Published February 21, 2024. Open access.

Gallery ❯

Coral Ground Snake (Atractus elaps)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Atractus elaps

English common names: Coral Ground Snake, Black Ground Snake.

Spanish common name: Tierrera coral, falsa coral tierrera.

Recognition: ♂♂ 58.8 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=47 cm. ♀♀ 62.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=57.2 cm..1,2 Atractus elaps can be confused with other snakes having coralsnake patterns, including true coralsnakes of the genus Micrurus.1 The presence of complete black rings regularly arranged in triads is a characteristic found in true coralsnakes, but usually not in A. elaps. The black rings in the Coral Ground Snake are irregularly arranged, including patterns of dyads (Fig. 1) and even groups of 19 black rings.2 Some individuals exhibit dorsal and lateral fusion of the dark bands giving an appearance of the absence of bands.3 This species differs from other false coralsnakes in its area of distribution by having small eyes and a round head similar in width to the neck.1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Atractus elaps

Figure 1: Individuals of Atractus elaps from Ecuador: El Paraíso, Sucumbíos province (); Tamandúa Reserve, Pastaza province (); Yarina Lodge, Orellana province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Atractus elaps is a semi-fossorial snake that inhabits pristine lowland rainforests,14 secondary forests, clearings,1 agricultural fields,2 and rural gardens.2 Coral Ground Snakes have been seen foraging on the forest floor at night or during the day,1,5 as well as hidden under leaf-litter or in rotten logs and stumps.16 One individual was swimming in a forest stream2 and another one was foun inside a house.1 Only earthworms have been recorded as prey items in this species,1,3 suggesting a degree of diet specialization. The prey is consumed in a “a grab and swallow” technique.7 These harmless and shy snakes avoid predation by virtue of their coralsnake coloration. If disturbed, they may flatten their body dorsoventrally or curl and display their bright tail as a decoy in a way similar to the behavior of true coralsnakes.3,4 They may also try to poke with their sharp tail-tip.5 Gravid females of A. elaps have been found to contain six eggs,1 but the real clutch size is not know.

Reader support helps us keep the Reptiles of Ecuador book 100% free.

Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..8 Atractus elaps is listed in this category primarily because the species has a wide distribution spanning numerous protected areas.8 Although the species as a whole is considered to be facing no major immediate extinction threats, some populations are destined to disappear due to the combined effects of agricultural expansion and traffic mortality.8,9

Distribution: Atractus elaps is native the western Amazon basin in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), Peru, and Venezuela.

Distribution of Atractus elaps in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Atractus elaps 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 elaps (a genus name previously used for some coralsnakes) probably refers to the the coloration, which mimics that of true coralsnakes.

See it in the wild: Atractus elaps is found at a rate of about once every few weeks throughout the Amazon of Ecuador. The area having the greatest number of recent observations is the environs of the town Puyo, where the snakes have been found primarily along forest trails at different hours of the day.

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

Photographer: Jose VieirabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Coral Ground Snake (Atractus elaps). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/SJKN4037

Literature cited:

  1. Savage JM (1960) A revision of the Ecuadorian snakes of the Colubrid genus Atractus. Miscellaneous Publications, Museum of Zoology, Univesity of Michigan 112: 1–184.
  2. Dixon JR, Soini P (1986) The reptiles of the upper Amazon Basin, Iquitos region, Peru. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 154 pp.
  3. Dixon JR, Thomas RA, Greene HW (1976) Status of the neotropical snake Rhabdosoma poeppigi Jan, with notes on variation in Atractus elaps (Günther). Herpetologica 32: 221–227.
  4. Duellman WE (2005) Cusco amazónico: the lives of amphibians and reptiles in an Amazonian rainforest. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 433 pp.
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. Silva Haad J (2004) Las serpientes del género Atractus Wagler, 1828 (Colubridae, Xenodontinae) en la Amazonia colombiana. Revista de la Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales 28: 409–446.
  7. Whitworth A, Beirne C (2011) Reptiles of the Yachana Reserve. Global Vision International, Exeter, 130 pp.
  8. Ortega A, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Yánez-Muñoz M, Nogueira C, Catenazzi A, Schargel W, Rivas G (2019) Atractus elaps. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T15158016A15158057.en
  9. Filius J, van der Hoek Y, Jarrín‐V P, van Hooft P (2020) Wildlife roadkill patterns in a fragmented landscape of the Western Amazon. Ecology and Evolution 10: 6623–6635. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.6394
  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.

