An updated and annotated list of Indian lizards (Reptilia: Sauria) based on a review of distribution records and checklists of Indian reptiles
P. Dilip Venugopal
Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, 4124 Plant Sciences Building, College Park, MD 20742-4454, USA
Plant and animal species survey and observational data are vast resources that provide present day and historical information on geographic distribution. Primary species-occurrence data have wide and varied uses, encompassing virtually every aspect of human life - food, shelter and recreation, art and history, society, science and politics (Chapman 2005a). Species listings or checklists, which contain such primary and compiled species-occurrence data, play a vital role in providing information on the number of species occurring in different regions across different spatial scales (local, regional, national and global). Such species occurrence data, in the form of checklists, have been used for taxonomic and biogeographic studies for hundreds of years (Chapman 2005a). Some of the other uses include conservation planning, reserve selection, climate change studies, agriculture, forestry and fishery, and species translocation studies, to name a few (See Chapman 2005a for a detailed account of the uses of species-occurrence data). Accuracy and precision (sensu Chapman 2005b) of the taxonomic and nomenclatural information and the spatial information are important considerations for determination of data quality and validation of the species occurrence data (Chapman 2005b). In this context, the importance of the data quality in the checklist of Indian reptiles - the storehouses of information on the reptilian species occurrence data- hardly needs emphasis.
Among the publications pertaining to reptilian taxonomy and species occurrences in India the works of Malcolm Smith (1931, 1935a, 1943), though more than half a century old, still remains the most important contribution (Das 2003). Over the past two decades many checklists of reptiles of India (Murthy 1985; Murthy 1990; Tikader & Sharma 1992; Das 1997a; Das 2003), sometimes including adjacent countries (Das 1994; Das1996a; Sharma 2002) have been published. These publications have furthered the growth of knowledge on systematics, distribution and biogeography of Indian reptiles, and the field of herpetology in India in general. The primary objective of these publications, except those providing information of species distribution (for example - Murthy 1985; Tikader & Sharma 1992) and taxonomic development in India (Das 2003), included enlisting the reptilian species occurring in India. However, some of these publications have come under severe criticism (see review by Das 1996b; Pawar 1998), with reservation over the quality of the information presented. Especially the publications of the Zoological Survey of India, which still are followed by many workers in India, have especially been criticized for their failure to follow the changes in the taxonomic and distributional information of species.
An apparent inadequacy of the above-mentioned checklists of Indian reptiles published over the past 20 years is that species with valid distributional records are not differentiated from those with questionable records. While a reference to the taxonomic treatise has been provided (e.g. Das 2003), a valid reference or source for the distribution records corroborating the inclusion and omission of species have not been cited by any of these checklists. It is observed that despite being compilations, neither all of the bibliographic sources referred nor the details on locality records have been provided in most of the checklists (regional, state-wise or national) of Indian reptiles. For example, Vyas (2000) has noted and criticized the absence of source literature within the checklist of Gujarat reptiles provided by Gayen (1999). The failure to acknowledge all the literary sources used for the compilation of the species list is a reproachable attribute of these publications that is tantamount to plagiarism.
In addition to this significant limitation, the distribution records of species pre and post partition of British India have not been distinguished, resulting in erroneous inclusion of many species into the checklist. Incorrect inclusion of species that were not recorded within India, doubtful records and omissions of valid species has also been common. The inclusion or omission of species has not been corroborated with references or notes thereby rendering the information presented unverifiable. As a result, mistakes in species inclusion or omission have been perpetuated, and without any grounds for further verification. I quote Bobrov (2005) to illustrate this point with an example – “Phrynocephalus reticulatus was reported in Ladakh (Smith 1935). Later this single and clearly erroneous finding was mentioned in every publication on the herpetofauna of India, Kashmir and Ladakh.” If the publications listing them had provided the source literature, it would have provided an opportunity for verification.
Furthermore, the lack of rationale for inclusion and omission of species has resulted in inconsistencies in the lists contributed by the same individual workers. For example Murthy (1985) erroneously included Dasia grisea in the list of Indian reptiles, with Andaman & Nicobar Islands as its distributional range. However, the list of reptiles provided by Murthy (1990) rightfully did not include this species. However, it erroneously appeared again in the list provided by Murthy (1994). Similarly Das (1994) & Das (1996a) did not include India in the distributional range of Phyrnocephalus luteoguttatus, but it was erroneously listed for India by Das (1997a). However this species was not included in a later list by Das (2003).
