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RE: is taxonomy really that simple?

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Posted by: ratsnakehaven at Mon Feb 6 13:07:02 2006  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by ratsnakehaven ]  

>>i was thinking, how we group animals. u got ur genus then ur species then a subspecies. but is there any middle ground in there? like can there be a species with many different morphs and hybirds and different patterns, yet they are all simply the same species?

Those were some good responses already, but as a hobbyist and recreational herpetologist, I might have a little different view. I'll use the corn snake complex as my example, since I keep a few and have dabbled in this species for many years.

First, let me say that some folks see the corn snake group as being one, two, or even three different species. I look at the ratsnakes of this group as just one species, Pantherophis guttatus, with several different subspecies, but all closely related. Those thinking it's more than one species would be correct to use the term "hybrid" for crosses of their various species, but those thinking it's all one species would likely just call them "crosses", meaning they are like intergrades (only not natural).

In a more specific example, one of those crosses, a corn snake (amelanistic) x a Great Plains ratsnake, results in a morph called "creamsicle". Many consider this form to be a hybrid, and probably less of us consider it just a "cross" and a "morph". You can see how the terms hybrid, crosses, and morphs come into play.

Then, in answer, I can see how you think all these terms can be used within just one species. I believe they are all used within the "guttatus" species, but that the "hybrid" term is not valid in my scheme. There are also the color and pattern combinations that naturally vary amongst the subspecies. Some colors and patterns are unnatural, however, and are created by mixing genes and mutations, giving them a name, and continuing the line in the hobby. The term "morph" refers to a form that has one or more mutations at work, giving the snake a different color or pattern, etc.

i dont think we can group animals that easily. ill use s few examples. look at the eastern racer, with the subspeacies northern black racer and southern black racer. they are like the same thing. and look at an eastern milk snake and a pueblan milk snake. they are the smae species but look way different. so in other words a northern black racer is to a southern black racer as an eastern milk is to a pueblan milk. but there seems to be way closer of a connection to racer subspecies and milk snake sub species. so is separating and grouping animals really that simple and clear cut? like can there be a population thats 2/3rds one thing and 1/3rd another? or can u have a population evolve in such a way that it eventually becomes its own subspecies?

You're right, the racers are much more closely related, and much closer in their ranges, I might add. You could argue that no subspecies designation is needed here, but some folks have seen enough consistent variation to distinguish the two forms, but not enough to split the species. The whole idea of species and subspecies is pretty controversial, but I've always gone by the test for species that the forms have to be intergrading or are so closely related they can hardly be told apart. With the two black racers, they are obviously intergrading, and are the same species.

With the milksnakes it's not so clear. Milksnakes, Lampropeltis triangulum, have one of the largest ranges of any snake species in the world. Obviously they are going to have a lot of variation. In my opinion, the only reason the species hasn't been split into separate species is because each subspecies intergrades with at least one other subspecies, meaning there is an exchange of genes. The two ssps. you mentioned, Eastern milk and Pueblan milk, are widely separated, with many different ssps. inbetween, so they don't exchange many common genes, but they're still connected. If they weren't connected, they would probably be considered separate species, at least by the taxonomists I know.

Then you have situations like the Eastern milk coming into contact with the scarlet king, L. triangulum elapsoides, and not intergrading. These situations make us take hard looks at our definitions of what a species is. Because the scarlet king intergrades with other subspecies it comes into contact with it's still considered a milksnake by most.

Obviously you can have populations that evolve to become a separate subspecies, as you can have a subspecies eventually evolve into a separate species, as I think the scarlet king is in the process of doing.

Hope this helps...TC


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<< Previous Message:  is taxonomy really that simple? - rhyion, Sat Jan 14 13:14:53 2006