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The Name Game:

Taxonomic Justifications

When I decided to make a web page showing some of the Sand Boas and other Erycine snakes I found myself forced to make several taxonomic (and systematic) decisions.   Some of my justifications are obvious and some are more technical and require an understanding of taxonomy and systematics.    (I am looking for a good link here for anyone who would like to learn more about the basics of how such decisions can be evaluated.    If you know one, let me know.)

The African Burrowing Python

First there was the decision whether to include the African Burrowing Python (Calabaria reinhardtii).   Although it was originally described as Eryx reinhardtii there is conflicting evidence on whether it is a erycine at all (Forstner, 1995; Kluge, 1993).   I feel that the characters used to unite Calabaria with the Erycinae may be homoplastic (characters that are similar due to convergent evolution within these burrowing snakes) and therefore I choose not to regard this snake as an erycine.   However, I have included it on this page, because there are few other sources for information on this fascinating snake, and I think they're cool.

Sand Boa Taxonomy

Dr. Anatoly Tokar has provided me with copies of several of his recent reprints on the taxonomy and systematics of Sand Boas.   Dr. Tokar is probably the current expert in the field of Sand Boa systematics and he favors the use of the genus Gongylophis for several species (Tokar, 1989).   Although I have not translated all of the text from Russian yet, I have seen the tree he based this conclusion on and I cannot see how this genus could be supported from this tree without being paraphyletic relative to Eryx (the group that contains conicus, muelleri, and colubrinus also contains the other members of the genus Eryx).   Because of this, I choose to retain the broader use of the genus Eryx, while I acknowledge his study in the pages covering members of his Gongylophis.
This is a change from my previous position on this issue, based on a more thorough examination of the taxonomy of the group.

I have eliminated subspecific designations within the several species based on Dr. Tokar's work (1991, 1995, 1996).   (This includes lumping the "Kenyan" and "Egyptian" Sand Boas; a position that is unpopular with herpetoculturalists, but more likely a reflection of taxonomic reality).   I choose to discuss the Black Sand Boa separately within E. miliaris, although I strongly doubt there is any taxonomic validity to the name nogaiorum (see my discussion under that taxon).

Kluge's Charina

I have read Arnold Kluge's taxonomic revision of the Erycine genera.   While I feel that his examination of Eryx, Charina and Lichanura was very thorough and correct, I disagree with his taxonomic conclusion regarding the inclusion of Lichanura and Calabaria within Charina.   After evaluating his characters and polarizations, I feel that he doesn't adequately support the inclusion of Calabaria within the erycinae which leaves his taxonomic conclusion (placing reinhardtii, trivirgata, and bottae in the genus Charina) unwarranted.
Even if you accept Calabaria as an erycine, and accept his tree, I disagree with his conclusion that lumping the three species within Charina provides "taxonomic efficiency".   Lumping these three taxa obscures the sister relationship between bottae and trivirgata and to resurrect that relationship would require some sort of subgeneric distinction.   It would be more taxonomically efficient (no new taxa would be required) to recognize two genera (Calabaria and Charina).   I do not choose however to regard trivirgata and bottae as congeners here, although I acknowledge their sister relationship.

Rosy Boa Taxonomy

I have recently decided to narrow the scope of this page (otherwise I would never get close to finished) and not discuss the different taxa of Rosy Boas (valid and otherwise).   The fact is, I don't have enough of an understanding of the taxonomy of this genus to be able to comment on it intelligently, therefore I will leave it to the Rosy Boa aficionados to resolve.
I have read several manifestations of David Spiteri's work on the group, and while I recognize that he makes some valid points regarding Rosy Boa taxonomy, I have chosen to take the conservative, one taxon, approach.

Common Names

The common names are based on the most frequently used names where available.   When there was no concensus common name for a taxon, I used one that seemed to make sense to me from searching several sources.   Names that I couldn't find a good alternative for are in quotes.
Some of the common names I have included under "other names" are English translations of foreign names.

If you have any questions or complaints about these nomenclatural decisions, e-mail me and I'll be glad to discuss them.

Return to the Sand Boa Page

Chris Harrison
August, 1999

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