Vol. 9 No. 2 (2014)

Head shape variation in eastern and western Montpellier snakes

Marco Mangiacotti
Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, C.so Venezia 55, I-20121 Milano, Italy

Published 2014-12-15

How to Cite

Mangiacotti, M., Limongi, L., Sannolo, M., Sacchi, R., Zuffi, M., & Scali, S. (2014). Head shape variation in eastern and western Montpellier snakes. Acta Herpetologica, 9(2), 167–177. https://doi.org/10.13128/Acta_Herpetol-14194


The Montpellier snake Malpolon monspessulanus is a wide-ranging species that inhabits Western and Eastern Europe, North Africa and Middle East. Four clades have been recognised as two species, M. insignitus and M. monspessulanus, each with two subspecies. Clades have been substantially identified on the basis of molecular data, pholidosis and colouration, while morphometric traits have been ignored. We compared head shape of 54 specimens belonging to three out of the four clades (M. insignitus insignitus, M. i. fuscus, and M. monspessulanus monspessulanus) by means of geometric morphometrics. We found a significant differentiation: the supraocular and frontal area showed the largest amount of variation, being respectively much thinner in M. i. insignitus, a bit less thin in M. i. fuscus and definitely wider in M. m. monspessulanus. Our findings are fully in agreement with the genetic studies and phylogeny explains more than 20% of the observed variation, supporting the taxonomic distinction inside the genus Malpolon. The functional and/or adaptive meaning of the observed differences is not clear, but it seems unlikely that it may be related to diet. Combining morphological data with phylogeography and environmental features, we formulated an explanatory hypothesis that allowed a precise and testable prediction.


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