Published December 23, 2020. Updated March 2, 2024. Open access.

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Resplendent Ground Snake (Atractus resplendens)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Atractus resplendens

English common name: Resplendent Ground Snake.

Spanish common name: Tierrera resplandeciente.

Recognition: ♂♂ 37.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=33.7 cm. ♀♀ 39.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=37.2 cm..1 Atractus resplendens can be recognized by having a round head similar in width to the neck, small eyes, and a unique coloration.1 The dorsal surfaces are uniformly dark brown with fine yellow speckling and an irregular light nape band (Fig. 1).1 The belly is yellowish cream with a dark mid-ventral stripe. This species differs from A. orcesi by having a single postocular scale and dorsal scales arranged in 15 rows at mid-body.2 From A. discovery, it differs in having in having a yellow-speckled dorsum without longitudinal stripes (speckling absent and longitudinal lines faint, but present in A. discovery).3

Figure showing variation among adult individuals of Atractus resplendens

Figure 1: Individuals of Atractus resplendens from San Antonio Mountains, Tungurahua province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Atractus resplendens is a rarely seen semi-fossorial snake that inhabits in old-growth to moderately-disturbed cloudforests, but may as well occur in agricultural areas.4 Resplendent Ground Snakes have been found inactive under rocks, logs, or in crevices, but their period of activity is not clear.4 Based on what is know about other ground snakes, the diet of A. resplendens probably includes earthworms and slugs.5,6 The defensive behavior in this species consists in hiding the head under body coils or trying to poke with the sharp tail-tip.4

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..7 Atractus resplendens is proposed to be included in this category, instead of Data Deficient,8 because there is now an adequate number of recent observations to make an assessment of the species’ extinction risk. 6 of the 12 records available for A. resplendens (listed in Appendix 1) were made between 2013 and 2020 and three of them were in private reserves. Approximately 73% of the species’ potential distribution holds continuous areas of pristine forest and ~59% of it is inside two of Ecuador’s major protected areas: Llanganates National Park and Sangay National Park.9

Distribution: Atractus resplendens is endemic to an area of approximately 1,958 km2 along the Amazonian slopes of the Andes of central Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Atractus resplendens in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Atractus resplendens in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Baños de Agua Santa, Tungurahua 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),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 resplendens, which is a Latin word meaning “glittering” or “resplendent,” refers to the shimmering lively blue-green iridescence on the dorsal scales of this species.13

See it in the wild: Resplendent Ground Snakes are rarely seen throughout most of their distribution. The area having the greatest number of records is the northeastern slope of Tungurahua volcano, near the town Baños. The snakes are most easily detected by digging in areas of soft soil along slopes in well-shaded habitats.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to María José Quiroz for finding the specimens of Atractus resplendens photographed in this account. 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).

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

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

How to cite? Zambrano D, Arteaga A (2024) Resplendent Ground Snake (Atractus resplendens). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/GLSR7598

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. Passos P, Chiesse A, Torres-Carvajal O, Savage JM (2009) Testing species boundaries within the Atractus occipitoalbus complex (Serpentes: Dipsadidae). Herpetologica 65: 384–403. DOI: 10.1655/08-024.1
  3. Arteaga A, Quezada A, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (2022) Leaving no stone unturned: three additional new species of Atractus ground snakes (Serpentes, Colubridae) from Ecuador discovered using a biogeographical approach. ZooKeys 1121: 175–210. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.1121.89539
  4. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. Cisneros-Heredia DF (2005) Report of molluscivory in Atractus carrioni Parker, 1930. Herpetozoa 18: 185–186.
  6. Balestrin RL, Di-Bernardo M, Moreno AG (2007) Feeding ecology of the neotropical worm snake Atractus reticulatus in southern Brazil. The Herpetological Journal 17: 62–64.
  7. Reyes-Puig C (2015) Un método integrativo para evaluar el estado de conservación de las especies y su aplicación a los reptiles del Ecuador. MSc thesis, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, 73 pp.
  8. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Passos P (2017) Atractus resplendens. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T50951149A50951158.en
  9. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  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.
  13. Werner F (1901) Ueber Reptilien und Batrachier aus Ecuador und Neu-Guinea. Verhandlungen der Kaiserlich-Königlichen Zoologisch-Botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien 51: 593–614. DOI: 10.5962/bhl.part.4586

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

EcuadorChimborazoChimborazo, eastern portionSavage1960
EcuadorMorona SantiagoNormandíaSavage1960
EcuadorMorona SantiagoRiobamba–NormandíaSavage1960
EcuadorTungurahuaBaños de Agua Santa*Werner 1901
EcuadorTungurahuaBosque Protector Cerro CandelariaReyes-puig et al. 2019
EcuadorTungurahuaBosque Protector Tucán AndinoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorTungurahuaChamana ReserveiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorTungurahuaMontañas de San AntonioThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorTungurahuaPuntzanArteaga et al. 2017
EcuadorTungurahuaUlba, Barrio La CiénagaArteaga et al. 2017
EcuadorTungurahuaVía a PuntzanArteaga et al. 2017
EcuadorTungurahuaYunguillaSavage 1960