Sunday, June 19, 2022

Bibliotheca Herpetologica 16(6)

Jacobs, H. J. and G. M. Shea 2022. Eight weeks in Lobo Bay.The Natuurkundige Commissie on New Guinea in 1828. I. Scincus and Centroplites (Scincidae). Bibliotheca Herpetologica 16(6):48–81. Published June 19, 2022.

The various expeditions of the Natuurkundige Commissie to the Dutch East Indies were extremely successful on the scientific side. This applies both to the first group under Heinrich Kuhl, which explored Java from 1820–1825, especially its western part, and to the second, led until his death in 1827 by Heinrich Boie, then Heinrich Mackot until his death in 1832, and subsequently by Salomon Müller. The number of specimens collected by them—birds, fish, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, but also plants and minerals—is stupendous and is surpassed only by the quantity of handwritten notes and the precise drawings of the painter Pieter van Oort, which have not yet been systematically and scientifically evaluated. The entire undertaking was ill-fated and that most of the extremely young scientists and painters—with the exception of Salomon Müller—died, mostly of tropical diseases.

This second group was attached to a military operation whose mission it was to establish a base on the west coast of New Guinea. This operation was also fated to fail: so many died that the fort was abandoned after a few years. The scientists themselves stayed in New Guinea for just eight weeks: after a dramatic prelude in Dourga Strait and a short stay at the Oetanata River, they spent most of the time (5 July–29 August 1828) near the fort at Lobo Bay, which has been renamed Triton Bay.

In its first part, this article discusses the skinks collected, mostly assigned to the genus Scincus by Müller in notes that have been available online since 2020, but are hardly accessible due to the difficult handwriting.

After Scincus typhlocephalus, later renamed S. muelleri (=Sphenomorphus muelleri (Schlegel 1837)), S. oxycephalus (=Lamprolepis smaragdina (Lesson 1829)), S. erythrolaimus (=Sphenomorphus meyeri (Doria 1874)) and S. biorchus (=Emoia caeruleocauda (de Vis 1892)), all of which were rapidly assimilated into the contemporary scientific literature, three species not subsequently mentioned (Scincus chalconotus (= Emoia kordoana (Meyer 1874)), S. rabdognathus (=Eugongylus rufescens (Shaw 1802)), and S. pleurorabdus (= Emoia jakati (Kopstein 1926)) are presented each with their depictions by Pieter van Oort, then two other taxa (S. maculosus (= Sphenomorphus simus (Sauvage, 1879) and S. gracilis (in part = Ornithuroscincus noctua (Lesson, 1829)) for which no pictures are available. The final species, Centroplites nigricans (= Tribolonotus novaeguineae (Schlegel 1834)) was not initially recognised as a skink. For all species—with the exception of S. biorchus allocated to Ambon—Müller’s handwritten notes are transcribed and translated into English.

In addition to the herpetological and taxonomic aspects, great importance is directed to the scientific-historical framework in which the species are embedded. After almost 200 years, many aspects are alien to us at first glance and have to be painstakingly deduced from the context.

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