Carlia sexdentata ( Macleay, 1877 )

Donnellan, S. C., Couper, P. J., Saint, K. M. & Wheaton, L., 2009, Systematics of the Carlia ‘ fusca’ complex (Reptilia: Scincidae) from northern Australia, Zootaxa 2227 (1), pp. 1-31: 18-24

publication ID 10.11646/zootaxa.2227.1.1

persistent identifier

treatment provided by


scientific name

Carlia sexdentata ( Macleay, 1877 )


Carlia sexdentata ( Macleay, 1877)  

Figs 9 View FIGURE 9 , 10 View FIGURE 10 , & 11: Tables 3, 4 & 5

1877 Heteropus sexdentatus Macleay. Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W.   2: 67. Cape Grenville , north-eastern Queensland. Lectotype AMS R 31879 View Materials .  

1877 Heteropus variegatus Macleay, 1877 Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W.   2: 66. Darnley Island , N Queensland. Lectotype AMS R 31868 View Materials .  

1885 Heteropus maculatus de Vis. Proc. Roy. Soc. Qld   1: 169. Cape York , north-eastern Queensland. Type material missing, see Covacevich (1971)   .

1885 Heteropus rubricatus de Vis. Ibid.   1: 170. Cape York , north-eastern Queensland. Type material missing, see Covacevich (1971)   .

Material examined: Lectotype: AMS R 31879 View Materials . Cape Grenville , north-eastern Queensland (11°58'S, 143°14'E). GoogleMaps  

Other material: Queensland. Torres strait - (Vouchers with associated genetic samples): QM J86364 View Materials , Saibai Island (9°24'S, 142°41'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J86350 View Materials , Dauan Island (9°25'S, 142°32'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J86353 View Materials   , QM J86363 View Materials , Masig, Yorke Island (9°45'S, 143°24'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J86360 View Materials -2, Yam Island (9°54'S, 142°46'E) GoogleMaps   . Cape York Peninsula - QM J68594 View Materials , Cape York, Somerset (10°44'3”S, 142°35'3”E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J45598 View Materials   , QM J45601 View Materials -2   , QM J45599 View Materials , near Telegraph crossing, north bank of Jardine River , (11°08'S, 142°22'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J26200 View Materials , Heathlands, site 5 (11°39'S, 142°50'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J26216 View Materials   , QM J26220 View Materials   , QM J26224 View Materials Cape York, Heathlands (11°39'S, 142°50'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J39745 View Materials 7.8km N mouth of Janie Creek (11°57'S, 141°52'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J46366 View Materials , near Harmer Creek, 19km E Nixon’s Homestead, Shelburne Station (11°58'S, 142°55' E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J46341 View Materials , 21.8km from Nixon’s Homestead , on road to Double Point (11°58'S, 142°05'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J46333 View Materials , Harmer Creek, 18km E Nixon Homestead, Shelburne Station (11°59'S, 142°53'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J67615 View Materials , Haggerstone Island (12°03'S, 143°18'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J80416 View Materials , Pennyfather River , 70km N Weipa (12°15'39”S, 141°42'40”E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J74714 View Materials , Thong Tree south of Pennyfather River (12°19'23"S, 141°41'26"E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J32017 View Materials , Kungathan (12°22' S, 143°12'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J86997 View Materials -8, Glennie Tableland (12°27'43"S, 142°55'26E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J62356 View Materials , Weipa area (12°28'41"S, 141°50'37”E) GoogleMaps   ; QMJ62357 View Materials , Weipa area (12°28'01"S, 141°50'34”E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J70190 View Materials , Weipa area (12°28'37"S, 141°50'03”E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J86984 View Materials -7 Pascoe River mouth (12°29'09"S, 143°16'28"E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J62354 View Materials , Weipa Area (12°30'28"S, 141°47'52"E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J34394 View Materials -5 Portland Roads turnoff, Iron Range (12°38'S, 143°23'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J70340 View Materials , Weipa area (12°43'22"S, 141°56'48"E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J34389 View Materials , W Claudie campsite, Iron Range, (12°46'S, 143°17'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J39716 View Materials   , QM J39748 View Materials , 6 km SW Boyd Point, Pera Head (12°57'S, 141°36'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J34478 View Materials , Buthen Buthen, Nesbit River, E Coen (13°21'S, 143°27'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J41927 View Materials -9, Thanmala, via Aurukun (13°23'S, 141°42'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J34502 View Materials   , QM J34505 View Materials /7, Steen’s Hut, approx. 30km NE Coen (13°34'S, 143°13'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J86893 View Materials -4, Kulla NP, McIlwraith Range (13°42'36”S, 143°18'36”E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J37487 View Materials , 12 km NW Coen (13°51'17"S, 143°9'1"E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J46240 View Materials -1   , QM J46245 View Materials -6, McIlwraith Range (13°50'S, 143°17'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J78269 View Materials , 5 km N Coen (13°54'08”S, 143°10'56”E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J78264 View Materials , adjacent to ranger station Coen Creek, Coen (13°56'2”S, 143°11'59"E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J78341 View Materials approx. 3km S Coen (13°57'44”S, 143°11'24”E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J78266 View Materials S Coen , (14°08'S, 143°13'31”E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J60337 View Materials , Stanley Island , Flinders Group NP (14°8'58"S, 144°15'15”E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J72702 View Materials , Lilyvale Station (14°25'5"S, 143°45'42"E) GoogleMaps   . Northern Territory - (all specimens from NTM unless otherwise stated): R 19025 View Materials , Cape Wessel Island (11°S, 136°46'E) GoogleMaps   ; R 26299 View Materials ,   R 26310 View Materials , Jensen’s Bay, Marchinbar Island (11°10'S, 136°41'E) GoogleMaps   ; R 08950 View Materials , S Nip Point Marchinbar Island (11°21'S, 136°33'E) GoogleMaps   ; R28607 View Materials -8, Rimbija Island, Wessel Islands (11°34'S, 136°45'E) GoogleMaps   ; R 22757 View Materials ,   R 22761 View Materials /5, Astell Island, English Company Isles (11°52'S, 136°25'E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J84006 View Materials Maningrida (12°02'52”S, 134°13'20”E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J86281 View Materials -2, Maningrida (12°02'55”S, 134°13'33”E) GoogleMaps   ; QM J86284 View Materials -5   , QM J86287 View Materials , Maningrida CEC (12°03'08”S, 134°13'20”E) GoogleMaps   ; R 23948 View Materials , Ramingining area, Arafura Swamp (12°10'08”S, 134°58'04”E) GoogleMaps   ; R 23945 View Materials , Ramingining area, Arafura Swamp (12°12'S, 134°59'E) GoogleMaps   ; R 16156 View Materials /8   , R16161 View Materials -2, Blyth River crossing, Arnhem Land (12°21'S, 134°41'E) GoogleMaps   ; R 23902 View Materials , Djapididjapin Creek, near Ramingining, Arafura Swamp (12°21'50”S, 134°54'19”E) GoogleMaps   ; R 23959 View Materials , Ramingining Area, Arafura Swamp (12° 12°30S, 134°58’56”E) GoogleMaps   ; R 23995 View Materials , Ramingining Aarea, Arafura Swamp (12°12'25”S, 134°59'11”E) GoogleMaps   ; R 28280 View Materials , Groote Eylandt   , Gulf of Carpentaria (13°56'S, 136°36'E) GoogleMaps   ; R 03357 View Materials , Angurugu, Groote Eylandt (13°58'S, 136°26'E) GoogleMaps   ; R 07566 View Materials , Angurugu, Groote Eylandt (13°59'S, 136°28'E) GoogleMaps   .

