, L. mackinnoni, and L. striatus by having more ventrals and from L. pictus, L. tessellatus, and L. tiwarii by having fewer ventrals; from L. anamallensis, L. flavicollis, L. hypsirhinoides, L. jara, L. laoensis, L. flavomaculatus, L. mackinnoni, L. multizonatus, L. striatus, L. tessellatus and L. zawi by having more subcaudals and from L. ophiophagus and L. pictus by having fewer subcaudals; from L. effraenis and L. sealei by the presence of a single loreal (vs. loreal absent).

Description of holotype

Adult male. Body slender, TL 562.5 mm (SVL 451.4 mm, TaL 111.1 mm, TaL/TL ratio 0.198); dorsal scales in 17–17–15 rows, smooth throughout, the vertebral scales not enlarged; head elongate, moderately distinct from neck, rather flattened, longer than wide, and narrow anteriorly, HL 17.2 mm, HW 11.1 mm (HW/HL ratio 0.643); eye large, ED 2.2 mm, pupil vertically elliptic; rostral triangular, much broader than high, barely visible from above; nostril lateral, located in the middle of nasal; nasal divided into two scales by nostril; two internasals, anteriorly rounded, almost as wide as high, bordered by two large, pentagonal prefrontals posteriorly; a single enlarged hexagonal frontal, narrowed posteriorly; parietals paired, longer than wide, in contact with each other medially, with upper anterior and posterior temporals, paraparietal laterally and four nuchal scales posteriorly; paraparietal slightly elongate, nearly rectangular; one elongated loreal on each side, in contact with eye, not in contact with internasals; one preocular located above loreal, in contact with eye and supraocular posteriorly, with prefrontal anteriorly, and not in contact with frontal; two postoculars, almost equal in length, upper one in contact with eye anteriorly, with supraocular and parietal, and with upper temporal posteriorly, lower one in contact with eye anteriorly, with anterior temporals posteriorly, and with fifth and sixth supralabials below; eight supralabials on each side, first and second in contact with nasal, third to fifth entering orbit; nine infralabials on each side, first pair in broad contact with each other, first to fourth in contact with anterior pair of chin shields, fourth to fifth in contact with posterior chin shields; two pairs of chin shields, elongate, anterior pair larger, second pair meeting in midline; two anterior temporals, almost equal in size, three posterior temporals, upper one smallest, lower one largest; 199 ventrals plus two preventrals; 78 pairs of subcaudals, excluding tail tip; precloacal plate entire.

Dentition

10 (4+2+2+2) maxillary teeth on both sides, four small anterior teeth, enlarged posteriorly; two noticeably enlarged snag shaped teeth (second largest); two moderately enlarged teeth; two moderately enlarged kukri liked teeth (the anterior one larger, both with posterior cutting edges). Diastemas present between the above-mentioned maxillary teeth groups.

Hemipenis

Hemipenis elongated, apex not fully everted after injection of formalin. Truncus bulbous, lower 1/3 smooth without spines, spine ornamentation starting at upper part with somewhat enlarged, medium sized spines. Apex with dense microspines. Sulcus spermaticus stretches to base of apex. Apex not fully everted, ending somewhat widened with an oblique opening, with microspines inside.

Coloration of holotype

In life (Figs 3A, 4), dorsal surface of head brownish black, a distinctly dusty rose collar band that crosses over the head and nape of the neck; ventral surface of head almost white, mental, the 1st–3rd supralabials and the anterior pair of chin shields with brownish black patches, the 4th and 5th and the posterior pair of chin shields with brownish black mottles. Ground color of dorsal surface brownish black, with 35 transverse dusty rose bands on body trunk and 16 similarly colored bands on tail, including two incomplete bands between collar band and the first complete transverse band; each band in 1–2 scales of the vertebral row in minimum width and widen laterally to a width of 3–4 scales; bands link with each other in ventrolateral body and tail, and separate the ground color into brownish black ellipse patches: such patches in 3–6 scales of the vertebral row in maximum width, and arranged in a row along the top of body and tail; a brownish black ventrolateral blotch on each ventrolateral side of bands. Middle of each ventral with irregular brownish black blotches forming a relatively continuous venter strip, and greyish white on both sides, forming a pair of continuous ventrolateral lines, which run in parallel along the venter strip. Subcaudals almost entirely light brown. In preservative (Fig. 5A), the collar band faded to beige, bands become darker, and the ventral surface faded to beige.

Variations

Measurements, body proportions and scale counts of the two specimens are listed in Table 4. The paratype has a relatively small and faint collar band, just crossing over the nape of the neck; dorsal bands are faint and there are more dark brown speckles than in the holotype. It appears that this specimen represents an older age group than the holotype, and differences in coloration may indicate an ontogenetic development. The loreal is in contact with eye in the holotype, while the loreal is separated from the eye by the preocular and the third supralabial.

Table 4.

Measurements, scale counts, and body proportions of Lycodon cathaya sp. nov.

Voucher number
Character 1542 1630
Age adult adult
Sex male male
SVL 451.4 730.1
TaL 111.1 180.5
TL 562.5 910.6
TaL/TL 0.198 0.198
HL 17.2 23.3
HW 11.1 14.6
HW/HL 0.643 0.627
ED 2.2 3.0
DSR 17–17–15 17–17–15
SpL 8 8
IfL 9 9
IFL-1CS 1st–4th 1st–4th
IFL-2CS 4th–5th 4th–5th
CS 2 2
V 199 200
Sc 78 78
S-V Bands 35 31
TaL Bands 16 13
MT 10 10

Distribution and habits

Currently, Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. is only known from its type locality, Huaping Nature Reserve (Fig. 1; ca 850–1000 m a.s.l.), and is sympatric with L. meridionalis and L. ruhstrati. All of them are nocturnal species. The holotype was observed climbing on a wilted bush by the roadside, approximately half a meter above the ground (Fig. 4). The paratype and an individual of its sympatric species L. ruhstrati is (Fig. 3C) were found on the ground on the same night. The surrounding environment consisted of well-preserved montane evergreen broad-leaved forest or mixed forest.

