Added 28 August 2002. Updated 22 February 2005: updated details for C. sexlineatus: our special thanks to Miss Claire Youdale.

The Scincidae


The Chalcides genus is a moderate-sized group centred on North Africa with members being found as far west as the Canary Islands and eastwards into Ethiopia, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and even India. Europe also has a few Chalcides species, these being found in France, Italy and the Iberian peninsula. Most of the Chalcides species are associated with the Chalcides ocellatus "group": a number of subspecies of C. ocellatus have since been raised to full species, especially in Morocco.

Within the pet trade, Chalcides ocellatus is often offered for sale. It is an attractive and hardy skink, reaching no more (and usually less) than 12" in total length, with fairly basic needs. Although there seems to be a temptation to regard them as cheap pets, these are often attractive skinks that are straightforward to care for, and they deserve more attention from hobbyists.

The following features are common to the genus: elongated, cylindrical body: lower eyelid with undivided transparent disk. Nostril pierced between an emargination of the rostral and a very small nasal: supranasals present: frontoparietals and prefrontals absent. Scales are cycloid and overlapping, usually keeled but may be smooth. Preanal and femoral pores are absent. Within the genus the limbs of species vary from small to reduced, some being almost vestigial (eg C. chalcides). Identification of some species, particularly those North African ones considered closely related to C. ocellatus, is open to dispute as it rests solely on patterns [KKS].

In February 2005 Miss Claire Youdale was kind enough to send me some corrections to these notes arising from a field trip she made to Gran Canaria to examine C. sexlineatus in the field as part of a university project. Following Salvador I had assumed that the two different morphs of this species were related to altitude, but it appears that they are in fact correlated with habitat. My thanks to Claire for this information.

NOTES: KKS refers to Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa, SHDA to the Field Guide to Reptiles of East Africa, Branch to Snake and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. To go to the Bibliography from a given entry, click on B: to return to the Quick Index, click on I.

C. armitagei, Wedge-Snouted Skink C. bedriagai, Bedriagai's Skink C. chalcides, Three-Toed Skink
C. colosii, Colosii's Skink C. ebneri C. guentheri
C. lanzai C. levitoni C. manueli
C. mauritanicus, Skink C. minutus C. mionecton
C. montanus C. ocellatus, Ocellated/Eyed Skink C. parallelus
C. pentadactylus, Five-Toed Skink C. pistaciae C. polylepis
C. pseudostriatus C. pulchellus C. ragazzii
C. sexlineatus C. striatus C. thierryi
C. viridanus

Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes

C. armitagei ? Gambia (W Africa) ?" ??. B I
C. bedriagai ?? Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) 6" Small skink with a somewhat small head and the characteristic shiny smooth scales, similar in appearance to C. ocellatus but smaller. It is widely prevalent in the coastal regions of the Iberian peninsula but rarer inland, being found there mainly in the vicinity of mountains, where it may be found at altitudes of up to 1,100m [Salvador]. Individuals in hilly country tend to be less shy than those found in lowland areas [Arnold et al]. In most areas this species prefer sandy areas with either sparse vegetation or a good cover of low plants [ibid.]. May be locally quite abundant. Scalation details [Salvador]: frontal very large, longer than wide: parietals shorter than frontal: nasal elongated, reaches loreal: supranasals distinct: 4 supraciliaries: 1 postnasal: nostril usually precedes suture between rostral and 1st supralabial: at least 5 supralabials, of which the 2nd contacts the loreal and the 4th and 5th contact the orbital. Dorsal scales: 22-26 (Salvador says 22-28 for Spanish specimens, Arnold et al 24-28) at midbody. Other: ear opening larger than nostril. . Coloration: overall bronze olive, some species having a pattern of longitudinal dark streaks. Reproduction: C. bedriagai is a livebearer. Between the end of May and end of August the females bear 1-4 (2-3 being most common). B I
C. b. bedriagai ?? ?" ??.B I
C. b. albaredae ?? ?" ??.B I
C. chalcides Three-Toed Skink W Mediterranean (Iberian peninsula, France and Italy) and N Africa 8-16½" Distinctive species in appearance, snakelike but with tiny vestigial limbs. May be confused in N Africa with C. mauritanicus or Ophisaurus koellikeri (the latter has no forelegs but has a distinct lateral fold) [KKS]. The tail makes up to 100-130% of the total length but is very fragile. Despite its apparently awkward appearance, it is extremely fast and agile, excelling in both escape and hunting. Click here for some good pictures of Italian specimens. Scalation details [KKS and Salvador]: frontal very large, longer than wide: parietals shorter than frontal: nasal elongated, reaches loreal: supranasals distinct: 4 supraciliaries: 1 postnasal: nostril usually precedes suture between rostral and 1st supralabial: usually 5 supralabials, of which 4th contacts orbital: usually 4 infralabials. Dorsal scales: 22-26 (Salvador says 22-24 for Spanish specimens) at midbody, 114 from snout to anus. Other: ear opening much larger than nostril. All limbs are very reduced, with 3 toes: see also subspecies below for variation. Coloration: overall bronze olive, some species having a pattern of longitudinal dark streaks. Reproduction: sexual maturity is reached probably in 3rd year. Mating commences after emerging from hibernation in March. Gestation takes 3 months, after which a litter of 3-15 (but usually 7) is born in N Africa, or 3-13 in Spain (usually 7). One of the most interesting features of C. chalcides is that it has the most advanced placentation of any lizard or snake known: in other words, its gestation process is more akin to that of a mammal than a reptile. KKS has more details on this subject. B I
C. c. chalcides Tunisia, Libya, Italy and its islands Short-legged "eastern" form. B I
C. c. concolor Vicinity of Rome Distinguished by overall lack of stripes: not recognised as a subspecies by all authorities.
C. c. mertensi W Tunisia to Morocco Long-legged "western" form. B I
C. c. striatus W Mediterranean and N Africa B I
C. c. vittatus Sardinia Distinguished by two dorsal stripes and (on each side) two dorsolateral stripes: the three stripes on each side form the border to bands of paler colour (as per the drawing in KKS) not recognised as a subspecies by all authorities.
C. colosii Colosi's Skink N Morocco 5-9?" Formerly considered a subspecies of C. ocellatus. May be distinguished from the latter by contrasting dark lateral bands and lack of ocelli. It occupies a fairly small range in N Morocco, where it may be found up to 1,500m. It lives among stone heaps, on stony ground or in walls with grass growth nearby, on a steep slope with loose soil and some grass cover, and around houses [KKS]. It is extremely fast and agile. KKS note that in summer it may be active into dusk. Scalation details [from KKS]: similar to C. ocellatus: 5 supraciliaries; 1 postnasal; 2 frenoculars; 5th supralabial contacts orbit. Dorsal scales: 30-36 at midbody, 73-77 between rostral and vent. Coloration: overall similar to C. ocellatus. There are no ocelli but a light vertebral band with a diffuse margin. Light dorsolateral stripes run from head to hindlegs and may continue on the tail, albeit fainter. Lateral dark and contrasting bands. Reproduction: no details available. B I
C. ebneri Ebner's Skink? Morocco 6½" Rare species from small range in northern Morocco which is nowadays intensely cultivated [KKS]. It was formerly considered a subspecies of C. ocellatus, but may be distinguished from this and similar species by body pattern (see Coloration). Little is known of its natural history or ecology. Scalation details [from KKS]: similar to C. ocellatus: 1 postnasal; 2 frenoculars; 5th supralabial contacts orbit. Dorsal scales: 32 at midbody. Coloration: overall similar to C. ocellatus. Black dorsal band formed of ocellated scales with four distinct light beige or yellow longitudinal lines. There are no other ocelli on the body. The dorsal band is delimited at the outer edges by a light border. Light beige dorsolateral stripes are bordered below by a dark brown stripe which starts behind the eye. The dorsal stripes continue in traces halfway down the tail but the rest fade at the tail base. The light stripes become a series of light spots on the front half of the tail, which turns orange towards the end. Pileus and supralabial scales are light beige with dark spots or edges. Scales of forearms and legs are light brown with dark margins. Ventral surface white. Reproduction: no details available. B I
C. guentheri Guenther's Skink? Egypt, Israel ?" "Limbs reduced to small conical appendages" [KKS]. No other data yet available. B I
C. lanzai Lanza's Skink? Morocco 7-8?" Formerly considered a subspecies of C. ocellatusbut raised to full specific status in 1992. This species is confined to a forested area in the Mid-Atlas mountains, where low winter temperatures and snow make hibernation necessary. The preferred habitat is clearing in Cedrus atlantica forest or fields and meadows near a watercourse. These skinks often burrow and move along a short distance below the surface of the soil. KKS note that in the wild their appetite includes weevils and water beetles in addition to the more normal insect fare, while in captivity they also lick up small pieces of eggshell in addition to crickets and other more usual items. Its main predator is the snake Macroprotodon cucullatus. It is sympatric with C. polylepis. Scalation: similar to C. ocellatus but 28-31 scale rows at midbody. It can be distinguished from the other forms similar to C. ocellatus by the ocellated scales which form transverse rows across the body. Coloration: overall greyish beige to greyish brown. 6-8 short white lines commence at the parietals and are broken by neutral scales behind the head. There may be faint light dorsolateral stripes with ocelli: if so the latter form 14-16 transverse rows. These are usually separated by 1-2, rarely more than 4 and never more than 7 neutral scales. B I
