Published September 1, 2021. Open access.

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Many-banded Ground Snake (Atractus multicinctus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Atractus | Atractus multicinctus

English common names: Many-banded Ground Snake, Banded Ground Snake.

Spanish common names: Tierrera de bandas, culebra tierrera con bandas.

Recognition: ♂♂ 30 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=24.9 cm. ♀♀ 35.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=31.2 cm..1,2 The Many-banded Ground Snake (Atractus multicinctus) differs from other snakes in its area of distribution by having a round head similar in width to the neck, small eyes, and a dorsal pattern consisting of broad (2–4 dorsal scales wide) black bands separated by narrow (1–2 dorsal scales wide) reddish bands.1,2 The bands do not encircle the body; thus, the belly is entirely red. This characteristic separates A. multicinctus from the true coral snake species it mimics: Micrurus multiscutatus.3 Atractus multicinctus is similar to A. clarki, a species in which the body bands are whitish with the exception of a red band on the neck, and in which the males have less than 170 ventral scales (versus more than 170 in A. multicinctus).1

Figure showing variation among adult individuals of Atractus multicinctus

Figure 1: Individuals of Atractus multicinctus from Bilsa Biological Reserve () and Canandé Reserve (), Esmeraldas province, Ecuador. j=juvenile.

Natural history: UncommonUnlikely to be seen more than once every few months.. Atractus multicinctus is a semi-fossorial (living underground and at ground level) snake with a preference for old-growth evergreen forests, although individuals occasionally show up along roads or in small towns.4,5 Many-banded Ground Snakes are usually active at night,4 but sometimes also during cloudy days.5 Individuals have been seen moving on the forest floor, crossing trails and dirt roads,4,5 or hidden under soft soil.5 It is presumed that individuals of A. multicinctus rely on their warning coloration as a primary defense mechanism. There is an unpublished photographic record of a Mimetic False-Coralsnake (Erythrolamprus mimus) preying upon an individual of A. multicinctus.6

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..7 Atractus multicinctus is listed in this category because the species is distributed over an area of the Chocó rainforest that has not been as heavily affected by deforestation. Thus, it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for a more threatened category.7 In Ecuador, half of the records (Appendix 1) are in protected areas, but the remaining populations may disappear due to large-scale deforestation. The fear of snakes is also a source of mortality to individuals of this species. People in rural regions tend to kill any snake, particularly those that resemble a coral snake.4

Distribution: Atractus multicinctus is native to the Chocoan lowlands and adjacent Andean foothills of northwestern Ecuador and western Colombia. The species has been recorded at elevations between 44 and 786 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Atractus multicinctus in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Atractus multicinctus 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 (meaning “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 multicinctus, which comes from the Latin words multi (meaning “many”) and cinctum (meaning “belt”), refers to the banded coloration.

See it in the wild: Banded Ground Snakes are unlikely to be seen more than once every few months at any given locality. The two areas having the greatest number of observations are Canandé Reserve and the forests surrounding the town Paramba, Imbabura province. The 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.

Acknowledgments: 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).

Special thanks to David Anderson for symbolically adopting the Banded Ground Snake and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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

Photographers: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2021) Many-banded Ground Snake (Atractus multicinctus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/VAAP5444

Literature cited:

  1. Passos P, Mueses-Cisneros JJ, Lynch JD, Fernandes R (2009) Pacific lowland snakes of the genus Atractus (Serpentes: Dipsadidae), with description of three new species. Zootaxa 2293: 1–34. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.191476
  2. 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.
  3. Valencia JH, Garzón-Tello K, Barragán-Paladines ME (2016) Serpientes venenosas del Ecuador: sistemática, taxonomía, historial natural, conservación, envenenamiento y aspectos antropológicos. Fundación Herpetológica Gustavo Orcés, Quito, 653 pp.
  4. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. Photo by Paul Pratt.
  6. Photo by Jhon Galvis.
  7. Bolívar W, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Velasco J (2015) Atractus multicinctus. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T44581200A44581210.en
  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 multicinctus in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé ReserveArteaga et al. 2017
EcuadorEsmeraldasEsmeraldas, 15 km SE ofiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Tesoro EscondidoPhoto by Diego Quirola
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan JavierSavage 1960
EcuadorEsmeraldasVida Rosero ReserveThis work
EcuadorImbaburaParambaBoulenger 1898
EcuadorPichincha Río Silanche Bird SancturaryiNaturalist