A direct consequence of the poor reporting standards of the checklists of Indian reptiles is that the exact number of reptilian species with valid distributional records within India still remains unclear. It has also rendered the information presented unverifiable directly, thereby hindering their further usage. This can be overcome only when checklists justify the inclusion and omission of each species by providing a valid reference/source for distribution records and the taxonomic treatise. The present communication is part of an effort to verify the validity of Indian reptile species listings, based on distributional records and a review of the earlier checklists of the Indian reptiles. In this paper, the species listings have been verified and species have been categorized based on the distributional records. A review of the checklists of Indian reptiles published over the past two decades has also been performed. Finally, a comprehensive list of lizards (Reptilia: Sauria) with valid distribution records in India has been provided along with source literature.
Recent developments (past 6 years) in the taxonomy and species occurrence information on Indian reptiles necessitates an update in the checklists of Indian lizards. Some of the new developments include records of Hemidactylus persicus from Gujarat (Vyas et al. 2006) and Japalura kaulbackii in Arunachal Pradesh (from Kunte & Manthey 2009). Recent rediscoveries include that of Japalura sagittifera from Arunachal Pradesh (from Kunte & Manthey 2009) and Lygosoma vosmaerii from Andhra Pradesh (Seetharamaraju et al. 2009). Doubts over the occurrence of H. karenorum in India (Zug et al. 2007; Mahony & Zug 2008) and questions on the taxonomic validity of H. mahendrai and H. subtriedrus had been raised (Zug et al. 2007) and acknowledged by other workers (Giri & Bauer 2008, Giri et al. 2009). The taxonomic revision of genus Mabuya (Mausfeld 2002), Cnemaspis anaikattiensis (Manamendra-Arachchi et al. 2007), C. kandiana (Wickramasinghe & Munindradasa 2007), Phrynocephalus alticola (Barabanov & Ananjeva 2007), Calotes andamanensis (Krishnan 2008), Teratolepis fasciatus (Bauer et al. 2008) and Dasia halianus (Wickramasinghe, submitted; Wickramasinghe, pers. comm.) from India have resulted in other changes. Description of new species included those of Cnemaspis australis, C. monticola and C. nilagirica (Manamendra-Arachchi et al. 2007), Hemidactylus aaronbaueri (Giri 2008), Hemidactylus sataraensis (Giri & Bauer 2008), Calotes aurantolobium (Krishnan 2008), Hemidactylus treutleri (Mahony 2009a), Japalura otai (Mahony 2009b), and Hemidactylus gujaratensis (Giri et al. 2009). These have led to the revision of the list of lizards as provided by Das (2003).
The list of lizards (Suborder Sauria) including the families Agamidae, Gekkonidae, Scincidae, Dibamidae, Anguidae, Eublepharidae, Lacertidae and Varanidae has been provided here. This list has been compiled primarily from articles published in scientific journals. I referred ca. 310 publications including technical reports, which formed the primary source for locality records. However reports in newsletters, unpublished reports, personal field observations and personal communications in writing (in lit.) with other herpetologists have also been taken into account. Information on species distribution and taxonomy has been complied from literature published until Sept 2009.
The list provided, is at the species level and the taxonomy primarily follows Das (2003). Taxonomy of Hemidactylus albofasciatus follows Bauer et al. (2008) and the recognition of Mabuya as Eutropis follows Mausfeld et al. (2002). The species listed under the Genus Kaestlea (= Scincella) follows Eremchenko & Das (2004). Validity of the listings has been reviewed for species as provided by the checklist of Indian reptiles (Murthy 1985; Murthy 1990a; Tikader & Sharma 1992; Das 1997a; 2003), including its adjacent countries (Das 1994; Das 1996a; Sharma 2002). The words locality records and distributional records have been used synonymously.
Based on the distributional records available, the species have been classified into the following categories and a justification of the treatise has been provided through source literature and comments, wherever applicable.