C. levitoni Leviton's Skink? Saudi Arabia ?" ?? B I
C. manueli Manuel's Skink? Morocco (W Atlantic coast) 6?" Formerly considered a subspecies of C. ocellatus. It can be distinguished from the other similar forms by its lack of any prominent dorsal pattern, and from the similar C. polylepis by its much smaller size. C. ghiarai is also similar but found in a different area. Scalation: similar to C. ocellatus but 28-31 scales across midbody. Coloration: overall brown to dark olive brown with some black spots on the neck. A patterned specimen from 60km inland is apparently of doubtful status (see KKS). B I
C. mauritanicus Fr. Seps de Maurétanie, Hétéromèle. NW Algeria, NE Morocco 4-5" Very small but very elongated skink with reduced limbs. Its range is restricted to a narrow Mediterranean coastal strip between the mouth of the Oued Moulouya river and Oran [KKS], and it must be considered an endangered species. This is very much a "sand swimmer", KKS likening it to a fish in water in this environment. Preferred habitats are coastal sands plantations of Acacias, pines and Eucalyptus with undergrowth. It is apparently secretive even by skink standards, being found on the surface only during the warm hours of the day. Scalation details [KKS]: nasal elongated, reaches loreal: supranasals distinct: 3-4 supraciliaries: no postnasal: nostril precedes suture between rostral and 1st supralabial: 3rd or 4th supralabial contacts orbital. Dorsal scales: 18 at midbody, 101-103 between rostral and vent. Other: ear opening barely visible or concealed. Forelegs have 2 digits, hindlegs 3. Coloration: dorsally silver-yellow to grey with whitish border. There are no ocelli but usually a dark vertebral stripe one scale row wide. The body sides are much darker but merge into the ventral greyish colour. The ventral surfaces may be dotted with black. The tail has parallel blackish streaks, but interestingly regenerated tails are often black. Reproduction: KKS believe this is "almost certainly" a live-bearer: neonates appear July-August. B I
C. minutus ?? Morocco ?" Not listed by KKS: see EMBL reptile database entry. B I
C. mionecton [Fr. Seps mionection; Ger. Marokko-Erzschleiche] W Morocco (Atlantic coast) 7¼" Locally abundant species which declines quickly in areas of intense agriculture [KKS]. They live in sand, loose soil and leaf litter, including beneath trees and bushes and among Euphorba echinus growth [KKS]. Individuals are normally found beneath any object that can give them cover and indirect warmth from the sun, mainly flat stones. Although not as agile as other "sand swimmers", they do move beneath the surface where they capture most of their prey. The limbs are used on the surface to move about. Sometimes found with C. polylepis under the same stone. KKS note that this species is not as combative as some others, and that two males and several females may be kept in a terrarium of 2' x 1': however, fighting may cause injuries if it breaks out. In captivity the lizards learn to take the usual commercial prey, and to drink from a dish. Scalation details [KKS]: frontal longer than broad: supranasals distinct or fused: 3-4 supraciliaries: nostril precedes suture between rostral and 1st supralabial: 5th labial enters orbit. Dorsal scales: 24 (occasionally 26) at midbody. Other: ear opening about same size as nostril, on level with mouth. Limbs small with 5 toes, number of fingers varying according to subspecies. Coloration: dorsally brown with small yellowish, dark-edged. There is usually a distinct vertebral stripe two scale rows wide and two yellow dorsolateral stripes (1 on each side): however, a stripeless morph is known. The sides are darker and the ventral surfaces white. A blackish streak runs from nostril to eye. The lips are spotted blackish. Reproduction: this is an ovoviparous species. The reproductive season is Feb-Sep. Gestation lasts 80-90 days. The species prefers to mate, and females to give birth, under cover. Litters of 3-4 have been observed. Juveniles reach 4-6" within 1 year. It is possible that adults are cannibalistic towards neonates, so in captivity removal of young into a separate terrarium would seem advisable. B I
C. m. mionection N of Cap Ghir Usually 4, only rarely 3 fingers on limbs. B I
C. m. trifasciatus S of Cap Ghir Usually 5 but may have 4 fingers on limbs. B I
C. montanus ?? Morocco 6-8?" Another former subspecies of C. ocellatus, but somewhat distinct by virtue of living in the Haut Atlas mountains between 1,500 and 2,500m [KKS]. Because of the cold climate at these altitudes this lizard spends nearly half the year in hibernation. Scalation details [KKS]: similar to C. ocellatus. Dorsal scales: 28-32 at midbody. Coloration: dorsally beige to brown. 4 fine longitudinal white lines run from the nuchals of the neck backwards for a length of at least 15 scales before becoming indistinct. Ocelli are normally absent beyond the hindlegs. There is a distinct white dorsolateral stripe on each side. See KKS for a couple of variations on this patterning that have been encountered. The ventral surfaces are light yellow. Reproduction: No details available, but given the long hibernation period, the reproductive season might be short. B I
