Published March 28, 2021. Updated March 1, 2024. Open access.

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Pachacámac Ground Snake (Atractus pachacamac)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Atractus pachacamac

English common name: Pachacámac Ground Snake.

Spanish common name: Tierrera de Pachacámac.

Recognition: ♂♂ 54.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=46 cm. ♀♀ 69.5 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=62 cm..1 Atractus pachacamac can be recognized by having a round head similar in width to the neck, small eyes, and a dorsal pattern consisting of narrow (1–3 dorsal scales wide) cream bands alternated with broad (4–6 dorsal scales wide) bands that are lighter in the middle (Fig. 1).1,2 Juveniles and young adults have a whitish or cream nape band, but this gradually disappears in large individuals.1,2 In Ecuadorian Amazonia, A. pachacamac is most easily confused with A. major, but this other snake has a dark mid-dorsal stripe on the neck.2,3 In the Río Quijos valley, A. pachacamac co-occurs with A. ukupacha, which can be identified by having solid black bands, having less than 42 subcaudal scales in males, and being under 52 cm in total length.1 Atractus atlas and A. touzeti have a dorsal pattern similar to A. pachacamac, but these snakes are larger (adults reaching more than 90 cm in total length) and occur at elevations above 1800 m.2,4

Figure showing variation among individuals of Atractus pachacamac

Figure 1: Individuals of Atractus pachacamac from Ecuador: Nangaritza, Zamora Chinchipe province (); Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve, Napo province ().

Natural history: Atractus pachacamac is a semi-fossorial snake that inhabits old-growth to moderately-disturbed evergreen forests.1 The species also occurs in rural towns and in areas having a matrix of pastures and forest remnants.5 Pachacámac Ground Snakes are active at dusk or at night, especially after a warm day. Individuals have been seen moving slowly on leaf-litter or crossing roads and trails.5 When not active, these snakes have been found hidden under logs.5 Their diet consists of earthworms.4,6 Atractus pachacamac relies mostly on its cryptic coloration as a primary line of defense. If handled, individuals usually just try to flee, but they can also use their sharp tail tip for poking as well as flatten their body dorsoventrally to appear larger. If captured, they are capable of regurgitating to increase mobility when escaping.5

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances.. Atractus pachacamac is a recently described species.1 Therefore, its conservation status has not been formally evaluated by the IUCN Red List. Here, we propose to assign it to the Least Concern category because the species is widely distributed, occurs in major protected areas in Ecuador, and has presumed stable populations. The most important threat to the long-term survival of the species is habitat destruction mostly due to mining, oil extraction, and the expansion of the agricultural frontier.7

Distribution: Atractus pachacamac is native to the Amazonian lowlands and adjacent Andean foothills of Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), and Peru.

Distribution of Atractus pachacamac in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Atractus pachacamac in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Wildsumaco Wildlife Sanctuary, Napo province. 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 pachacamac honors Pacha Kamaq, the Incan deity who is the creator of the land.1

See it in the wild: Pachacámac Ground Snakes can be seen at a rate of about once every few weeks in forested areas throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon region. Some of the best localities to find snakes of this species are: Wildsumaco Wildlife Sanctuary and Maycu 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 nearby forest border.

Authors: Duvan ZambranoaAffiliation: Universidad del Tolima, Ibagué, Colombia. and Alejandro ArteagabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

Photographers: Jose VieirabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Alejandro ArteagabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Zambrano D, Arteaga A (2024) Pachacámac Ground Snake (Atractus pachacamac). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/CKDR2717

Literature cited:

  1. Melo-Sampaio PR, Passos P, Prudente ALC, Venegas PJ, Torres-Carvajal O (2021) Systematic review of the polychromatic ground snakes Atractus snethlageae complex reveals four new species from threatened environments. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 00: 1–30. DOI: 10.1111/jzs.12453
  2. Schargel WE, Lamar WW, Passos P, Valencia JH, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Campbell JA (2013) A new giant Atractus (Serpentes: Dipsadidae) from Ecuador, with notes on some other large Amazonian congeners. Zootaxa 3721: 455–474. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3721.5.2
  3. Martins M, Oliveira CS (1993) The snakes of the genus Atractus Wagler (Reptilia: Squamata: Colubridae) from the Manaus region, central Amazonia, Brazil. Zoologische Mededelingen 67: 21–40.
  4. Passos P, Scanferla A, Melo-Sampaio PR, Brito J, Almendariz A (2018) A giant on the ground: another large-bodied Atractus (Serpentes: Dipsadinae) from Ecuadorian Andes, with comments on the dietary specializations of the goo-eaters snakes. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências 91: e20170976. DOI: 10.1590/0001-3765201820170976
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. Camper JD, Zard DJ (2014) Atractus snethlageae (Ground Snake). Diet. Herpetological Review 45: 705.
  7. Finer M, Jenkins CN, Pimm SL, Keane B, Ross C (2008) Oil and gas projects in the western Amazon: threats to wilderness, biodiversity, and indigenous peoples. PLoS ONE 3: e2932. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002932
  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 pachacamac in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

ColombiaCaquetáFlorenciaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorMorona SantiagoBosque MedicinalReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCentral Hidroeléctrica AbanicoMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorMorona SantiagoChiguazaSchargel et al. 2013
EcuadorMorona SantiagoGualaquizaArteaga et al. 2017
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacasMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacas–RiobambaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMendez, 3.5 km N ofSchargel et al. 2013
EcuadorMorona SantiagoPaantimMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTaishaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoAnaconda LodgeAnaconda Lodge Ecuador
EcuadorNapoGonzalo PizzaroMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoIkiamiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoJondachi–LoretoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoPacto Sumaco, 3 km S ofKnowles et al. (in press)
EcuadorNapoReserva Biológica Jatun SachaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoSardinasMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoSumac SachaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoSumaco Camp 1Reptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoTena, Sumac ShagchaSchargel et al. 2013
EcuadorNapoVía Cocodrilos–Tena, km 32Melo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoWildsumaco Wildlife Sanctuary*Melo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorOrellanaAguaricoMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorOrellanaNenkepareReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaNuevo ParaísoMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorOrellanaPozo CapirónMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorOrellanaRío Bigal Biological ReserveThierry García
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de PayaminoMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorOrellanaSan Sebastian del CocaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity Station iNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaVía Pompeya Sur–Iro, km 10Melo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorOrellanaYarina LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaAbitaguaSchargel et al. 2013
EcuadorPastazaBamenoMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorPastazaCampamento K10Melo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorPastazaKurintzaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorPastazaMurialdoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaPuyoPhoto by Darwin Núñez
EcuadorPastazaRío AnzuPhoto by Alex Bentley
EcuadorPastazaSarayakuSchargel et al. 2013
EcuadorPastazaSumak KawsayiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaTzarentzaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorSucumbíosBarranca BermejaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorSucumbíosEl EnoMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorSucumbíosEl ReventadorMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorSucumbíosLago Agrio Melo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta Cecilia Schargel et al. 2013
EcuadorSucumbíosSector Blanca AAltamirano et al. 2010
EcuadorTungurahuaReserva Río ZuñacYánez-Muñoz et al. 2013
EcuadorTungurahuaSan Francisco de MapotoSchargel et al. 2013
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeCampamento Las PeñasMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeConcesión Minera PrincesaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeEl ZarzaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeNangaritzaThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeReserva Natural MaycuMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeYantzazaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
PeruAmazonasHuampamiMVZ 163247; VertNet
PeruCajamarcaJaénMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
PeruLoretoCahuapanaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
PeruLoretoMaynas, GüeppiMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
PeruLoretoSoplínMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021