IUCN threat status:

Least Concern (LC)

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The dangerously venomous Calliophis maculiceps is one of eight species in the genus Calliophis. The Asian coral snakes (Elapidae: Calliophis and Maticora), many of which are rare and poorly known, are small to medium-sized elapids ranging from tropical to subtropical areas of eastern Asia. Formerly, Calliophis included the following 12 species: C. beddomei, C. bibroni, C. calligaster, C. gracilis, C. hatori, C. japonicus, C. kelloggi, C. macclellandi, C. maculiceps, C. melanurus, C. nigrescens, and C. sauteri. Maticora included two species, M. bivirgata and M. intestinalis.

Based on their phylogenetic analyses, however, Slowinski et al. (2001) concluded that Calliophis was a paraphyletic assemblage due to the exclusion of both Maticora and the New World coral snakes.. They synonymized Maticora with Calliophis and included in a newly formulated Calliophis eight species which are collectively distributed through India and Southeast Asia, exclusive of the Philippines: C. beddomei, C. bibroni, C. gracilis, C. maculiceps, C. melanurus, C. nigrescens, C. intestinalis, and C. bivirgata. These are small, secretive fossorial snakes that are rarely encountered and poorly known. Collectively, these species are found from the Western Ghats in India east through the remainder of South Asia into Southeast Asia as far as Sumatra and then north through southern China and Taiwan into the Ryukyu Islands of southern Japan (Cox 2000). All these Asian coral snakes are believed to share a more recent common ancestor with Calliophis gracilis than with Hemibungarus calligaster or any of the northern tropical/subtropical Asian coral snakes. Slowinski et al. established a new genus, Sinomicrurus, to include species of Asian coral snakes sharing a more recent common ancestor with Sinomicrurus macclellandi than with the New World coral snakes. The five species included in the genus Sinomicrurus, which occurs in India, Burma, Laos, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Japan, are S. hatori, S. japonicus, S. kelloggi, S. macclellandi, and S. sauteri.

Slowinski et al. note that their phylogenetic results have important implications with respect to the historical biogeography of coral snakes. If the Asian coral snakes are paraphyletic with respect to the New World coral snakes, this implies that the distribution of the ancestor of Sinomicrurus and New World coral snakes was Asian. The ancestor of the New World coral snakes likely reached the Americas via the Bering Land Bridge (a path that has been proposed as well for the ancestors of the New World natricine and colubrine snakes)

Leviton et al. (2003) provided a technical description of Calliophis maculiceps: Body scales in 13 parallel longitudinal rows, not obliquely disposed; middorsal (vertebral) scales are not enlarged; preocular touches nasal; ventrals: male 174-186, female 189-203; subcaudals: male 25-31, female 21-25. Body above brown to reddish brown, with black spots that are arranged longitudinally along each side of the back; head and nape black with some yellow markings, including a yellow spot on each side of the occiput; upper labials yellow; tail pale blue or gray below. Total length 1300 mm, tail 150 mm.

In Myanmar, C. maculiceps occurs as far north as 20°; it also occurs in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Malaysia. This species has been reported from low elevation forests. In Thailand, it is usually found under vegetation, rocks, or logs. (Leviton et al. 2003 and references therein)

Based on an analysis of geographic patterns of vertebral and dorsal pigmentation patterns, Cox  (2000) concluded that none of the described subspecies of Calliophis maculiceps are valid taxa.


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