Rediscovery of the steppe viper in Georgia

B.S. Tuniyev, G.N. Iremashvili, T.V. Petrova and M.V. Kravchenko

Proceedings of the Zoological Institute RAS, 2018, 322(2): 87–107   ·

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The steppe viper was rediscovered in Georgia after 75 years. A comprehensive analysis of external morphology, altitude gradient in habitats, typology of biotopes and genetic analysis revealed a high degree of similarity of populations of the steppe vipers from Azerbaijan, known as Pelias shemakhensis Tuniyev et al., 2013, and from East Georgia. These data were used for comparative study and description of a new subspecies – P. shemakhensis kakhetiensis ssp. nov. The subspecies name is after historical region of Georgia – Kakheti, where a large part of the range is located. In the pattern of recent distribution of P. shemakhensis, there are common habitat and climatic characteristics in Georgian and Azerbaijan parts of this its range. Its position among the species complex and relations with other taxa of this complex are discussed. Based on the results of the cluster and discriminant analyses, P. eriwanensis and P. lotievi should be given a subspecies rank, whereas P. shemakhensis clearly deserves a species rank. Results of the genetic analysis are opposite: P. shemakhensis and P. eriwanensis are considered as sister species. We continue to share an idea about autochthonous origin for small shield-head vipers of the Caucasus, taking into account their ancient origin in the Caucasian Ecoregion and astonished variety of forms of the “kaznakovi”-complex and “ursinii”-complex both on the Great Caucasus and in the Transcaucasia.

Key words

Georgia, new subspecies, Pelias shemakhensis, steppe viper

Submitted May 21, 2018  ·  Accepted June 5, 2018  ·  Published June 25, 2018


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