Published December 22, 2020. Updated February 19, 2024. Open access.

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Yellow-spotted Ground Snake (Atractus duboisi)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Atractus duboisi

English common names: Yellow-spotted Ground Snake, Dubois’ Ground Snake.

Spanish common names: Tierrera de puntos amarillos, culebra tierrera de Dubois.

Recognition: ♂♂ 45.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=38.8 cm. ♀♀ 48.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=45.5 cm..1,2 In its area of distribution, Atractus duboisi can be recognized by having a round head similar in width to the neck, small eyes, dorsal scales arranged in 15 rows at mid-body, and a dorsal pattern consisting of a series of small yellowish dorsolateral spots on a dark brown background color (Fig. 1).1 The belly is bright yellow with a black longitudinal line in the middle.1 Other Atractus that may be found living alongside A. duboisi are A. touzeti, A. ukupacha, and A. zgap.2 All of these have a dorsal pattern of longitudinal lines or crossbars instead of a series of small spots, and a ventral pattern lacking longitudinal lines.

Figure showing an adult individual of Atractus duboisi

Figure 1: Adult individual of Atractus duboisi from Orito Yacu, Napo province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Atractus duboisi is a semi-fossorial that inhabits old-growth to heavily-disturbed cloudforests, but may as well occur in forest clearings, cultivated fields, and rural houses.2,3 Yellow-spotted Ground Snakes are usually seen active at night,2 crossing roads and trails in forested areas.2 Inactive individuals have been found under logs, rocks, and under soft soil.2,3 One gravid female contained two eggs.2 The defensive behavior of A. duboisi consists mainly of trying to flee or hide the head under body coils. Also, when an individual is handled, it can use its tail for poking.2 The only known predator of A. duboisi is the Barred Hawk (Leucopternis princeps).4

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Conservation: Near Threatened Not currently at risk of extinction, but requires some level of management to maintain healthy populations..5 Atractus duboisi is proposed to be included in this category, instead of Endangered,6 because the species only meets one of the IUCN criteria7 needed to qualifying in the latter category. Atractus duboisi has a limited extent of occurrence (here estimated to be ~925 km2) but it is now known from more than five locations (See Appendix 1) and ~73% its potential distribution is inside three of Ecuador’s major protected areas (Antisana Ecological Reserve, Cayambe Coca National Park, and Sumaco National Park). The species occurs in degraded habitats and forest fragments, but the majority (~79%; Fig. 2) of its potential distribution holds continuous forested areas. Recent palaeoecological studies8 suggest that the area where A. duboisi occurs was deforested to a greater extent before European arrival (circa AD 1492) than it is today. The most important threat to the long-term survival of A. duboisi is the loss of its habitat, mostly due to the expansion of the agricultural frontier. Yellow-spotted Ground Snakes also suffer from traffic-related mortality.9 Therefore, the species may qualify for a threatened category in the near future if these threats are not addressed. However, there is no current information on the population trend of the species to determine whether its numbers are declining.

Distribution: Atractus duboisi is endemic to an area of approximately 925 km2 in the Amazonian slopes of the Andes of northern Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Atractus duboisi in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Atractus duboisi in Ecuador. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The name Atractus, which is a latinization of the Greek word άτρακτος (=spindle),1012 probably refers to the fact that snakes of this genus have a uniform width throughout the body and a narrow tail, resembling an antique spindle used to spin fibers. The specific epithet duboisi honors Alphonse Joseph Charles Dubois (1839–1921), a Belgian naturalist and curator at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.13

See it in the wild: Yellow-spotted Ground Snakes can be seen with almost complete certainty around the towns Baeza and Cosanga, provided they are searched for by turning over rocks and logs in pastures near forest border. These snakes also are frequently encountered at Yanayacu Biological Station.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Diego Piñán for providing locality and natural history data for Atractus duboisi. This account was published with the support of Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior Ciencia y Tecnología (programa INEDITA; project: Respuestas a la crisis de biodiversidad: la descripción de especies como herramienta de conservación; No 00110378), Programa de las Naciones Unidas (PNUD), and Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ).

Author: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographer: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Yellow-spotted Ground Snake (Atractus duboisi). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/GDDX9586

Literature cited:

  1. Passos P, Chiesse A, Torres-Carvajal O, Savage JM (2009) Testing species boundaries within the Atractus occipitoalbus complex (Serpentes: Dipsadidae). Herpetologica 65: 384–403. DOI: 10.1655/08-024.1
  2. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  3. Diego Piñán, pers. comm.
  4. Greeney HF, Gelis RA, Funk WC (2008) Predation on caecilians (Caecilia orientalis) by barred hawks (Leucopternis princeps) depends on rainfall. Herpetological Review 39: 162–164.
  5. Reyes-Puig C (2015) Un método integrativo para evaluar el estado de conservación de las especies y su aplicación a los reptiles del Ecuador. MSc thesis, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, 73 pp.
  6. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Bustamante L (2017) Atractus duboisi. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T50951052A50951059.en
  7. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  8. Loughlin NJD, Gosling WD, Mothes P, Montoya E (2018) Ecological consequences of post-Columbian indigenous depopulation in the Andean-Amazonian corridor. Nature Ecology & Evolution 2: 1233-1236. DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0602-7
  9. Medrano Vizcaíno PM (2015) Efecto de las carreteras en la mortalidad de vertebrados en un área megadiversa: los Andes Tropicales del Ecuador. MSc thesis, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, 50 pp.
  10. Woodward SP, Tate R (1830) A manual of the Mollusca: being a treatise on recent and fossil shells. C. Lockwood and Company, London, 750 pp.
  11. Beekes R (2010) Etymological dictionary of Greek. Brill, Boston, 1808 pp.
  12. Duponchel P, Chevrolat L (1849) Atractus. In: d’Orbigny CD (Ed) Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle. MM. Renard, Martinet et Cie., Paris, 312.
  13. Boulenger GA (1880) Reptiles et Batraciens recueillis par M. Emile de Ville dans les Andes de l’Équateur. Bulletin de la Société Zoologique de France 5: 41–48.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Atractus duboisi in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorNapoBaezaDiego Piñán, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapoBaeza–Cosanga roadThis work
EcuadorNapoBaeza, 1 km W ofiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoBaeza, 12 km W ofFreddy Velásquez, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapoCabañas San IsidroiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoCosangaDiego Piñán, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapoEl ChacoPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorNapoLa BrisaFreddy Velásquez, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapoLas PalmasPassos et al. 2009
EcuadorNapoOrito YacuThis work
EcuadorNapoRancho El ParaísoField notes of Juan Guayasamin
EcuadorNapoTributary of Río QuijosiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoVirgen de GuacamayosThis work
EcuadorNapoYanayacu Biological StationThis work