(i) Species with valid distribution records within India.Distribution/Locality records within Indian limits currently available and have not been questioned by other workers.
(ii) Species reported from the regions politically disputed by India and Pakistan. This category includes species that are reported from politically disputed regions in Kashmir. The category has been created to acknowledge the current political situation in the areas from which we have valid distributional records.
(iii) Species whose distributional records are invalid or questioned. This category includes species for which distribution/locality records within India are available, but have been questioned. Also contains species whose inclusion has not been justified by providing source references/literature or relevant notes.
(iv) Species with unclear locality records. Species for which clear distribution/locality records within India are not available, but included in the checklists.
(v) Species known only from type specimen of unclear origin.
(vi) Species known only from type specimen, the original locality of which is not clear, but listed in earlier checklists.
(vii) Species valid in earlier lists, but omitted in this communication. Species that were earlier valid, but omitted in this communication due to the recent developments in taxonomic and distributional information.
The valid list of lizards in India, as represented by category A and B has separately been listed along with references corroborating their inclusion (Table 1). For the other categories, detailed comments have been provided along with a justification.
Validity of the species listed in the earlier checklists of India published in the past two decades has been reviewed. Based on existing and current information on their distribution, the following details have been reviewed for each of the publications -
(i) Erroneous inclusion of species without valid records and species whose distribution records were questioned.
(ii) Erroneous inclusion of species with unclear locality records.
(ii) Erroneous inclusion of species known only from type specimen of unknown origin.
(iv) Erroneous omission of valid species.
The species that fall within the various categories as discussed in the methods section have been provided in the following paragraphs. The consolidated result, represented as the number of species classified under each category has been provided in Table 2. The number of lizard species with valid distributional records from India, including those known from politically disputed regions (PDR) between India and Pakistan (Category A and B respectively), is currently 199. These species have been listed in Table 1 along with a literature source corroborating each species’ inclusion. However, in the past two decades, 17 (excluding category F) other species without any valid distributional records in India have been included in the various checklists of Indian reptiles. Details of these species falling under the other categories have been provided below, along with comments justifying the treatise.
B. Species reported from the regions politically disputed by India and Pakistan
Laudakia pakistanica Baig, 1989
Comments – Baig and Böhme (1996) described the subspecies Laudakia pakistanica khani from Chilas, an area that falls in a region politically disputed by India and Pakistan, in Kashmir. Das (1996a) commented that this species has been reported from politically disputed regions of India & Pakistan.
Alsophylax boehmei Szczerbak, 1991
Comments – I have not seen the original species description. I follow the locality records (Skardu, Ladakh) provided by Khan (2002) and Das (1996a). Das (1996a) commented that this species has been reported from politically disputed regions of India & Pakistan.
Asymblepharus tragbulense (Alcock, ‘1897’ 1898)
Comments – I have not seen the original species description. The only known collection of the species was in 1885 from Tragbul Pass, about 50km NW Srinagar, presently in the politically disputed region between India and Pakistan (fide Das et al. 1998).
C. Species without valid records and species whose distribution records were questioned, but included in earlier checklist of Indian reptiles
Calotes bhutanensis Biswas, 1975
Comments – No known distribution records from India. Tikader & Sharma (1992) included this species for India.
Laudakia caucasia (Eichwald, 1831)
Comments - Locality records for this species (Kelat & Bolan Pass) provided by Smith (1935a: 221) falls in Balochistan Province in Pakistan and there have been no other reported records within India subsequently. However this species has been included in the list of Indian reptiles provided by Das (1997a; 2003).
Phrynocephalus luteoguttatus Boulenger, 1887
Comments – No known locality records for India but included in the list of Indian reptiles by Das (1997a). I agree with Barabanov & Ananjeva (2007) in not including India in the distributional range of this species.
Phrynocephalus euptilopus Alcock & Finn, ‘1896’ 1897
Comments – Das (1996b) has questioned the report of this species from deserts of Rajasthan (Daniel 1983; Tikader & Sharma 1992; Daniel 2002; Sharma 2002). However, this species was included in earlier checklists (Murthy 1990; Tikader & Sharma 1992; Das 1997a; Sharma 2002) of Indian reptiles. I agree with Bobrov (2005) and Barabanov & Ananjeva (2007) in not including India in the distributional range of this species.
