Organisms Diversity & Evolution

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 147–159 | Cite as

Systematics of limbless scincid lizards from northern Madagascar: morphology, phylogenetic relationships and implications for classification (Squamata: Scincidae)

  • Jörn KöhlerEmail author
  • Miguel Vences
  • Martina Erbacher
  • Frank Glaw
Original Article


We report on the rediscovery of two limbless scincid species, Paracontias rothschildi Mocquard, 1905 and Paracontias minimus (Mocquard, 1906), after more than a century. The two species were found in syntopy in sandy soils of Forêt d’Orangea, Antsiranana Province, northern Madagascar, which probably constitutes the respective type locality and confirms the species’ Malagasy origin. Both taxa are redescribed based on newly collected material, and compared to other Malagasy species. In addition, Paracontias fasika n. sp. is described from the same locality and habitat. We discuss the taxonomy and origin of all three species and provide preliminary data on their natural history. Molecular relationships among seven Paracontias species are compared to external morphological characters formerly used in skink systematics. Our results indicate that morphology in fossorial skinks is well suited to distinguish species, but is of rather limited value to elucidate phylogenetic relationships. Similarities between these skinks in external characters apparently are the result of convergent evolution due to parallel selective pressures.


Paracontias Rediscovery New species Phylogeny Taxonomy Morphology 


Note added in proof

The species herein referred to as Paracontias sp. aff. tsararano has recently been described and named Paracontias kankana by Köhler et al. (2009). In the same publication, Paracontias fasika is referred to as Paracontias sp. Paracontias fasika mainly differs from P. kankana by 16 scale rows around midbody (versus 21), 46 presacral vertebrae (versus 59), an hourglass-shaped frontal scale (versus bell-shaped), and the nostril being in contact with first supralabial and loreal (versus in contact with first supralabial only).


For help in the field we are indebted to Parfait Bora, Neil D’Cruze, Hildegard Enting, Michael Franzen, Angelika Knoll, Steven Megson and Zoltan Nagy. The staff of the King’s Lodge provided further valuable help and assistance. Additional information on certain specimens and localities was provided by the team of Frontier. Annemarie Ohler, Ivan Ineich and Mark-Oliver Rödel kindly loaned type specimens from the collections under their care. Angelica Crottini, Janina Dordel and Andreas Schmitz made molecular data available. We are very grateful to Martin Spies, who noticed the misspelling of the name Cryptoposcincus during the editorial process of this paper. Radiographs were produced at ZFMK, with the kind assistance of Wolfgang Bischoff. The work was carried out in collaboration with the Département de Biologie Animale, Université d’Antananarivo (UADBA), and the Association Nationale pour la Gestion des Aires Protégées (ANGAP). We are grateful to the Malagasy authorities, in particular to the Ministère de l’Environnement et des Eaux et Forêts, for research and export permits. Funding was provided by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA).


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Copyright information

© Gesellschaft fuer Biologische Systematik 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jörn Köhler
    • 1
    Email author
  • Miguel Vences
    • 2
  • Martina Erbacher
    • 1
  • Frank Glaw
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Natural History—ZoologyHessisches Landesmuseum DarmstadtDarmstadtGermany
  2. 2.Division of Evolutionary Biology, Zoological InstituteTechnical University of BraunschweigBraunschweigGermany
  3. 3.Zoologische Staatssammlung MünchenMünchenGermany

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