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Authors: Luigi Corsetti1, Antonio Romano2
Via Adige 45/2, 04100, Latina, Italy
2 Dipartimento di Biologia, Università degli Studi di Roma “Tor Vergata”, Via della Ricerca Scientifica, I-00133 Roma. Present address: Via Creta 6, 04100, Latina, Italy. Corresponding author. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Abstract. In this note we report the first detailed notice of the presence of the Italian Aesculapian snake, Zamenis lineatus, in Latium region. The localities of Morolo (province of Frosinone) and Latina Scalo (province of Latina) represent respectively the new northern and the new western limits of the species. The first one is 68 km further north compared to the old one (Pannarano, Campania region), whereas the western one is 130 km far from the previous one (Roccarainola, Campania region).

The formerly Elaphe longissima Laurenti, 1768 has been split into two species by Lenk and Wüster (1999), who used multivariate analyses of external morphological characters and colour pattern. The Aesculapian snake, Zamenis longissimus (Laurenti, 1768), and the Italian Aesculapian snake, Z. lineatus (Camerano, 1891), are distinguishable using external morphological characters (Lenk and Wüster, 1999), molecular data (Lenk et al., 2001; Utiger et al., 2002), differences in the blood proteins (Lenk and Joger, 1994), visceral organ topography, osteology and allozymes (Helfenberger, 2001). The Italian Aesculapian snake is endemic to the southern Italian peninsula and Sicily, and its occurrence in Sardinia needs to be confirmed (see Razzetti and Zanghellini, 2006).

Lenk and Wüster (1999) indicated the northern limit of Z. lineatus near Pannarano (province of Benevento, Campania region, southern Italy), and they established the southern limit of Z. longissimus near Rosello (province of Chieti, Abruzzi, Central Italy; see also Razzetti and Zanghellini, 2006). However, recently, Capula et al. (2006) revised the distribution of both species in Italy considering the Campania region as a parapatric contact area and suggesting analogous pattern for Apulia region where they recorded Z. longissimus for the first time. Consequently the distribution range of the Aesculapian snake was wider than that previously suggested (Lenk and Wüster, 1999), and in some areas there appears to be sympatry between the two species.

The most evident character with which we can tell the two species apart is their iris colour: reddish in Z. lineatus and brown, yellowish or greyish in Z. longissimus (Schulz, 1995; Lenk and Wüster, 1999). By analysing our old pictures of Aesculapian snakes and by using this diagnostic character,we realized that during our previous field researches on the Volsci Chain Mountains (Latium region) we had found both the species (e.g., Corsetti and Capula, 1992; Corsetti, 2006a; Corsetti and Romano, 2007; Romano et al., 2007). The southern parts of this Chain comprises three karstic subgroups: the Lepini, the Ausoni and the Aurunci Mountains (see Corsetti and Romano, 2007 and Romano et al., 2007, and references therein for detailed information about the boundaries among the three subgroups). While distribution of Zamenis longissimus in Latium is largely known (e.g., Cattaneo and Capula, 2000), there are no accurate data on the occurrence of Z. lineatus in this region. Actually, just a popular book (Corsetti, 2006b) and a recent paper (Capula et al., 2008) reported some information on the occurrence of Z. lineatus in southern Latium. Corsetti (2006b) reported the occurrence of both Z. lineatus and Z. longissimus on the Lepini Mountains, while Capula et al. (2008) reported that Z. lineatus was present in the Ausoni and Aurunci, however without providing any detailed locality.

Here we provide accurate records of the presence of both species in the entire Volsci Chain. Italian Aesculapian snakes were observed in 7 locations, two as road kills and the others as living snakes (Table 1 and Fig. 1). The dead individual from site 3 was collected, stored in ethanol and deposited in the collection of the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Carmagnola, Italy (voucher MCC-R1407). It was a male 131.5 cm long, with 23 dorsal scales (at mid-body), 235 ventral scales and 72 pairs of subcaudal scales. In the other cases the snakes were always captured, sexed (except two) and photographed (with one exception; see Tab.1). All living snakes were immediately released after biometrical recordings.


