New publication: redescription of a new non-pentadactyl Philippine skink

The diversity of Philippine amphibians and reptiles has increased over the last few decades, in part due to re-evaluation of species formerly believed to be widespread. Many of these investigations of widespread species have uncovered multiple closely related cryptic lineages comprising species complexes, each restricted to individual Pleistocene Aggregate Island Complexes (PAICs). One group in particular for which widespread cryptic diversity has been common is the clade of Philippine skinks of the genus Brachymeles. Recent phylogenetic studies of the formerly recognized widespread species Brachymeles bonitae have indicated that this species is actually a complex distributed across several major PAICs and smaller island groups in the central and northern Philippines, with numerous species that exhibit an array of digit loss and limb reduction patterns. Despite the recent revisions to the B. bonitae species complex, studies suggest that unique cryptic lineages still exist within this group. In this paper, we resurrect the species Brachymeles burksi Taylor 1917, for a lineage of non-pentadactyl, semi-fossorial skink from Mindoro and Marinduque islands. First described in 1917, B. burksi was synonymized with B. bonitae in 1956, and has rarely been reconsidered since. Evaluation of genetic and morphological data (qualitative traits, meristic counts, and mensural measurements), and comparison of recently-obtained specimens to Taylor’s original description support this species’ recognition, as does its insular distribution on isolated islands in the central portions of the archipelago. Morphologically, B. burksi is differentiated from other members of the genus based on a suite of unique phenotypic characteristics, including a small body size, digitless limbs, a high number of presacral vertebrae, the absence of auricular openings, and discrete (non-overlapping) meristic scale counts. The recognition of this central Philippine species further increases the diversity of non-pentadactyl members of the B. bonitae complex, and reinforces the biogeographic uniqueness of the Mindoro faunal region.

Siler CD, Freitas ES, Sheridan JA, Maguire SN*, Davis DR, Watters JL, Wang K, Diesmos AC, Brown RM. 2020. Additions to Philippine slender skinks of the Brachymeles bonitae complex (Reptilia: Squamata: Scincidae) IV: resurrection and redescription of Brachymeles burksi. Philippine Journal of Systematic Biology 14:10.26757/pjsb2020b14005. [PDF]