Figure 4. 

General aspect of Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. (SYS r001542, holotype) in life when observed.

Figure 5. 

Comparative characters of head scalation and color patterns (in preservative) of A Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. (SYS r001542, holotype) B Lycodon cathaya sp. nov. (SYS r001630, paratype) C L. futsingensis (SYS r002123), and D L. ruhstrati (SYS r001631). Scale bars: 10 mm.

Discussion

The description of Lycodon cathaya brings the total species number of this genus to 64, 16 of which occur in China. The new discovery further emphasizes the very high diversity level of the genus Lycodon (Zhao 1981; Zhao et al. 1998; Zhao 2006; Luo et al. 2010).

The Huaping Nature Reserve is located in the hilly region among Guangxi, Hunan, and Guizhou. Thus, the new species is expected to occur in southwestern Hunan and southeastern Guizhou. The area within the jurisdiction of Huaping Nature Reserve has been well valued and protected by relevant local departments, with a considerable amount of research and investigation efforts having been conducted. However, further research on the true distribution, population sizes and trends, habitat conditions and conservation actions are urgently needed in the potential distribution areas outside the jurisdiction of Huaping Nature Reserve. Moreover, since the rapid and notable developments on the knowledge about the Chinese herpetofauna, the hilly regions in southern China have received more attention and a number of new species have been discovered in the recent years (Chen et al. 2018; Li et al. 2018; Lyu et al. 2018; Peng et al. 2018; Sung et al. 2018; Wang et al. 2018ab; Chen et al. 2019; Lyu et al. 2019ab; Wang et al. 2019abc; Wang et al. 2020ab); this in turn strengthens appeals for more powerful and targeted conservation actions in these regions.

Acknowledgements

We thank Guangxi Huaping National Nature Reserve, Shi-Shi Lin, Si-Yu Zhang, Jia-He Li, and Chun-Peng Guo for their help in the field work, Yao Li and Chao-Yu Lin for their help in the lab work, and Jin-Long Ren for his kind support regarding the hemipenes description. This work was supported by the Project of Comprehensive Scientific Survey of Luoxiao Mountains Region of Ministry of Science and Technology, China (No. 2013FY111500), the Project of Scientific Investigation on the Amphibian, Reptilian and Avian Animals in Jiangxi Jiulianshan National Nature Reserve, the Project of Animal Diversity Survey and Monitoring System Construction of Guangdong Shimentai National Nature Reserve, the Project of Survey of Terrestrial Vertebrate Diversity in Guangdong Danxiashan National Nature Reserve.

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Appendix I

Examined specimens

Lycodon flavozonatus (N = 11): Nanling Nature Reserve, Guangdong, China: SYS r000819; Mt. Jinggang, Jiangxi, China: SYS r000317, 001956, 001972; Mt. Huanggang, Jiangxi, China: SYS r000640; Mt. Bamian, Hunan, China: SYS r001357, 001358, 001360, 001778; Mt. Wuyi, Fujian, China: SYS r001722; Mt. Dongbai, Zhejiang, China: SYS r001772.

Lycodon futsingensis (N = 9): Nanling Nature Reserve, Guangdong, China: SYS r000051, 000054; Mt. Wutong, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China: SYS r000617, 001016; Gaoping Nature Reserve, Shaoguan, China: SYS r001542, 001630, 001667, 002123; Shimentai Nature Reserve, Guangdong, China: SYS r001494.

Lycodon liuchengchaoi (N = 1): Shimentai Nature Reserve, Guangdong, China: SYS r002114.

Lycodon meridionalis (N = 5): Heishiding Nature Reserve, Guangdong, China: SYS r001355, 002053; Mt. Jiuwan, Guangxi, China: SYS r001812; Mt. Dayao, Guangxi, China: SYS r002326, 002327.

Lycodon rosozonatus (N = 2): Jianfengling, Hainan, China: SYS r001617; Bawangling, Hainan, China: SYS r002164.

Lycodon rufozonatus (N = 3): Mt. Jinggang, Jiangxi, China: SYS r000318; Mt. Bamian, Hunan, China: SYS r001361; Mt. Tiantai, Zhejiang, China: SYS r001770.

Lycodon ruhstrati (N = 7): Mt. Jiulian, Jiangxi, China: SYS r001309; Jiangshi Nature Reserve, Fujian, China: SYS r001275; Mt. Jinggang, Jiangxi, China: SYS r001256; Mt. Qiyun, Jiangxi, China: SYS r000882; Mt. Bamian, Hunan, China: SYS r001362; Huaping Nature Reserve, Guangxi, China: SYS r001631, 001633.

Lycodon subcinctus (N = 13): Sun Yet-sen University, Zhuhai, Guangdong, China: SYS r001013; Heishiding Nature Reserve, Guangdong, China: SYS r001523, 001757; Neilingding Island, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China: SYS r001155, 001511; Tiegang Reservoir, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China: SYS r001430; Maluanshan Country Park, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China: SYS r002146; Shimentai Nature Reserve, Guangdong, China: SYS r001943, 002021; Mt. Diaoluo, Hainan, China: SYS r001621; Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, China: SYS r000689, 000690.