Table 1. Records of Zamenis lineatus on the Volsci chain, Latium, Central Italy. Records with “*” were road-killed snakes. The specimen from site 3 was deposited in the collection of the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Carmagnola, Italy (voucher MCC-R1407).

Site code
Site locality, municipality and province
Subgroup of the Volsci Chain mountain
(m a.s.l)
Observation date
Morolo, Morolo, Frosinone
Latina scalo, Latina, Latina
Camposoriano, Terracina, Latina
La Taverna, Campodimele, Latina
Lombriccio, Formia, Latina
Cerretello, Esperia, Frosinone
Campolaloa, Itri, Latina



Fig. 1. Records of Zamenis lineatus (stars) on the Volsci Mountains (Latium, Central Italy). Numeric code as reported in Table 1. 10x10 km UTM grid is also shown.


Fig. 2. Adult of Italian Aesculapian snake, Zamenis lineatus, from Ausoni Mountains (Latium, Central Italy). This specimen has been observed in the site 7 (see the text). Photo courtesy of Paolo Mazzei.

The site 1 (UTM 33T 0349800, 4610000 WGS84) and 2 (UTM 33T 0328700, 4600000 WGS84) here reported are the present northern and western limits of Z. lineatus. On the basis of the present data, the species range appears wider than that known up to now (Capula et al., 2006; Capula et al., 2008). Indeed the northern limit extends 68 km further from the previous accurate record (Pannarano, Campania region; see Lenk and Wüster, 1999), while the new western limit extends 130 km further from the previous limit (Roccarainola, Campania region; Lenk and Wüster, 1999). Actually, available information on the findings of Italian Aesculapian snakes in Corsetti (2006b) and in Capula et al. (2008) is too vague both for a calculation of their distance from the sites of Pannarano and Roccarainola reported in Lenk and Wüster (1999), and for an accurate knowledge of the species distribution.

The Italian Aesculapian snake was recorded in two of the three administrative provinces in which the Volsci Chain falls, namely the province of Latina (LT) and Frosinone (FR), while no data are available for the portion of Lepini mountains which falls in the province of Rome. However, the administrative boundary of the province of Rome is only 3.4 km far from the site 1. Consequently the occurrence of Z. lineatus in the province of Rome is very likely.

As a consequence of these new findings in Latium, the parapatric area between Z. longissimus and Z. lineatus is wider than the previously known one and the two species are therefore largely overlapped. The recordings of the snakes found in the past in the province of Caserta (northern Campania) and in the Molise region are not attributable to neither of the two species (see Razzetti and Zanghellini, 2006). Furthermore, although Z. lineatus (as Elaphe longissima romana) was reported for Saepinum, in the Molise region, by Bruno (1973) and by Bruno and Guacci (1993), the presence of this species in such region has not been reconfirmed by the recent work of Capula et al. (2008). However, if we take into consideration Capula et al. (2006), that established the new southern limit in Apulia, and the data we reported here, we think it is probable that both Zamenis lineatus and Z. longissimus occur in the province of Caserta (northern Campania) and in the Molise region.


We are grateful to Carmine Esposito and Paolo Mazzei who provided respectively the data of Zamenis lineatus of the sites 6 and 7. We thank Fabrizio Li Vigni and Elvira Siragusa for the linguistic revision of the note. Thanks to Edoardo Razzetti for the precious suggestions and Sebastiano Salvidio for the useful comments and critical reading of the draft. Many thanks are also due to two anonymous referees whose comments have improved this note.


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Acta Herpetologica 3(2): 179-183, 2008
This site has information on the following genera of Ratsnakes ... Spilotes, Spalerosophis, Ptyas, Zamenis, Elaphe, Rhinechis, Senticolis, Pseudelaphe, Pantherophis, Bogertophis, Orthriophis, Gonyosoma, Oreocryptophis, Oocatochus, Euprepiophis, Coelognathus, Archelaphe