Salea kakhienensis (Anderson, ‘1878’ 1879)
Comments – No known locality records for this species from India, but has erroneously been included for India in the lists by Das (1994; 1996a; 1997a).
Cyropodion fedtschenkoi (Strauch, 1987)
Comments – Das (1996b) questioned the reports of this species from deserts of Rajasthan (Tikader & Sharma 1992; Sharma 1992). No known reports of this species from India.
Cyrtopodion chitralense (Smith, 1935)
Comments - Locality record for this species (Karakal) provided by Smith (1935a: 47) falls in North West Frontier Province of Pakistan and there have been no subsequent reports of this species from India. This species has been listed for India by Das (2003).
Cyrtopodion baturense (Khan & Baig, 1992)
Comments – No valid records of this species from India but listed by Das (1997a).
Teratoscincus microlepis Nikolski, 1899
Comments – No known records of this species from India, but included for India by Murthy (1994).
Acanthodactylus blanfordii Boulenger, 1918
Comments – No known locality records from India, but included for India by Das (1994; 1996a; 1997a).
Dasia grisea (Gray, 1845)
Comments – No known records of this species from India but included for India by Murthy (1985; 1994).
Scincella reevesii (Gray, 1838)
Comments – No known locality records from India, but included for India by Das (1994; 1996a; 1997a).
Eutropis novemcarinata (Anderson, 1871)
Comments – No known locality records from India, but included for India by Das (1997a; 2003).
D. Species with unclear locality records listed in earlier checklists.
Pseudocalotes microlepis (Boulenger, 1887)
Comments –Smith (1935a: 187) noted that the specimen recorded from Assam (Manipur?) by Annandale were lost. I have not verified if Annandale reported this species in his publications. However, Hallermann & Bohme (2000) did not include India in the distributional range of this species. The presence of this species in India needs confirmation as there have been no other reports and the locality record for the specimen still remains uncertain. However, many lists of Indian reptiles have included this species.
Cyrtodactylus pulchellus Hardwicke & Gray, 1827
Comments – No known locality records for this species from India. Das (2003) included this species in his list while denoting that it was not recorded from India specifically, but was cited by Smith (1935a: 38). It has been included in the lists by Das (1994; 1996a; 1997a; 2003). Given that the locality records are not available, the inclusion of this species needs confirmation.
E. Species known only from a type specimen, the original locality of which is not clear, but listed in earlier checklists.
Cnemaspis boei (Gray, 1842)
Comments – Known only from the type specimen, the locality record for which is not available (fide Smith 1935a: 75), and there have been no subsequent reports. However, Das (1994; 1996a; 1997a; 2003) included this species in the list of Indian reptiles. The presence of this species in India needs confirmation.
Eumeces blythianus (Anderson, 1871)
Comments – The type locality not known, but purchased in Amritsar (fide Smith 1935a: 340) and no subsequent reports, but was included in the lists provided by Das (1994; 1997a). The presence of this species in India needs confirmation.
F. Species valid in earlier lists, but omitted in this communication due to the recent developments in taxonomic and distributional information.
Phrynocephalus alticola Peters 1984
Comments – Following the taxonomy proposed by Barabanov & Ananjeva (2007), this species has been treated as a subjective junior synonym of P. theobaldi, and not included in this list as a separate species.
Phrynocephalus reticulatus (Eichwald, 1831)
Comments – This species was erroneously reported to occur in Ladakh by Smith (1935a) and following this was included in subsequent checklists of India (Bobrov 2005).
Cnemaspis kandiana (Kelaart, 1852)
Comments – Based on taxonomy suggested by Wickremasinghe & Munindradasa (2007), this species is confined to Sri Lanka and populations from India have been relegated to other species.
Cnemaspis anaikattiensis Mukherjee, Bhupathy & Nixon, 2005
Comments – Based on taxonomy suggested by Manamendra-Arachchi et al. (2007), this species is considered a subjective synonym of C. sisparensis.
Ptyodactylus homolepis Blanford, 1876
Comments – This species was erroneously reported by Sahi & Duda (1985) to occur in Jammu & Kashmir (Bobrov 2005).
