Two New Species of Fan-Throated Lizards from Sri Lanka

Fan-throated lizards (Sitana) are one of the Indian Subcontinent’s most widespread and charismatic lizards, found in many of the region’s drier, scrubbier habitats. Not surprisingly, lizards across this vast range vary dramatically, most strikingly in the size and coloration of the throat-fans for which they’re named. Everyone has long suspected that the lizards in this genus must belong to several different species, and Sitana taxonomy has been long overdue for an upheaval.

Coloured-fanned, intermediate-fanned, and white-fanned male Sitana ponticeriana. Photographs by Shrikant Ranade, Jahnavi Pai, and Jitendra Katre respectively.

Sitana from India. Photographs by Shrikant Ranade, Jahnavi Pai, and Jitendra Katre.

The beginning of the revolution is finally here! Amarasinghe et al. (2015) have just published descriptions of two new species of fan-throated lizards, both from Sri Lanka. The authors also clarify some of the very confusing taxonomic and nomenclatural history of Sitana, paving the way for a comprehensive revision of the whole genus.

As is customary, the species descriptions of Sitana bahiri and S. devakai presented in this paper are based largely on morphological traits, including scale counts and throat-fan size, and I refer you to the paper for the details. The two species also differ in where they’re found, the former restricted to south-eastern Sri Lanka, the latter to the north of the island, separated by the Mahaweli River and surrounding wetter regions. Most interestingly, from my perspective, the authors suggest that S. bahiri and S. devakai differ in the coloration of their throat-fan. Sitana devakai is said to have brighter red coloration as well as a black patch on the throat-fan, whereas S. bahiri is described to have lighter orange coloration and no black patch.

Sitana bahiri and Sitana devakai, two newly described species from Sri Lanka (photos from Amarasinghe et al 2015).

Sitana bahiri and Sitana devakai, two newly described species from Sri Lanka (photos from Amarasinghe et al 2015).

I’m not sure I’m completely convinced of this difference in coloration. Though the differences are apparent in the examples shown above, another photo of S. bahiri shows some black coloration on the throat-fan (Figure 2 in the paper). I’ve also seen variation from bleached orange to deep orange, if not red, coloration within a single population of Sitana in southern India (in what Amarasinghe et al. refer to as Sitana cf. devakai):

Sitana Dewlaps

Variation in orange coloration on the throat-fan of Sitana from the southern tip of India

The need of the hour for Sitana taxonomy is not only more comprehensive geographic sampling across the whole range of this genus but also close examination of intra-population variation. Moreover, phylogenetic methods for delimiting species and discovering  relationships between species will be necessary to understand both morphological evolution  and biogeographic patterns in this group. The two species described by Amarasinghe et al. (2015), as well as their clarifications of the descriptions of S. deccanensis and S. ponticeriana, are just the start of an exciting period for Sitana systematics, so stay tuned!

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