Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V23, Page 174 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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EUROPE AND TEMPERATE AsIA.—The present reptilian fauna of this vast area is composed almost entirely of the leavings of those groups which are now flourishing with manifold differentiations under more genial climes, in Africa and India. Fossils, none too numerous, tell us that it was not always thus, since crocodiles, alligators and long-snouted gavials, all the main groups of chelonians, iguanoids, &c., existed in England, the crocodilians persisting even towards the end of the Tertiary period. There are no crocodiles now in the Eurasian sub-region, excepting small survivors in the Jordan basin, on the borderland of Africa; but the Yang-tse-Kiang is inhabited by an alligator, A. sinensis, while all its congeners are now in America. This finds, to a certain extent, a parallel in Trionyx, of which one species lives in the Euphrates basin, likewise borderland, and another, T. maacki, in rivers of N. China, e.g. in the Amoor. Of other Chelonians we note several species of Testudo, two of them European; Emys europaea, chiefly in Europe, with the other species E. blandingi in the eastern United States; and a few species of Oemm s, a truly periarctic genus. Of Lacertilia we exclude the chameleon. Of geckos Hemidactylus turcicus extends from Portugal to Karachi; Platydactylus facetanus is at home in most S. Mediterranean countries; Teratoscincus is peculiar to the steppes and deserts of Turkestan and Persia; other geckos in the transitional region from Asia Minor to India. Of Lacertae we have Anguidae, Agamidae, Lacertidae, Amphisbaenidae and Scincidae, most of them in Europe represented by but one or two species. Thus Blanus cinereus in Mediterranean countries, Asia Minor and Syria, represents the Amphisbaenidae which are found nowhere else in Europe or Asia, but plentiful in Africa and both Americas. Of the Anguidae, Anguis fragilis is peculiar to Europe, Ophisaurus apus in S.E. Europe, another in Indo-Burman countries, with the rest of the species in N. America. Of Scincidae few in Europe, e.g. Chalcides s. Seps s. Gongylus, others from Asia Minor eastwards, e.g. Scincus, and Ablepharus in Turkestan. Agamidae do not occur in Europe but they exist in considerable numbers from Asia Minor and Turkestan to China, with Phrynocephalus peculiar to central Asia. Lastly, the Lacertidae, of which several species of Lacerta, Psammodromus, Acanthodactylus in Europe, but the majority in Africa and warmer parts of India; in a similar manner the Manchurian forms are related to Chinese. The total number of palaearctic snakes amounts to about sixty, the majority living in the Mediterranean countries and in W. Asia. One Typhlops in the Balkan peninsula and in W. Asia, in Persia also Glauconia; Eryx jaculus extends into Greece from S.W. Asia as sole representative of the Boidae. Several vipers, the common viper, V. berus, from Wales to Saghalien Island, V. aspis, V. latastei and V. ammodytes in S. Europe; a pit viper, Ancistrodon, e.g. hales, in the Caspian district, thence this genus through China and again in N. America. Echis extends N. into Turkestan. The Indian cobra ranges N. to Transcaspia and far into China. All the other snakes belong to the aglyphous and opisthoglyphous Colubridae; of the latter Coelopeltis is peculiar to S. Europe and S.W. Asia; Macroprotodon cucullatus to S. Spain, the Balearic Islands and N. Africa; Tephrometopon peculiar to Turkestan and neighbouring countries; none extending into E. Asia. Of the aglyphous colubrines the most characteristic genus is Zamenis incl. Zaocys, very widely spread and including more species than any other palaearctic genus; several species of the wide-ranging genus Tropidonotus, besides Coluber,with Rhinechis scalaris in S.W. Europe. There are, besides, other genera, especially in the debatable countries of S.W. Asia, Persia and Afghanistan, and speaking generally the colubrines show less affinity to African than to Indian forms, just as we should expect from the prevailing geographical conditions. If it were not for the N.W. corner of Africa and portion of its N. coast, the European fauna would have very little in common with Africa.

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