Published February 10, 2022. Updated February 25, 2024. Open access.

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Seven-lined Ground Snake (Atractus gaigeae)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Atractus gaigeae

English common names: Seven-lined Ground Snake, Gaige’s Ground Snake.

Spanish common names: Tierrera de siete líneas, tierrera de Gaige.

Recognition: ♂♂ 30 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=26.6 cm. ♀♀ 33.8 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=31.2 cm..1 Atractus gaigeae differs from other snakes in its area of distribution by having a round head similar in width to the neck, small eyes, an incomplete light nape band, and a brown dorsum with five longitudinal dark lines enclosing a series of dark spots.1,2 Atractus gaigeae is unique among its co-occurring congeners in having a cream-colored belly with two dark longitudinal lines, one along each margin (seven lines counting the dorsal lines).2,3 This species is often with A. collaris, but this other species lacks a blackish vertebral line and has fewer than 200 and 184 ventral scales in females and males, respectively (more than 200 and 184 in females and males in A. gaigeae).1

Figure showing an adult male of Atractus gaigeae

Figure 1: Adult male of Atractus gaigeae from Yuralpa, Napo province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Atractus gaigeae is a rarely seen semi-fossorial snake about which very little is known. Most of the records of this species are from pristine lowland and foothill evergreen forest areas. Seven-lined Ground Snakes feed on earthworms,4 but other aspects of their habits or behavior are unknown. One individual was seen crossing a dirt road during the early morning.5 In general, ground snakes can be found moving on the leaf-litter at night or inactive under rocks and logs during the day.5 Snakes of this genus are harmless and always try to flee upon detecting a threat.5

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..6 Atractus gaigeae is listed in this category because current information suggests that the species is distributed over a wide (greater than 50,000 km2) area that retains the majority of its original forest cover. Approximately 85% of the species’ potential area of distribution (Fig. 2) still holds continuous rainforest habitat.7 However, some populations are probably threatened by deforestation caused by the expansion of the agricultural frontier. Additionally, the difficulty in locating individuals of this species in the field makes it difficulty to understand its populations status.6

Distribution: Atractus gaigeae is native to an area of approximately 46,948 km2 in the upper Amazon basin and adjacent foothills of the Andes in Ecuador (Fig. 2). The species probably also occurs in neighboring Colombia and Peru.

Distribution of Atractus gaigeae in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Atractus gaigeae in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the approximate type locality: Santiago-Zamora. 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),810 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 gaigeae honors American herpetologist Helen Thompson Gaige, best known for her role as curator of amphibians at the Museum of Zoology at the University of Michigan.2

See it in the wild: Atractus gaigeae is one of the rarest ground snakes in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador. There are only four localities where the species has been observed more than once and only one of them is not remote: Reserva Biológica Jatun Sacha, with five confirmed observations. Seven-lined Ground Snakes may be located by scanning the forest floor and leaf-litter along trails at night or by looking under rocks and logs in pastures nearby forest border.

Author: Duvan ZambranoaAffiliation: Universidad del Tolima, Ibagué, Colombia.

Editor: Alejandro ArteagabAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographer: Sebastián Di DoménicocAffiliation: Keeping Nature, Bogotá, Colombia.

How to cite? Zambrano D (2024) Seven-lined Ground Snake (Atractus gaigeae). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/BRJL5523

Literature cited:

  1. Passos P, Prudente A, Ramos LO, Caicedo-Portilla JR, Lynch JD (2018) Species delimitations in the Atractus collaris complex (Serpentes: Dipsadidae). Zootaxa 4392: 491–520. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.4392.3.4
  2. Savage JM (1955) Descriptions of new colubrid snakes, genus Atractus, from Ecuador. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 68: 11–20.
  3. 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.
  4. Rocha JC (2019) Influência de fatores ambientais e a relação entre os padrões de diversidade beta taxonômica e diversidade beta funcional de serpentes neotropicais. MSc thesis, Florianópolis, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, 119 pp.
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. Cisneros-Heredia D, Yánez-Muñoz M, Reyes-Puig C (2016) Atractus gaigeae. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T50951092A50951097.en.
  7. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  8. 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.
  9. Beekes R (2010) Etymological dictionary of Greek. Brill, Boston, 1808 pp.
  10. 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 gaigeae in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

EcuadorMorona SantiagoAchuentzPassos et al. 2018
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCentro Shuar KiimPassos et al. 2018
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCusuimeOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacas Arteaga et al. 2017
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacumaPassos et al. 2018
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSantiago de Tiwintza*Savage 1955
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTaishaPhoto by Jorge Valencia
EcuadorNapoBoca del Río CocaPassos et al. 2018
EcuadorNapoCentro PalmerasiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoEstación Biológica Jatun SachaVigle 2008
EcuadorNapoGareno LodgeThis work
EcuadorNapoTena, 1.7 km NE ofiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoUniversidad IkiamiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoYachana ReservePassos et al. 2018
EcuadorNapoYuralpaThis work
EcuadorOrellanaComunidad DicaparePassos et al. 2018
EcuadorOrellanaLoretoPassos et al. 2018
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de PayaminoMaynard et al. 2016
EcuadorOrellana Pindo, bloque 64Passos et al. 2018
EcuadorPastazaArajunoPassos et al. 2018
EcuadorPastazaCabeceras del Río BobonazaSavage 1955
EcuadorPastazaCamelonMCZ R-29298
EcuadorPastazaCampo K32Passos et al. 2018
EcuadorPastazaCampo Villano BPassos et al. 2018
EcuadorPastazaCanelos Savage 1955
EcuadorPastazaChichirotaSavage 1955
EcuadorPastazaComunidad TarangaroPassos et al. 2018
EcuadorPastazaCopatazaPassos et al. 2018
EcuadorPastazaKurintzaOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoPassos et al. 2018
EcuadorPastazaPozo Garza-1Passos et al. 2018
EcuadorPastazaRío Conambo, mouth of Río ShionePassos et al. 2018
EcuadorPastazaRío Conambo, near mouth of Río RomarizoPassos et al. 2018
EcuadorPastazaRío RutunoPassos et al. 2018
EcuadorPastazaRío VillanoUSNM 217628
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuSavage 1955
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta ElenaPassos et al. 2018