Distribution: North-eastern Northern Territory and north-eastern Queensland. Northern Territory – northeastern Arnhem Land, Crocodile Island, The Wessel Islands, the English Company’s Islands and Groote Eylandt. Queensland - Torres Strait Islands and Cape York Peninsula from the head of Princess Charlotte Bay (14°30'S) north.

Diagnosis: Carlia sexdentata   most closely resembles C. longipes   from which it is separated herein. The two species are distinguished most readily by the colour pattern of adult males and the nature of the ear lobules. In C. sexdentata   the dark midlateral zone between ear and shoulder does not contrast sharply with the lower neck colour vs contrasting sharply with lower neck colour; in C. sexdentata   the ear aperture usually has a well-developed series of lobules on the anterior margin often producing a distinctive comb- like effect, lobules poorly to moderately developed on other surfaces of ear ( Fig. 10a, b View FIGURE 10 ) vs ear aperture completely surrounded by sharply pointed lobules ( Fig. 7 View FIGURE 7 ). Carlia sexdentata   lacks the dorsal and lateral pattern seen in C. quinquecarinata   (large, longitudinally aligned, dark-edged, pale dashes on the dorsum and a broken midlateral line [ Fig. 12c View FIGURE 12 ]). Carlia sexdentata   need only be distinguished from other species of Carlia   with a smoothly rounded posterior edge to the midbody scales. It is distinguished from C. munda   and C. tetradactyla   by the nature of its ear lobules (sharply pointed vs small and rounded); from C. rimula   by its greater midbody scale count and larger size (31–38 vs ≤ 30; max SVL = 63.5mm vs 39mm); from C. rhomboidalis   and C. rubrigularis   by the state of the interparietal scale (free vs fused); from C. rostralis   by its ear lobules and male breeding colours (ear aperture usually has a series of well-developed lobules on the anterior margin often producing a distinctive comb-like effect, lobules poorly to moderately developed on other surfaces of ear vs ear aperture generally with only one or two large pointed lobules on anterior edge; males with pale throat vs black throat). Of the above listed species, its broad distribution only overlaps with C. munda   and C. rimula   . Whether it overlaps with C. longipes   remains unclear. The two species may be mutually exclusive but, if so, the southern limit for C. sexdentata   is in close proximity to the northern limit for C. longipes   .

