Molecular phylogeny of advanced snakes (Serpentes, Caenophidia) with an emphasis on South American Xenodontines: a revised classification and descriptions of new taxa

  • Hussam Zaher Universidade de São Paulo; Museu de Zoologia
  • Felipe Gobbi Grazziotin UNESP; Programa de Pós Graduação em Zoologia
  • John E. Cadle Golden Gate Park; California Academy of Sciences; Department of Herpetology
  • Robert W. Murphy Chinese Academy of Sciences; Kunming Institute of Zoology; State Key Laboratory of Genetic Resources and Evolution
  • Julio Cesar de Moura-Leite Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná; Museu de História Natural Capão da Imbuia
  • Sandro L. Bonatto PUCRS; Laboratório de Biologia Genômica e Molecular
Keywords: Serpentes, Colubridae, Caenophidia, Phylogeny, Classification, Systematics, Xenodontinae, Dipsadinae, New genus, Elapoidea, Colubroidea, South America, West Indies


We present a molecular phylogenetic analysis of caenophidian (advanced) snakes using sequences from two mitochondrial genes (12S and 16S rRNA) and one nuclear (c-mos) gene (1681 total base pairs), and with 131 terminal taxa sampled from throughout all major caenophidian lineages but focussing on Neotropical xenodontines. Direct optimization parsimony analysis resulted in a well-resolved phylogenetic tree, which corroborates some clades identified in previous analyses and suggests new hypotheses for the composition and relationships of others. The major salient points of our analysis are: (1) placement of Acrochordus, Xenodermatids, and Pareatids as successive outgroups to all remaining caenophidians (including viperids, elapids, atractaspidids, and all other "colubrid" groups); (2) within the latter group, viperids and homalopsids are sucessive sister clades to all remaining snakes; (3) the following monophyletic clades within crown group caenophidians: Afro-Asian psammophiids (including Mimophis from Madagascar), Elapidae (including hydrophiines but excluding Homoroselaps), Pseudoxyrhophiinae, Colubrinae, Natricinae, Dipsadinae, and Xenodontinae. Homoroselaps is associated with atractaspidids. Our analysis suggests some taxonomic changes within xenodontines, including new taxonomy for Alsophis elegans, Liophis amarali, and further taxonomic changes within Xenodontini and the West Indian radiation of xenodontines. Based on our molecular analysis, we present a revised classification for caenophidians and provide morphological diagnoses for many of the included clades; we also highlight groups where much more work is needed. We name as new two higher taxonomic clades within Caenophidia, one new subfamily within Dipsadidae, and, within Xenodontinae five new tribes, six new genera and two resurrected genera. We synonymize Xenoxybelis and Pseudablabes with Philodryas; Erythrolamprus with Liophis; and Lystrophis and Waglerophis with Xenodon.


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How to Cite
Zaher, H., Grazziotin, F., Cadle, J., Murphy, R., Moura-Leite, J., & Bonatto, S. (2009). Molecular phylogeny of advanced snakes (Serpentes, Caenophidia) with an emphasis on South American Xenodontines: a revised classification and descriptions of new taxa . Papéis Avulsos De Zoologia, 49(11), 115-153.