Madrid, Enero 2005

Vipera latastei abulensis – a new subspecies of viper from the Central mountain range (Sierra de Gredos), in the Iberian Peninsula. Comparative data with the nominate race Vipera latastei latastei and the southern race Vipera latastei gaditana..

Authors: Juan Timms Rangel & Raúl Doblado Regaño

Abstract. A new subspecies is described, Vipera latastei abulensis, from the northern side of the Sierra de Gredos (Avila), in Spain. It differs from the nominate race in having a higher ventral scale count and in several external morphological aspects.

Vipera latastei latastei (Boscá, 1878) inhabits most of the Iberian Peninsula with the exception of the extreme north. The subspecies Vipera latastei gaditana (Saint Girons, 1977) occupies a discontinuous range along the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula and the north of Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia). Vipera latastei latastei shows a disrupted distribution through most of the Iberian Peninsula and is generally restricted to hilly and mountainous regions, avoiding low altitude prairies. This condition has given rise to isolated populations within, consequently producing morphological variations for the species. Numerous field observations have established the parameter range for possible morphological variations within the same species. The variations observed in specimens from the northern side of the Gredos mountain range surpass the variation parameters known for Vipera latastei latastei and hence we propose their classification as a subspecies: Vipera latastei abulensis.

Etymology:The subspecific epithet abulensis (Lat.) derives from the name given to the people of Avila.

Material and Methods: A total of 165 specimens of Lataste´s Viper have been examined; 93 belonging to the nominate race; 46 belonging to the proposed new subspecies; and 26 belonging to the subspecies V. l. gaditana. The number of dorsal, ventral and subcaudal scales were recorded for every specimen. The presence or absence of reduced frontal and/or parietal plates were also recorded, as were the overall body colouration and the dorsal pattern or zigzag.

Description of the holotype: Adult male from Gredos (Avila, Spain). Total length 625 mm. Tail length 100 mm (16%). Tail tip black. Head: 27 mm long, 17 mm wide. 10 supralabials; 12 infralabials; 3 apicals; 2 canthals; 2 scale rows between eye and supralabials; 11 circumoculars; 14 intercanthals and 4 intersupraoculars. Frontal plate present. 21 dorsal scales; 145 ventrals plus 2 preventrals and 4 gulars; 46 divided subcaudals. Body ground colour yellowish grey. Dorsal zigzag band of the rounded type and solid black. Side blotches solid black and well defined. Venter white finely speckled with black. Number of dorsal pattern windings from nape to vent: 50

Vipera latastei abulensis

A new subspecies of Vipera latastei, isolated geografically from the nominate race by the absence of adequate habitat, is found above 1.000 meters a.s.l. and consistently presents a high ventral scale count; complete frontal plate and occasionally parietals; a broad and wavy dorsal band

This new subspecies differs from the nominate race (V. l. latastei) and the southern race (V. l. gaditana) in several aspects:

1. 1. The ventral scale count is higher for V. latastei abulensis; X=143.8 in males and X=144.3 in females (the mean ventral scale count for V. latastei latastei specimens examined in several different localities of the Iberian Peninsula was X=135.8 in males and X=136.7 in females). The mean ventral scale count for V. l. gaditana was X=131.5 for males and X=133.2 for females. These results were obtained after a close examination of 165 specimens of Latastes viper:

- 23 V. l. abulensis (male), with ventral scale count ranging 140-149, from the province of Avila.
- 23 V. l. abulensis (female), ventral count ranging 140-148, from the province of Avila.
- 40 V. l. latastei (male), ventral count ranging 130-140, from 29 different provinces of the Iberian Peninsula.
- 53 V. l. latastei (female), ventral count ranging 129-142, from 29 different provinces of the Iberian Peninsula.
- 14 V. l. gaditana (male), ventral count ranging 130-134, from the provinces of Huelva, Sevilla and Jaén.
- 12 V. l. gaditana (female), ventral count ranging 133-134, from the provinces of Huelva, Sevilla and Jaén.