Description: SVL (mm) 21.00–63.51, n = 83. Proportions as %SVL(mean ± standard deviation): TL 170.23–198.18 (185.37 ± 7.53, n = 20); AG 41.58–54.58 (48.19 ± 2.70, n = 82); L1 28.81–42.03 (34.69 ± 2.41, n = 82); L2 42.11–58.51 (50.84 ± 3.88, n = 82); HL 20.14–25.42 (22.75 ± 1.08, n = 81) Eye-ear 6.86–9.10 (8.01± 0.47, n = 81); Snout 7.86–10.74 (9.16± 0.53, n = 81). Body robust. Head barely distinct from neck. HW 59.15-79.30% HL (68.28 ± 3.44, n = 81). Limbs moderate. L1 59.42–80.42% L2 (68.40± 4.11, n = 82).

Scalation: Rostral in broad contact with frontonasal. Prefrontals large, narrowly (42% of specimens), moderately (51% of specimens) or widely (6% of specimens) separated; contacting in QM J86281 View Materials . Supraoculars 4; 1 and 2 in contact with frontal, 2, 3 and 4 in contact with frontoparietal. Frontoparietals fused, forming a single shield. Interparietal free. Enlarged nuchal scales 2–3 (mode = 2, n = 862). Snout rounded in profile. Loreals 2 (1 in QM J86284 View Materials ). Preoculars 2. Presubocular single. Supraciliaries 6–8 (7.05±0.31, mode = 7, n = 82). Lower eyelid moveable with clear window; palpebral disc small, occupying half or less of lower eyelid. Ear aperture subequal or larger than palpebral disc; usually vertically aligned (68% of specimens) but sometimes round (32% of specimens), with an enlarged, comb-like series of sharp lobules on anterior margin, usually some elongated sharp lobules projecting down from the posterior edge of the dorsal margin (66% of specimens) and sometimes a series of smaller lobules along the posterior margin (30% of specimens). Supralabials 6–8 (7.01±0.19, mode = 7, n = 82), with fourth to sixth below centre of eye (5.01±0.19, mode 5, n = 82). Infralabials 5–8 (mode = 6, n = 83). Dorsal scalation smooth to weakly tricarinate; posterior edge smoothly curved. Midbody scale rows 31–38 (mean = 34.64, mode = 34, SD = 1.62 n = 81). Paravertebral scale rows 44–50 (mean = 47.09 mode = 47, SD = 1.67, n = 79). Lamellae beneath 3 rd finger 17–25 (21.11±1.55, mode = 21, n = 82). Lamellae beneath 4 th toe 24-37 (30.61±2.44, mode = 32, n = 82).

The scale counts and body proportions of the Queensland and Northern Territory C. sexdentata   populations are broadly overlapping (see Table 5).

Colour pattern in spirit: Dark olive brown dorsally; uniform, or with dark streaks aligned longitudinally on scale edges. Tail usually with a longitudinal series of dark-edged pale flecks. Venter off-white.

Colour pattern in life: adult males in breeding colours ( Fig. 9a, d & f View FIGURE 9 ): usually with some indication of a poorly defined, white dorsolateral stripe (commencing behind supraciliaries, running through upper secondary temporals and terminating just behind forelimb). This is bordered below by a dark upper lateral zone (a grey to blackish smudge, encompassing 2–3 scales rows and extending from eye to just behind forelimb) which does not contrast sharply with the scales of the lower neck which, though paler, are often dark-edged. Dark upper lateral zone terminates just behind the forelimb and is continuous with the metallic pink flank colouration (rich orange in life). Limbs and sides of tail orange- brown. Females ( Fig. 9b, c View FIGURE 9 ): with a narrow, pale facial stripe that begins beneath the eye and terminates near the dorsal margin of the ear aperture. The dark upper lateral is enclosed between narrow, white dorsolateral and midlateral stripes which are most prominent anterior to the forelimb (the former commencing behind the eye, the latter behind the ear). This pattern extends varying distances along the flanks (sometimes approaching the hindlimb insertion). The upper lateral zone is broken by one or more, obscure vertical, white bars in front of the forelimb and has irregular white dashes along its full length. Dorsum often with white flecking and sometimes a dark vertebral streak ( Fig. 9b View FIGURE 9 ). Juveniles: similar to females but with more prominent pale flecking on dorsum and flanks. NT populations ( Fig. 9e View FIGURE 9 ): general pattern similar to Queensland material, but less prominent. Dark upper lateral zone usually vague and sometimes broken into a series of narrow, longitudinal stripes.

