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A critique of the systematic position of the asp viper subspecies Vipera aspis aspis (Linnaeus, 1758), Vipera aspis atra Meisner, 1820, Vipera aspis francisciredi Laurenti, 1768, Vipera aspis hugyi Schinz, 1833 and Vipera aspis zinnikeri Kramer, 1958

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External and internal morphology of 415 specimens of the Palaearctic asp viper (Vipera aspis subspecies and populations), and outgroup taxa (V. ammodytes, V. berus), have been examined in order to find patterns of distribution and variation throughout the species range. Within the aspis group V.aspis aspis, V.aspis atra, V. aspis francisciredi, V. aspis hugyi and V. aspis zinnikeri were considered. Ventral scales and number of dorsal bars proved to be the most important external characters to separate populations. Hemipenes showed marked differences between subspecies, in particular in differentiating V. aspis atra, V. aspis hugyi and V. aspis zinnikeri from one another, and also in separating them from the V. aspis aspisV. aspis francisciredi group. Discriminant Analysis on external features indicated the complete separation of V. aspis atra, V. aspis hugyi and V. aspis zinnikeri and the almost complete overlap of V. aspis aspis and V. aspis francisciredi. The strong morphological differences observed suggest that zinnikeri, atra and hugyi are distinct species, even if further molecular analyses are needed to clarify the whole problem, and neotypes should be designated in order to stabilize taxonomy.


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