The subcaudal scale counts do not show significant differences between the subspecies:

- V. l. abulensis (males): (x = 42) (x being the average) Range: 38 – 46
- V. l. abulensis (females): (x = 36) range: 31 – 40
- V. l. latastei (males): (x = 41.2) range: 35 – 45
- V. l. latastei (females): (x = 33.5) range: 30 – 40
- V. l. gaditana (males): (x = 42.2) range: 40 – 45
- V. l. gaditana (females): (x = 36.5) range: 35 – 39

The number of dorsal scale rows was 21 for all specimens of the three subspecies except for 3 males of V. l. abulensis that had 19 and one male of V. l. abulensis that had 23.

2. 2. The dorsal zigzag band in V. latastei abulensis usually has rounded edges and occupies an average width of 9-10 dorsal scale rows, while with V. latastei latastei normally the zigzag band has sharp edges and an average width of 7-8 dorsal scale rows. Further more, the number of windings in the zigzag pattern (from nape to vent) is greater in V. l. abulensis (X=43) than in V. l. latastei (X=38) and V. l. gaditana (X=30).

3. 3. The presence in V. l. abulensis of a small frontal plate (68%) and of small parietal plates (23%) is an outstanding feature in the subspecies. This feature is rarely observed in V. l. latastei (15%), whereas 95 % of V. l. gaditana specimens have totally fragmented cephalic plates.

Discussion: With his description in 1977 of Vipera latastei gaditana Saint Girons separated the vipers of south Andalussia and North Africa from the Lataste´s vipers of the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. These other populations of Lataste´s viper which range over most of the Iberian Peninsula have been included up to present date in the group of Vipera latastei latastei.
In their book Fauna Iberica (A.H.E.) Antonio Bea & Florentino Braña indicate a ventral count range of 124-147 for Vipera latastei latastei, with a mean X=140,6 for males and X=141,6 for females. In their samples of Lataste´s viper they included a considerable amount of specimens belonging to the Gredos mountain range, and that is probably the reason they obtained such a high ventral scale count. Our work proposes a quite lower ventral scale count for Vipera latastei latastei (X=136.2), thus consigning the higher values to Vipera latastei abulensis (X=144) and the lowest to Vipera latastei gaditana (X=132,3).
Lataste´s viper occupies a wide geografical range and it is not surprising to find populations that exhibit a certain degree of variation. In 1968 Bernis already pointed out two distinct geografical races of Lataste´s Viper: the “Southeastern Group”, distributed throughout the provinces of Castellón, Teruel, Valencia, Cuenca, Jaén and Granada, which exhibit an overall light body colouration with a sharp edged zigzag pattern, and the “Western-montane Group” distributed from Cáceres through the Central mountain range, with a generally darker body colouration and a zigzag pattern with rounded edges. Even though Bernis did not make any particular comment on the ventral scale count, it can be asummed that his “Western-montane group” could be allocated in the new subspecies Vipera latastei abulensis, and therefore his “Southeastern Group” would be allocated within the nominate race Vipera latastei latastei.

The distributional limits of V. l. abulensis have not been clearly defined in this study, although there are some boundaries that can be theoretically established. In the northern limit the subspecies´ distribution is restricted by unsuitable habitat such as farmlands which extend from the foot of the Sierra de Gredos northward to the first mountains in the province of Zamora. On the eastern side of the Sierra de Gredos there is a narrow stretch between the provinces of Avila and Madrid where the Lataste´s Viper is absent. This stretch would be the eastern limit for V. l. abulensis. Specimens examined from the Guadarrama mountain range in the provinces of Madrid and Segovia represent V. l. latastei.

There are numerous records of Lataste´s Viper on the southern side of the Sierra de Gredos. In the present work we have examined 3 specimens from this area. The three specimens exhibit a wide and rounded zigzag pattern, typical of V. l. abulensis, however, the ventral scale count in two of the specimens is much lower than the average ventral scale count for the subspecies. If the range of V. l. abulensis does surpass the Gredos mountain range´s main axis, then the southern distributional limits for the subspecies would be marked by the extensive lowlands in the provinces of Toledo and Cáceres.

At the western side of the Sierra de Gredos the limits for V. l. abulensis are drawn where the mountains come to an end, between the provinces of Cáceres and Salamanca.


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