Measurements and scale counts of Macleay Heteropus sexdentatus   types: AMS R31879 View Materials -81: SVL 38.43–53.59mm, n = 3; Proportions as %SVL (mean ± standard deviation): TL 200.03 (n = 1); AG 45.49– 51.83 (48.80 ± 3.18, n = 3); L1 34.63–38.10 (36.52 ± 1.74, n = 3); L2 54.0–58.05 (55.53 ± 2.20, n = 3); HL 23.31–23.80 (23.61 ± 0.27, n = 3); Eye – ear 8.12–8.60 (8.35 ± 0.24, n = 3); Snout 9.60–10.67(10.19 ± 0.55, n = 3) Body robust. Head barely distinct from neck. HW 60.87–71.58% HL (65.08 ± 5.71, n = 3). Limbs moderate. L1 64.18–67.52% L2 (65.76 ± 1.68, n = 3).

Raw measurements and scale counts of lectotype ( Fig. 11a View FIGURE 11 ): AMS R31879 View Materials . SVL 53.59 mm; AG 26.25 mm; L1 18.56 mm; L2 28.92 mm; HL 12.49 mm; HW 8.94 mm; Eye – ear 4.61; Snout 5.14: midbody scale rows 36; paravertebral scale rows 48; supraciliaries 7; supralabials 7; fifth supralabial below eye; infralabials 6; subdigital lamellae beneath 3 rd finger 23; subdigital lamellae beneath 4 th toe 34; enlarged nuchals 2; preoculars 2; presuboculars 1; postsupralabial divided; temporals – 1 primary, 2 secondary; ear vertical with sharp lobules at front and top – those along dorsal margin small and deeply recessed ( Fig. 11b View FIGURE 11 ); palpebral disc smaller than ear opening.

The scales of the dorsal and lateral surfaces are weakly tricarinate.

Pattern of lectotype: AMS R 31879 View Materials is badly faded and has lost all traces of patterning, as has AMS R 31881 View Materials . The   paralectotype, AMS R 31880 View Materials , still shows traces of the typical female colour pattern, i.e. a dark upper lateral zone bordered by a pale dorsolateral and midlateral stripe; broken by obscure, vertical, white bars in front of forelimb   .

Comments: The diagnostic characters provided herein, separating C. longipes   from C. sexdentata   hold well for mainland C. sexdentata   populations. However, the ear lobule state (ear aperture is completely surrounded by sharply pointed lobules in C. longipes   vs usually a series of well-developed lobules on anterior margin often producing a distinctive comb-like effect, lobules poorly to moderately developed on other surfaces of ear for C. sexdentata   ) is more variable in Torres Strait with island C. sexdentata   specimens commonly approaching the`completely surrounded’ C. longipes   condition. In Torres Strait, where the condition of the ear lobules may prove ambiguous, the diagnostic pattern differences hold well for adult males.

Two specimens listed in material examined were not included in the statistical analysis (QM J67615 View Materials , Haggerstone Island, and QM J72702 View Materials , Lilyvale Station) as they represent outliers to the main distribution and have pattern and ear lobule characteristics that, although generally consistent with C. sexdentata   , are unusual. Both specimens have a single large lobule on the anterior margin of the ear (vs a ‘comb’ of enlarged lobules) and, although being females, exhibit a male-like colour pattern (anterior midlateral zone reduced to a dark smudge between ear and forelimb). Despite these inconsistencies, both specimens can be readily separated from C. longipes   .