C. ocellatus Ocellated/Eyed Skink S. Europe, NW Africa, W. Asia 8-12" Widely spread species, popular as a terrarium subject. Greek and Cretan specimens are usually at the smaller end of the spectrum, about 8": not all adult specimens elsewhere reach the maximum 12". In the wild these skinks are fairly catholic in their choice of habitat, the main proviso being that sandy ground is present. Thus they may be found close to the sea, among dunes, or in vineyards or olive groves or under stones, but will also use crevices in dry stones walls or simple holes in the ground to shelter in. Ruins seem to be attractive to them, even those visited by people such as the Acropolis in Athens, and even rubbish dumps [Engelmann et al]. Matted undergrowth is also not neglected. The relative dryness or moisture of the microhabitat does not seem to be a factor [Arnold et al]. They are also found at up to altitudes of 1,500m: it may be that at these colder heights the winter hibernation period is longer. As it is, this lasts about 3 months in the wild.Scalation details [KKS]: frontal longer than broad: 3 large supraoculars, of which 4th half as large as 3rd, 2nd & 3rd sometimes fused: 4-5 supraciliaries. Rostral large and rounded: nostril large, usually between posterior lower margin of rostral, 1st supralabial, nasal and supranasal. Loreal longer than contacting prefrontal, borders 2nd & 3rd labials [Arnold et al note that this way it can be distinguished from C. bedriagai]. 7-9 supralabials, 6-7 infralabials. Mental large with straight posterior border, followed by large plate. Dorsal scales: finely striated, middle ones slightly larger than long; 28-38 rows at midbody. Other: transparent disk in lower eyelid: ear-opening much larger than nostril. Coloration: overall yellow to light golden brown: black ocelli with white spots which may join to form rows. This "striped form" is not usually found in Greece or Crete [Arnold et al]. Reproduction: sexual maturity reached in the wild in 3 yrs, but captives may reach it in 2. Mating takes place in spring, after a winter hibernation of about 3 months: one litter is usual, but some give birth to a second litter in autumn. Gestation lasts 6-12 weeks (usually 3 months in Europe). Litters may be 2-20 juveniles, although the more usual size is 9-12. Hatchlings are a lighter colour than adults and are totally insectivorous until 6 months, when fruit and other food will also be accepted. See also Experiences and Observations of Ocellated Skinks in Captivity. Click here for a picture of an Italian specimen. B I
C. o. ocellatus Much of N Africa and E Mediterranean Greek and Cretan forms tend to be smaller than others, about 8" [Arnold et al].
C. o. linosae Linosa island  
C. o. subtypicus Souss Valley, Presahara and E Morocco  
C. o. tiligugu NW Africa, Sardinia, Malta, Sicily and Pantelleria Large amount of intergradation with C. o. subtypicus [KKS].
C. o. zavattarii Lampedusa, Isola del Conigli  
C. parallelus ?? NE Morocco 5-7" Also known as C. ghiarai or synonymised with C. polylepis. It occupies a restricted range in three localities on the Moroccan coast [KKS], where it prefers coastal sands, dunes overgrown with Mediterranean vegetation and areas reforested with pines and Euphorbia plants. Like C. ocellatus it takes refuge under stones. Scalation details [from KKS, after Caputo & Mellado 1992): similar to C. ocellatus. Rostral heptagonal and half as wide again as deep: 2 narrow supranasals in contact medially. Frontonasal about half as wide again as long. Frontal large, half as long again as wide: rhomboidal interparietal; parietals contact behind interparietal; 4 supraoculars, of which 2nd largest and 4th smallest; 6 supraciliaries; 2 (sometimes 1) pairs of nuchals. Nostril pierced in a single nasal above the suture between rostral and 1st supralabial. A small postnasal about 1½ the length of the nasal contacts 1st & 2nd supralabials. 2 frenoculars, of which the lower is distinctly higher than the upper; 4 preoculars, of which 3rd is largest and 1st contacts 4th supralabial; 6 supralabials, 5th below the eye. Other: snout short and scarcely projecting beyond the labial margin; ear opening vertically triangular: 3rd finger slightly longer than 4th. Coloration: B I
C. pentadactylus ?? India ?" ?? B I
C. pistaciae ?? Iberian peninsula ?" Status unclear: see EMBL database entry for details. B I
C. polylepis Multiscaled Skink Morocco and Canary Islands 9" Once considered a subspecies of C. ocellatus. The Fuerteventura population was probably an introduction from the mainland of Africa: however, there are scalation differences. The tip of the snout barely overhangs the mouth [Salvador]. Both subspecies prefer living among stones or among vegetation. Scalation details [Salvador & KKS]: very similar to C. ocellatus: 1 postnasal situated between 1st & 2nd supralabial: nostril usually precedes suture between rostral and 1st supralabial: at least 5 supralabials, of which the 5th is situated below the orbital. Dorsal scales: 30-40 (see subspecies below) at midbody. Other: Diameter of the eardrum is 1-1½ times that of the nostril. Coloration: overall bronze olive, some species having a pattern of longitudinal dark streaks. Reproduction: C. polylepis is a livebearer. In SW Morocco mating takes place in March and April. Females bear 4-7 young in July. B I
C. p. polylepis Morocco ?" Found between sea level and altitudes of up to 2,000m. Although terrestrial, it may sometimes be found as high up as the 2nd floor of a building [KKS]. Mostly it hides beneath rocks and stones or in thickets of vegetation. In summer in the Haut Atlas mountains this subspecies is active during the height of the day. From mid-June it becomes more secretive and aestivates until autumn. Hibernation takes place from November to the beginning of March under stones or roots [KKS]. Dorsal scales: 33-40 in a row along the body.
C. p. occidentalis Fuerteventura (Canary Islands) ?" Salvador notes that in spring this subspecies is active in the day, especially during rainy weather, but that during the summer it becomes basically nocturnal. Dorsal scales: 30-32 in a row along the body.
C. pseudostriatus ?? Morocco ?" ?? B I
C. pulchellus ?? SW Burkino Faso (W Africa) ?" ?? B I
C. ragazzii Ragazzi's Skink? Algeria, SE Sahara, Niger, N Somalia, N Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea ?" Formerly considered a subspecies of C. ocellatus. B I
C. sexlineatus ?? Gran Canaria (Canary Islands) 7½" Both Canarian skinks are similar to each other, but C. sexlineatus has a head well differentiated from the neck. It is found from sea level to up to 670m and usually hides beneath stones. Diet consists of insects, arachnids and larvae. Scalation details [Salvador]: nostril situated in front of the suture which separates the rostral from the 1st supralabial: supranasals in contact: internasal wider than long: frontal somewhat longer than wide: 5th supralabial borders the eye: 4 supraoculars: parietal is bordered by 2 large supratemporals. 28-35 scale rows at midbody. Other: body flattened: lower eyelid has palpebral disk. Coloration: there are two variations which correspond to the habitat types, viz. the drier arid southern part of the island and the lusher and greener north. The northern morph are dorsally brown-gray with whitish grey spots ringed with black in longitudinal rows. There is a pale narrow dorsolateral band and a blackish brown lateral stripe with bluish spots, and the tail is brownish-grey. The throat is yellow ochre and the belly varies from greyish white to yellowish. Higher altitude individuals differ in having metallic green tails and bellies which are bright bluish anteriorly and duller posteriorly. There is a black dorsolateral band separated from the flank by a yellowish or whitish line and four yellowish-brown dorsal lines. Claire Youdale [pers. communication] wrote as follows:

"The northern morph is cryptically coloured with a brown-green tail, orange and black ventral colour and is heavier bodied than the southern one. The southern morph is slighter with a blue-gray belly and a metallic green-blue tail probably due to tail advertisment for predation. They are striped with small ocelli in rows down their backs. The lateral stripe is dark and that and a light spot in front of the foreleg are more pronounced in the northern species." Reproduction: pregnant females appear in July and August and give birth in the first days of September to a litter of 3-4 young measuring about 3" in total length. B I

C. striatus ?? Italy, France, Iberian peninsula ?" Possibly a subspecies of C. chalcides: see EMBL database entry (includes link to picture). B I
C. thierryi ?? W Africa (Nigerian, N Ghana, Togo, Benin, Mali) ?" ?? B I
C. viridanus ?? Canary Islands (Tenerife, El Hierro and La Gomera) and Madeira 7½" Although this has been recorded from Morocco, KKS believe the specimen in question to have been either misidentified or introduced. It can be differentiated from the other Canarian skink, C. sexlineatus, by its smaller head and rather undifferentiated neck, as well as coloration. It is found from sea level to altitudes of 560m. Diet consists of insects, arachnids and larvae. Scalation details [Salvador]: nostril situated in front of the suture between the rostral and 1st supralabial: rostral twice as high as wide: supranasals in contact: internasal wider than long: frontal somewhat longer than wide: 5th supralabial borders the eye: 4 supraoculars: parietal is bordered by 2 large supratemporals. 28-32 scale rows at midbody. Other: body slender and cylindrical: lower eyelid has palpebral disk. Coloration: dorsally olive-brown or brilliant copper. The sides and ventral surfaces are blackish. There is usually a bright longitudinal dorsolateral line. Some individuals have yellowish or greenish spots on the back. Hatchlings have blue tails. Specimens from El Hierro and La Gomera differ from those of Tenerife by having rows of dorsal and lateral bluish dots. Reproduction: mating takes place in spring and females give birth in summer to a litter of 2 young measuring about 3" in total length. B I


