Published September 1, 2021. Updated February 28, 2024. Open access.

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Many-banded Ground Snake (Atractus multicinctus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | 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 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 coral snake pattern (Fig. 1).1,2 The dorsal coloration consists of a red nape followed by a series of broad (2–4 dorsal scales wide) black bands separated by narrow (1–2 dorsal scales wide) red, white, or reddish white bands (Fig. 1).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 mipartitus and M. multiscutatus.3 White-banded individuals of A. multicinctus from Ecuador are often confused with A. clarki, but the latter does not occur in this country.1

Figure showing variation among adult individuals of Atractus multicinctus

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

Natural history: Atractus multicinctus is a rarely seen semi-fossorial snake with a preference for old-growth rainforests, occurring in lower densities in crops and peri-urban areas.4,5 Many-banded Ground Snakes are active at night or during cloudy days and always at ground level.4.5 The majority of observations of this species are of individuals seen moving on the forest floor, crossing trails, crawling along dirt roads, or inside houses.4,5 One was uncovered from under soft soil.5 These snakes are completely harmless and rely on their warning coloration to avoid predation. Only the ophiophagous snake Erythrolamprus mimus has been confirmed as predator.6 One individual of A. multicinctus was photographed preying upon a giant earthworm,7 suggesting a degree of diet specialization.

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..8 Atractus multicinctus is listed in this category because the species has a wide distribution that includes many protected areas. Therefore, it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for a more threatened category.8 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 A. multicinctus. 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 (Fig. 2) and western Colombia.

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 (=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 comes from the Latin words multi (=many) and cinctum (=belt), and 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 Bilsa Biological Reserve. 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 near 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 and Frederic Griesbaum 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 Vieira,bAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. Alejandro Arteaga,aAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador. and Sebastián Di DoménicodAffiliation: Keeping Nature, Bogotá, Colombia.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Many-banded Ground Snake (Atractus multicinctus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (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. Photo by Raúl Nieto.
  8. 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
  9. 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.
  10. Beekes R (2010) Etymological dictionary of Greek. Brill, Boston, 1808 pp.
  11. 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.

ColombiaNariñoVía a BarbacoasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCotopaxiEl Jardín de los SueñosPhoto by Christophe Pellet
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé ReserveArteaga et al. 2017
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro ZapalloiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasCube, 3 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasHoja Blanca, 10 km SW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasItapoa ReservePhoto by Rául Nieto
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote RoseroThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Tesoro EscondidoRodríguez-Guerra 2019
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan JavierSavage 1960
EcuadorImbaburaHacienda ParambaBoulenger 1898
EcuadorImbaburaLita*Jan 1865
EcuadorImbaburaParambasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichincha Finca Carlos GarcíaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichincha Puerto Quito, 1 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichincha Río Silanche Bird SancturaryiNaturalist; photo examined