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Trachylepis atlantica is a species of skink in the genus Trachylepis restricted to the island of Fernando de Noronhamarker off northeastern Brazil.

In an early account of what may be Fernando de Noronha, purportedly based on a voyage by Amerigo Vespucci in 1503, the island is said to be inhabited by "lizards with two tails", an account that is thought to refer to T. atlantica. It has a long and fragile tail, which easily breaks off, but when it does not completely break, a new tail may nevertheless grow out of the broken part, resulting in an apparently forked tail. In two specimens, the snout-to-vent length is 87 and 58 mm, the length of the head is 21.4 and 12.3 mm, and the length of the tail is 142 and 110 mm.

It feeds on nectar in the flowers of the mulungu tree, Erythrina velutina, and aids in its pollination, a behavior rare among lizards.

The taxonomic history of this species is complex, riddled with misidentifications, homonym, and other problems. It was first described by Gray in 1839, who introduced the names Tiliqua punctata, for the Fernando de Noronha skink, and Tiliqua maculata, for a species from Guyanamarker, both of which were later transferred to the genus Mabuya. The name punctata was then abandoned because of a homonymy and many authors regarded both of Gray's names as referring to the same species, so that the Fernando de Noronha species was called Mabuya maculata. Others who disputed this identity referred to it as Mabuya atlantica, using a nomen novum proposed to replace Gray's name punctata. Separate studies published in 2002 clarified that Gray's maculata was not identical to the Fernando de Noronha skink and that the Fernando de Noronha skink is not related to other South American skinks in the genus Mabuya, but rather to African species transferred to the genus Euprepis, resulting in the name Euprepis atlanticus. The genus name Euprepis was later found to be invalid and replaced with Trachylepis, so that the species is currently referred to as Trachylepis atlantica. T. atlantica is the only South American species in the genus Trachylepis with the exception of Trachylepis maculata, the combination currently used for Gray's name maculata, but it is uncertain whether that name refers to a genuine South American species or a species introduced from Africa into South America.

Another enigmatic South American skink, known only from the holotype, is Trachylepis punctata Tschudi, 1845, from eastern Perumarker. This name is also a homonym, and has accordingly been replaced by Trachylepis tschudii Miralles et al., 2009. Because the only known individual is poorly preserved, its identity is impossible to determine, and it may represent either a genuine, but very rare Amazonian species, a mislabeled specimen of an Old World species, or a synonym of T. atlantica. The latter possibility is considered most likely in view of the morphological similarities between the single T. tschudii specimen and T. atlantica, but it implies either that the specimen was mislabeled and is actually from Fernando de Noronha or that T. atlantica in fact occurs in Peru.

References

  1. Carleton and Olson, 1999, p. 48
  2. Mausfield and Vrcibradic, 2002, table 1
  3. Sazima et al., 2005
  4. Mausfield and Vrcibradic, 2002
  5. Mausfield and Vrcibradic, 2002, p. 294
  6. Mausfield et al., 2002, p. 290
  7. Mausfield et al., 2009

Literature cited

  • Carleton, M.D. and Olson, S.L. 1999. Amerigo Vespucci and the rat of Fernando de Noronha: a new genus and species of Rodentia (Muridae, Sigmodontinae) from a volcanic island off Brazil's continental shelf. American Museum Novitates 3256:1–59.
  • Miralles, A., Chaparro, J.C. and Harvey, M.B. 2009. Three rare and enigmatic South American skinks. Zootaxa 2012:47–68.
  • Mausfeld, P., Schmitz, A., Böhme, W., Misof, B., Vrcibradic, D. and Duarte, C.F. 2002. Phylogenetic affinities of Mabuya atlantica Schmidt, 1945, endemic to the Atlantic Ocean archipelago of Fernando de Noronha (Brazil): Necessity of partitioning the genus Mabuya Fitzinger, 1826 (Scincidae: Lygosominae). Zoologischer Anzeiger 241:281–293.
  • Mausfeld, P. and Vrcibradic, D. 2002. On the nomenclature of the skink (Mabuya) endemic to the western Atlantic archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil. Journal of Herpetology 36(2):292–295.
  • Sazima, I., Sazima, C. and Sazima, M. 2005. Little dragons prefer flowers to maidens: A lizard that laps nector and pollinates trees. Biota Neotropical 5(1):1–8.



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