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NORTH-WEST TAIPAN Oxyuranus scutellatus barringeri subsp. nov.

Holoytpe: A poorly preserved sample of a sub-adult specimen collected by W. H. Butler on 6 November 1978 lodged at the West Australian Museum (registered number R60666). The snake was collected 6 km North-west of Amax Camp on the Mitchell Plateau, (approx. Lat 14º47’ Long 125º55’) in the northwest Kimberley region of WA (Butler, 1979). The specimen was about 136 cm long including it’s tail of 22 cm.
Dorsally the scales are long, narrow and smooth with very weak keels around the neck. There are 23 mid-body rows, 241 ventrals, single anal and 69 paired subcaudals. The prefrontals are large (nearly as long as the supraoculars and much wider). The frontal is straight-sided and about two and a half times as long as it is wide and slightly narrower than the supraocular. The nasal is entire. The preocular is higher than wide and separated from the nasal and frontal. There are 2+2 temporals on one side and 2+3 on the other side. The lower primary is largest and descends deeply between the last two labials. There are six upper labials and seven lower labials.
Diagnosis: This is the subspecies of Taipan that occurs in North-west Australia. It is the only known form of Taipan from this area. Oxyuranus scutellatus barringeri is separated from other Tapians Oxyuranus scutellatus scutellatus and Oxyuranus scutellatus canni by distribution.
Oxyuranus scutellatus scutellatus is only definitively known from the coastal strip of Queensland and nearby areas. Oxyuranus scutellatus canni is restricted to New Guinea. The three forms are further separated by DNA analysis. The status of Oxyuranus specimens from the tropical parts of the Northern Territory and nearby Islands (previously assigned by most authors to Oxyuranus scutellatus) is uncertain, but it is expected that they will be closer in attributes to Oxyuranus scutellatus barringeri than the other races, including the race Oxyuranus scutellatus scutellatus. The NT specimens may ultimately be assigned to the new subspecies Oxyuranus scutellatus barringeri.
Scalation and other characteristics for Oxyuranus scutellatus barringeri as detailed above fit within the known parameters of other Oxyuranus scutellatus (refer to Hoser, 1989, or the account above for Oxyuranus scutellatus) and on that basis this author believes that the Taipans from north-west Australia should be regarded as a subspecies rather than full (separate) species even though the Queensland and WA populations are disjunct and reproductively isolated from one another.
This author knows of only two specimens of Oxyuranus scutellatus barringeri. These are the type specimen and a second specimen from Koolan Island, WA (Storr, Smith and Johnstone 1986). Koolan Island (Lat 16º08’ Long 123º45’) is about 130 km in a straight line, north-north-west of Derby. The Island has an airstrip so in theory it shouldn’t be too hard to mount an expedition to the area to search for further specimens.
Although Oxyuranus scutellatus barringeri is little known to science, it may not be rare in the wild in spite of the small number of specimens lodged with museums to date. The relative remoteness of the snake’s habitat (away from major population centres) may be a significant factor contributing to the lack of knowledge of this subspecies. Further research is needed to determine the true conservation status of this subspecies.
In line with other Taipans Oxyuranus scutellatus barringeri has a large head, distinct from the neck and a paler head, particularly near the snout. Dorsally the snake is a relatively even greyish brown with a slight reddish tinge. Ventrally the colouration is a brownish white.
The snake has large curved fangs and should be regarded as potentially dangerous - if one is bitten. It can be safely assumed that in line with other Taipans, Oxyuranus scutellatus barringeri would have one of Australia’s most toxic bites.
The only known habitat for Oxyuranus scutellatus barringeri is Savannah woodland.
Taipans (Oxyuranus scutellatus barringeri ) are separated from other similar venomous snakes known or thought to occur in north-west Australia by a number of characters including the following:

Oxyuranus has two primary temporals vs only one in Pseudonaja. (refer to Storr, Smith and Johnstone 1986)
Oxyuranus has 21-23 mid-body rows vs 17 in Cannia and Pailsus (refer to Hoser 1998).
In relatively recent geological times, the distribution of all Oxyuranus may have declined due to competing species, in particular Cannia australis and variants thereof (refer to the arguments presented in Hoser 2001 with reference to similar species as (potentially) being equally applicable to snakes of the genus Oxyuranus, thereby explaining the present day disjunct distribution). In the case of Oxyuranus, it appears that competing species of Cannia and Pseudonaja have led to a decline in species ranges, in particular for the areas in Qld (including parts of the south-east coastal region and near-coastal inland areas, west of the Great Dividing Range), North coastal NSW and the coastal region of the NT, which do not presently have Oxyuranus, but must have at some prior time have had populations of Oxyuranus or their immediate predecessors.
Etymology: Named after Jeff Barringer of the United States of America for his valuable contributions to herpetology through his work with the NRAAC, "" and other ongoing activities.



Originally Published in Crocodilian - Journal of the Victorian Association of Amateur Herpetologists 3(1), pages 43-50 - May 2002

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