Overview

Brief Summary

Trogonophis wiegmanni is a fossorial amphisbaenian found in northwest Africa. It has a worm-like body: elongate, legless, cylindrical, and annulated. The eyes are small and covered by the skin. It lacks external ears and has a slightly protruding nostril. The tail is short and conical. It has a distinctive checkered pattern of dark and light scales.Trogonophis wiegmanni preys on soil invertebrates, including ants, termites, and snails. It is preyed upon by snakes and birds.

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Comprehensive Description

Body: wormlike; legless, elongate, cylindrical, and annulated. Sunken lateral lines. Short conical tail lacking autotomy. A relatively short and stout body relative to other legless lizards. Both sexes lack pre-anal pores.

Head: rounded with a slightly protruding snout. Two pairs of upper head plates. Acrodont dentition (teeth on the edge of the maxilla). Eyes small and covered by the skin.

Coloration: distinctive pattern of checkered dark spots on an otherwise yellow or gray ground.

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Distribution

Range Description

This species ranges from western Morocco (including Ceuta, Melilla and the Chafarinas Islands [Spain]), eastwards through northern Algeria into northwestern Tunisia. It can be found from sea level up to 1,900 m asl.
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Continent: Africa
Distribution: Morocco, N Algeria, WC Tunisia  elegans: Morocco  
Type locality: Unknown; restricted to ‘‘Algérie’’ (Pasteur and Bons, 1960: 79).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Body: Wormlike: legless, elongate cylindrical, and annulated. Sunken lateral lines. Short conical tail lacking autotomy. A relatively short and stout body relative to other legless lizards. Pre-anal pores absent.

Average adult snout-to-vent length is about 150 mm; average adult weight is 5.3 g (Martín, et al., 2011).

Body scales arranged in annuli: 136-151 annuli on the body and 12-14 on the tail.

Distinctive pattern of checkered scales, dark brown or black on yellow or grey ground.

Head: Rounded and slightly compressed dorso-ventrally. Snout slightly protruding. Two pairs of cephalic shields. Nostrils open forward. External ears absent. Skull elongate compared to other Trogonophidae.

Acrodont dentition: 5 premaxillary, 4+4 maxillary and 8+8 mandibular teeth.

Sexual dimorphism: Males and females have similar body sizes. On average, males are heavier and have larger heads and longer tails than females (Martín et al. 2012)

Males have bilobed hemipenes with bifurcated sulci (Rosenberg, Cavey, and Gans, 1990)

References:

Gans, Carl. “Studies on amphisbaenids (Amphisbaenia, Reptilia). 1, A taxonomic revision of the Trogonophinae, and a functional interpretation of the amphisbaenid adaptive pattern.” Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (1960).

Martín, José, Nuria Polo-Cavia, Adega Gonzalo, Pilar López, and Emilio Civantos. “Structure of a population of the Amphisbaenian Trogonophis wiegmanni in North Africa.” Herpetologica 67, (2011): 250-257.

Martín, José, Nuria Polo-Cavia, Adega Gonzalo, Pilar López, and Emilio Civantos. “Sexual dimorphism in the North African amphisbaenian Trogonophis wiegmanni.” Journal of Herpetology 46, (2012): 338-341.

Rosenberg, Herbert I., Michael J. Cavey, and Carl Gans. “Morphology of the hemipenes of some Amphisbaenia (Reptilia: Squamata).” Canadian journal of zoology 69, (1991): 359-368.

Schleich, Hans Hermann, Werner Kästle, and Klaus Kabisch. Amphibians and reptiles of North Africa. Koenigstein, Germany: Koeltz Scientific Books, 1996.

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Diagnostic Description

General features of the family Trogonophidae: Acrodont dentition. Relatively short and stout body. Cartilaginous sternal remnant. Sizable remnant of the right lung. Lack of caudal autotomy.

Distinguishing characters of T. wiegmanni: Lateral sulci well visible. Pre-anal pores absent. Live bearing. Distinctive checkered coloration. 5 premaxillary, 4+4 maxillary and 8+8 mandibular teeth.

The subspecies of T. wiegmanni can be distinguished by their coloration. Trogonophis wiegmanni wiegmanni has a pale yellow ground color while T. w. elegans has a gray-white or light pink ground color

References:

Schleich, Hans Hermann, Werner Kästle, and Klaus Kabisch. Amphibians and reptiles of North Africa. Koenigstein, Germany: Koeltz Scientific Books, 1996.