Echsen [Lizards] 2, Manfred Rogner, Ulmer, Stuttgart 1994. Lists a few representative Chalcides species with useful details on husbandry of captives.

Guia de campo de los anfibios y reptiles de la peninsula iberica, islas baleares y canarias [Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Iberian Peninsula, Balearic and Canary Islands], Alfredo Salvador, Madrid. ISBN: 84-86238-07-2. Excellent book covering all reptiles and amphibians in the aforementioned areas. The one drawback for English speakers is that the text is Spanish. This book is unfortunately now out of print, but well worth purchasing if you can get a second hand copy.

Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa, W Kästle, H H Schleich and K Kabisch, Koeltz Scientific Books, Germany 1996. Outstanding review of N African herpetofauna giving detailed account of each species.

Field Guide to the Reptiles of East Africa by Stephen Spawls, Kim Howell, Robert Drewes and James Ashe. Detailed and invaluable review of all reptile species in the region.

Collins Field Guide to Reptiles & Amphibians of Britain & Europe, E N Arnold, J A Burton and D W Ovenden, HarperCollins, London 1978. An invaluable guide, although a few of the taxonomic details are in need of revision.

Skinks, Jerry G Walls, TFH 1996. Contains useful basic husbandry tips.

Keeping and Breeding Lizards, Chris Mattison, Blandford Press. Also contains useful husbandry tips.


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