Hemidactylus karenorum (Theobald, 1868)
Comments – Following Mahony et al. (2008) who raised doubts over the distribution of this species from India and awaiting confirmation of the only existing record from Cachar (Assam) Smith (1935a: 102), it has not been included in the list of Indian reptiles.
Hemidactylus mahendrai Shukla, 1983
Comments – Following the taxonomic changes suggested by Zug et al. (2007), this species has been treated as a synonym of H. brookii, and not included in the list as a separate species.
Hemidactylus subtreidrus Jerdon, 1853
Comments – The taxonomic validity of H. subtriedrus had been questioned by some (Zug et al. 2007) and acknowledged by other workers (Giri & Bauer 2008; Giri et al. 2009). As a result, it has not been included in the list of Indian reptiles, awaiting taxonomic clarity.
Teratolepis fasciata (Blyth, 1854 (1853))
Comments – Based on recent taxonomic development, this species has been placed in Genus Hemidactylus and suggested a new name, H. imbricatus due to homonymy (Bauer et al. 2008). Also, it has been suggested by Bauer et al. (2008) that the reports from India are likely to be erroneous.
Chalcides pentadactylus Beddome, 1870
Comments – The type specimen reported from Beypur, Kerala is lost and its true status needs examination of fresh material (fide Smith, 1935a: 350). It has not been reported again since its original description and its presence in India needs confirmation.
Dasia halianus (Haly and Nevill in: Nevill, 1887)
Comments – The Indian Dasia halianus, has been taxonomically identified as Dasia subcaeruleum, while the distribution of Dasia halianus has been reported to be restricted to Sri Lanka (Wickramasinghe, submitted; Wickramasinghe, pers. comm.)
Ophiomorus tridactylus (Blyth, 1853)
Comments – There has been some confusion regarding the taxonomy and distribution, between this species and O. raithmai. However, only O. raithmai currently occurs in India, while the distribution of this species is limited to Afghanistan and Pakistan (Indraneil Das, Personal Communication). The locality records within India available for this species actually pertain to O. raithmai.
In the checklists of Indian reptiles published over the past 20 years, the number of omissions of species has been greater than that of erroneous inclusions (Table 3). However, it must be noted that over the years there has been a decrease in the number of such omissions (But see Sharma 2002). Within erroneous inclusions, inclusion of species whose distribution records were invalid or were questioned has been high in lists provided by Das (1997a). The list of species erroneously included or omitted by published checklists is provided in Table 3.
Brown (1992) made a plea for standardizing the distributional records of Indian reptiles almost two decades ago. However, drawing a standardized format for publishing species checklists is an important task to be undertaken, in order to verify and validate the species occurrence data and also to prevent perpetuation of mistakes. This is especially true for checklists of regional (different Indian states or protected area checklists for example) and national levels, which are primarily compilations. Annotated lists based on available locality records and justifying the inclusion or omission of species by providing relevant source literature or notes on specimens, could be a good way of validating regional and national level checklists. This would facilitate the possibility of verification of the information presented, thereby ensuring its quality and also duly pay credit to the deserving workers who generated the vouchered or otherwise substantiated records.
Quality of species occurrence data, as derived from species lists, significantly impacts conservation and management considerations. The Conservation Assessment and Management Plan (CAMP) for Indian reptiles (Molur & Walker 1998) which formed the IUCN red list of Indian reptiles used the checklist list provided by Das (1997a) as the starting reference point for the number of reptiles in India. However, Das (1997a) contained many erroneous inclusions and omissions (See Table 3), and the standard of reporting does not provide means to directly verify the quality of information presented. Accurate and precise data on species occurrences are imperative for the assessment of conservation status and drawing management considerations. It is also pivotal for the species occurrence information to be accurate for it to be used for further research purposes such as predictions on species distributions, habitat suitability, and threat assessments etc. While there have been global efforts to share and provide free access to species distribution information (Ex. GBIF 2008), the current reporting standards of publications on Indian reptiles (regional and national) actually hinder further usage of the information presented. This could be ameliorated only if individual workers and publishing houses/journals present annotated checklists that contain source literature and details substantiating the inclusion and omission of each species.
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