An issue arises concerning the names C. sexdentata   and C. variegata   and which of these is the senior synonym. Wells and Wellington (1985) resurrected C. variegata ( Macleay 1877)   from the synonymy of C. longipes   as the appropriate name for the Torres Strait island ‘ C. fusca   ’, yet provided no explanation for doing so and made no mention of H. sexdentatus Macleay 1877   , which Macleay had published in the same paper. The action of Wells and Wellington (1985) potentially gives C. variegata   priority over C. sexdentata   . However, while the lectotypes of H. sexdentatus   and H. variegatus   are faded both retain the key diagnostic pattern elements, but the lectotype of H. sexdentatus   has the majority ear lobule condition ( Fig.11b View FIGURE 11 ) while the lectotype of H. variegatus   has the minority condition for this trait ( Fig. 11d View FIGURE 11 ). Therefore we can associate more strongly the lectotype of H. sexdentatus   with our taxon C. sexdentata   . Furthermore, as this is the first time in which these species alone have been considered as competing synonyms rather than as junior synonyms of a third species, C. longipes   , we invoke the principle of the first reviser (ICZN, Article 24.2) and consider H. sexdentatus   as the more appropriately applied name, with H. variegatus   relegated to the synonymy of C. sexdentata   .

The provenance and affiliations of two other types, Heteropus maculatus de Vis 1885   and H. rubricatus de Vis 1885   need to be considered to complete our analysis of the synonymy of the ‘ C. fusca   ’ group in northern Australia. The descriptions of Heteropus maculatus   and H. rubricatus   are based on material collected on ‘Cape York’ by Kendall Broadbent some time prior to November 1884; the date that de Vis presented his ‘…conspect of the genus Heteropus   ’ at a meeting of the Royal Society of Queensland (de Vis, 1885). Based on locality, colour pattern and scalation characters, these taxa clearly belong to the ‘ Carlia fusca   ’ group and accordingly were assigned to the synonymy of C. longipes   by Ingram and Covacevich (1989). With our resurrection of C. sexdentata   (new combination) from the synonymy of C. longipes   , it is necessary to revisit de Vis’ descriptions of H. maculatus   and H. rubricatus   to assess their taxonomic status. In the absence of specimens (types missing, see Covacevich, 1971), the only clues to their identities lie in: 1) information on the whereabouts of the collector in the period preceding publication. Importantly, where on Cape York Kendell Broadbent did collect in the period leading up to de Vis’ Heteropus   descriptions? If he was north of Princess Charlotte Bay then these specimens are likely to belong to C. sexdentata   , if he was south, C. longipes   is the most likely identification; and 2) de Vis’ scant type descriptions.

1) The report of the Board of Trustees for the Queensland Museum for the year 1884 states that at the start of the year Broadbent was ‘…dispatched to Somerset, Cape York, and succeeded in making a large collection chiefly of fish, but including novelties in each department of vertebrate life.’ (Anon, 1885). Broadbent then proceeded to the Kimberley region of Western Australia where he met with limited collecting success and subsequently revisited Somerset on his return trip home. Here he supplemented his previous collections and was back in Brisbane in September, 1884. A summary of his Cape York (= Somerset) collections ( Anon, 1985, Appendix iv) shows that 54 reptile specimens representing 23 species were collected on the first visit with additional specimens obtained on the return visit (numbers not specified in report). This information is further corroborated by collection data contained in the Queensland Museum’s vertebrate registers. 2) Both descriptions refer to ‘free scales’ along the fore-edge (5-6 in H. maculatus   , 3 in H. rubricatus   ) of the ear aperture with no mention of lobules on the other edges of the ear, the typical C. sexdentata   state. Further, the description of H. maculatus   provides colour details that are consistent with male C. sexdentata   but not C. longipes   (i.e. H. maculatus   has a broad lateral stripe, but no mention is made of this being bordered above by a distinct, pale dorsolateral). The lateral stripe of H. rubricatus   is less informative, being ‘…edged above and below with white…’ (de Vis, 1885). This pattern could apply to either C. sexdentata   or C. longipes   , but would suggest the specimen examined by de Vis was likely to have been a female. The other descriptive details, i.e. measurements and midbody scale counts, fall within the range of both species.

On balance, the evidence points to the missing de Vis types being referable to C. sexdentata   . It is likely that these specimens were collected at Somerset on northern Cape York Peninsula (10°45'S) in 1884. The ear lobule descriptions for both de Vis taxa point to an identification of C. sexdentata   as does the colour pattern description of H. maculatus   . It is likely that both H. maculatus   and H. rubricatus   are conspecific with C. sexdentata   , the former description depicting a male, the latter a female. Heteropus maculatus   and H. rubricatus   are, herein, formally assigned to the synonymy of C. sexdentata   .


Departamento de Geologia, Universidad de Chile


Queensland Museum


Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences














Carlia sexdentata ( Macleay, 1877 )

Donnellan, S. C., Couper, P. J., Saint, K. M. & Wheaton, L. 2009

Heteropus maculatus

de Vis. Proc. Roy. Soc. Qld 1885

Heteropus variegatus

Macleay 1877