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

ColombiaCaquetáFlorencia Nogueira et al. 2019
ColombiaCaquetáLa MinaGutiérrez-Lamus et al. 2020
ColombiaCaquetáMoreliaDixon et al. 1976
ColombiaPutumayoRío PutumayoGrant et al. 2023
ColombiaPutumayoSan Antonio del GuamuésKU 140399; VertNet
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCentro Shuar AmazonasNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCentro Shuar KenkuimSavage 1960
EcuadorMorona SantiagoChiguazaSavage 1960
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCusuimeOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorMorona SantiagoEl TesoroNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoLa UniónMHNG 2445.045; collection database
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacasAMNH 28839; examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacumaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMashumarentsaFHGO 1195; examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMera, 2 km W ofAndreas Kay
EcuadorMorona SantiagoNormandíaAMNH 35910; examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoReserva SuritiakReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSan Juan Bosco, 5 km N ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSantiago de TiwintzaMHNG 2307.072; collection database
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTaishaSavage 1960
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTamantzaFHGO 1984; examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTurulaAMNH 15222; VertNet
EcuadorNapoBalsayacuNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoCentro Kamak MakiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoCuesta del TigreMelo-Sampaio et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoGuamaníPhoto by Álvaro Perez
EcuadorNapoMisahuallíPhoto by Ernesto Arbeláez
EcuadorNapoMushukllaktaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoPanoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoPuerto Barantilla, 1.6 km S ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoPuerto NapoMHNG 2098.095; collection database
EcuadorNapoReserva NarupaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoRío CotapinoSavage 1960
EcuadorNapoTenaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoTena, 4 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoYachana ReserveWhitworth & Beirne 2011
EcuadorOrellanaBloque ShiripunoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaDesembocadura Río LagartocochaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaEl CocaMHNG 2249.018; collection database
EcuadorOrellanaLa Joya de los SachasNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaNPFPhoto by Paulina Romero
EcuadorOrellanaPozo Amo 2Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaReserva Río BigalGarcía et al. 2021
EcuadorOrellanaRío HuataracoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaRío NashiñoMelo-Sampaio et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaRío PucunoSavage 1960
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de PayaminoMaynard et al. 2016
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de Payamino, 2 km NW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaTambocochaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity Station Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaTransecto FSLNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaYasuní Scientific StationArteaga et al. 2022
EcuadorPastazaAgua SantaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaAndoasAMNH 49079; examined
EcuadorPastazaCabeceras del Río BobonazaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaCampo Villano BMelo-Sampaio et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaCanelosOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaCononacoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaEl Triunfo, 7 km NE ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaFinca FátimaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaGuacheAMNH 49089; examined
EcuadorPastazaHotel BellandiaPhoto by Jon Wedow
EcuadorPastazaMangayacuReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaPaloraiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaPozo Garza 1Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaPuyo, 2 km NE ofPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorPastazaRío Anzu ReserveReyes-Puig et al. 2013
EcuadorPastazaRío CapahuariiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaRío CorrientesSavage 1960
EcuadorPastazaRío LliquinoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaRío Pastaza Savage 1960
EcuadorPastazaRío TalinSavage 1960
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuSavage 1960
EcuadorPastazaShellNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaTamandúa ReserveThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorPastazaTsapinoFHGO 4609; examined
EcuadorPastazaVillanoSavage 1960
EcuadorSucumbíos3 de NoviembreiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosEl ParaísoThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorSucumbíosJivino, 1 km NE ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosLago AgrioDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncocha Biological ReserveMHNG 2441.001; collection database
EcuadorSucumbíosLumbaqui, parroquia urbanaDueñas and Báez 2021
EcuadorSucumbíosPuerto El CarmenArteaga et al. 2022
EcuadorSucumbíosSan Francisco, 1 km SW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosSan Pablo de KantesiyaMHNG 2411.081; collection database
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta Cecilia Duellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosShushufindiNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorTungurahuaReserva Río ZuñacPhoto by Juan Pablo Reyes
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeEscombrera NorteFHGO 8571; examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeLos Encuentros, 2 km NE ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeQuebrada NapinazaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeSanta ElenaPhoto by Darwin Núñez
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeTundaymeArteaga et al. 2017
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeValle del QuimiBetancourt et al. 2018
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeVía a Condor MiradoriNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeVía a NambijaNogueira et al. 2019
PeruAmazonasSanta María de NievaDixon et al. 1976
PeruLoretoMoroponTCWC 39073; VertNet
PeruLoretoPampa HermosaDixon et al. 1976
PeruLoretoPongo ChinimPitman et al. 2012
PeruLoretoRío Corrientes in PeruMCZ 156976; VertNet