Gans, Carl. “Studies on amphisbaenids (Amphisbaenia, Reptilia). 1, A taxonomic revision of the Trogonophinae, and a functional interpretation of the amphisbaenid adaptive pattern.” Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (1960).

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Look Alikes

Trogonophis wiegmanni is easily distinguished from other members of the Trogonophidae by its distinctive checkered coloration.

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
This species is generally, though not always found in moist soil that is covered by stones, rocks and other ground cover. It can be found close to roadsides, in traditionally cultivated areas, grassland, in oak forest and oak-juniper forests, in steppe habitat and in sandy patches without vegetation. This species is ovoviviparous, the female gives birth to between two and five young.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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General Ecology

Predators: The primary predators of T. wiegmanni are snakes. Birds have also been observed to prey on T. wiegmanni (Schleich, Kästle, and Kabisch, 1996).

Prey: Trogonophis wiegmanni consumes a variety of insects and other soil invertebrates.

References:

Schleich, Hans Hermann, Werner Kästle, and Klaus Kabisch. Amphibians and reptiles of North Africa. Koenigstein, Germany: Koeltz Scientific Books, 1996.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Locomotion: The burrowing behavior of the family Trogonophidae is unique among fossorial reptiles. During oscillatory digging, the animal twists its head along its long axis to scrape the substrate while at the same time it moves the head from side to side to pack the substrate into the walls of the burrow. This novel behavior is associated with a number of morphological changes to the skull and vertebrae (Gans, 1960)

Thermoregulation: Trogonophis wiegmanni, like most amphisbaenians, is a thigmotherm; it obtains its heat from contact with the soil. When the temperature of the soil is suboptimal, individuals bask beneath large stones, sometimes for long periods, to maintain their temperature (López, et al., 2002). Individuals at higher altitudes hibernate during the winter months of December and January (Schleich, Kästle, and Kabisch, 1996).

Social behavior: Martín and collaborators (2014) found that two or more individuals may share basking space under the same stone. Additionally, they found that these aggregations were always composed of adult males with adult females, or adults and juveniles. These observations suggest that the social behavior of these lizards is more complex than currently understood.

References:

Gans, Carl. “Studies on amphisbaenids (Amphisbaenia, Reptilia). 1, A taxonomic revision of the Trogonophinae, and a functional interpretation of the amphisbaenid adaptive pattern.” Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (1960).

López, Pilar, Emilio Civantos, and José Martín. “Body temperature regulation in the amphisbaenian Trogonophis wiegmanni.” Canadian Journal of Zoology 80, (2002): 42-47.

Martín, José, Nuria Polo-Cavia, Adega Gonzalo, Pilar López, and Emilio Civantos. “Social aggregation behaviour in the North African amphisbaenian Trogonophis wiegmanni.” African Journal of Herpetology 60, (2011): 171-176.

Schleich, Hans Hermann, Werner Kästle, and Klaus Kabisch. Amphibians and reptiles of North Africa. Koenigstein, Germany: Koeltz Scientific Books, 1996.

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Reproduction

Trogonophis wiegmanni takes an average of 2.5 years to reach sexual maturity. Once mature, the number of offspring per female is less than one per year (Schleich, Kästle, and Kabisch, 1996). At birth, individuals weigh an average of 0.8 g (16% of the weight of the mother) and measure about 0.88 mm (Martin et. al 2011).

Ovoviviparity: Eggs are retained in the mother’s body until the embryo is fully developed. When born, juveniles sometimes have a residual yolk sac (Bons and Saint Girons, 1963).

References:

Bons, J., and H. Saint Girons. “Ecologie et cycle sexuel des amphisbeniens du Maroc.” Bull. Soc. Sci. Nat. Phys. Maroc 43 (1963): 117-158.

Martín, José, Nuria Polo-Cavia, Adega Gonzalo, Pilar López, and Emilio Civantos. “Structure of a population of the Amphisbaenian Trogonophis wiegmanni in North Africa.” Herpetologica 67, (2011): 250-257.

Schleich, Hans Hermann, Werner Kästle, and Klaus Kabisch. Amphibians and reptiles of North Africa. Koenigstein, Germany: Koeltz Scientific Books, 1996.

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Evolution and Systematics

Evolution

Trogonophis wiegmanni is a member of the family Trogonophidae, which is characterized by a novel locomotory behavior and the morphological changes that facilitate it. Among the Trogonophidae, T. wiegmanni has the most primitive morphology (Gans 1960).

Subspecies: Trogonophis wiegmanni is composed of two subspecies, T. w. wiegmanni and T. w. elegans. The two subspecies are extremely similar morphologically but differ in coloration: Trogonophis w. wiegmanni is yellow with black speckles, and T. w. elegans is gray or pink with black speckles (Bons and Geniez, 1996.)

The two subspecies also differ in their habitat requirements. Trogonophis wiegmanni elegans is rarely seen above 900 m while T. w. wiegmanni occurs up to 1600 m (Schleich, Kästle, and Kabisch, 1996). This difference suggests that these subspecies may have physiological differences in addition to their difference in coloration.

Molecular phylogenies using mitochondrial DNA have revealed that the two subspecies are monophyletic (Mendonça and Harris 2007).

References:

Bons, J., and P. Geniez. “Amphibians and reptiles of Morocco.” Barcelona, Asociación Herpetológica Española (1996).

Gans, Carl. “Studies on amphisbaenids (Amphisbaenia, Reptilia). 1, A taxonomic revision of the Trogonophinae, and a functional interpretation of the amphisbaenid adaptive pattern.” Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (1960).

Mendonça, Bárbara, and D. James Harris. “Genetic variation within Trogonophis wiegmanni Kaup 1830.” Belgian Journal of Zoology 137, (2007): 239.

Schleich, Hans Hermann, Werner Kästle, and Klaus Kabisch. Amphibians and reptiles of North Africa. Koenigstein, Germany: Koeltz Scientific Books, 1996.

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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2009

Assessor/s
Jose Antonio Mateo Miras, Ulrich Joger, Juan Pleguezuelos, Tahar Slimani & Iñigo Martínez-Solano

Reviewer/s
Cox, N. & Temple, H.J. (Global Reptile Assessment)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Least Concern in view of its wide distribution, tolerance of a broad range of habitats, presumed large population, and because it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a more threatened category.

History
  • 2009
    Not Evaluated
  • 2006
    Least Concern
    (IUCN 2006)
  • 2006
    Least Concern
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Large numbers of T. wiegmanni can be brought to the surface by plowing. Before the advent of mechanized plowing people avoided localities where these lizards were common. The transition to modern farming methods has probably impacted population sizes (Schleich, Kästle, and Kabisch, 1996).

References:

Schleich, Hans Hermann, Werner Kästle, and Klaus Kabisch. Amphibians and reptiles of North Africa. Koenigstein, Germany: Koeltz Scientific Books, 1996.
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Population

Population
It can be abundant in suitable habitat.

Population Trend
Unknown
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Threats

Major Threats
The threats to this species are not well known, but it is presumed to be impacted in parts of its range by conversion of steppe lands to agricultural land. It is commonly found under stones, and removal of suitable stones for house construction is thought to be a threat to this species.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
It is known to exist in several national parks throughout its range.
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Wikipedia

Checkerboard worm lizard

The checkerboard worm lizard, Trogonophis wiegmanni, is a species of reptile in the Trogonophidae family. It is monotypic within the genus Trogonophis.[citation needed] It is found in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Its natural habitats are temperate forests, Mediterranean-type shrubby vegetation, temperate grassland, sandy shores, arable land, and pastureland. It is threatened by habitat loss.

References

  • Miras, J.A.M., Joger, U., Pleguezuelos, J. & Slimani, T. (2005). Trogonophis wiegmanni. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
  • Bellairs, A.; Shute, C.C.D. (1954). Notes on the herpetology of an Algerian beach. Copeia 1954 (3): 224-226
  • Boulenger, George A. (1891). Catalogue of the reptiles and batrachians of Barbary (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia), based chiefly upon the notes and collections made in 1880-1884 by M. Fernand Lataste. Tr. Zool. Soc. 13: 93-164
  • Duméril, A. M. C. and G. Bibron. 1839. Erpétologie Générale on Histoire Naturelle Complète des Reptiles. Vol.5. Roret/Fain et Thunot, Paris, 871 pp.
  • Gans, C. 2005. CHECKLIST AND BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE AMPHISBAENIA OF THE WORLD. Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. 289: 1-130
  • Gervais, PAUL (1835). Les principaux résultats de l'étude . . . de reptiles envoyés de Barbarie. Bull. Soc. Sci. Nat. France (dernier trimestre), Séance de 23 Dec. 1835, Vol. 1: 112-114.
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