Published July 23, 2021. Open access.

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Savage’s Ground Snake (Atractus savagei)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Atractus | Atractus savagei

English common name: Savage’s Ground Snake.

Spanish common name: Tierrera de Savage.

Recognition: ♂♂ 34.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=29.7 cm. ♀♀ 37.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=33.5 cm..1 In its area of distribution, the Savage’s Ground Snake (Atractus savagei) can be recognized by having a round head similar in width to the neck, small eyes, and a black-speckled dark brown dorsum with two black longitudinal stripes on each side of the body.1 The throat is yellow, the belly is orange-red, and the ventral surface of the tail is blackish with an orange band medially. There are four black longitudinal stripes along ventral surface of body.1 Juveniles have a yellow nape band. No other ground snake is known to co-occur with A. savagei, but the species has been found alongside the coral snake mimic Erythrolamprus vitti and the blind snake Trilepida pastusa.1

Figure showing variation among adult individuals of Atractus savagei

Figure 1: Individuals of Atractus savagei from Chilma Bajo, Carchi province, Ecuador. j=juvenile.

Natural history: Localy frequentRecorded weekly in densities below five individuals per locality.. Atractus savagei is a semi-fossorial (living underground and at ground level) snake that inhabits cloud forests and high evergreen montante forests, as well as agricultural areas adjacent to these forests.1,2 Savage’s Groundsnakes have been found inactive under rocks, mounds of dirt, logs, moss, and timber, but their period of activity is not clear.1 Based on what is know about other members of the genus Atractus, the diet of this species probably includes earthworms and slugs.3,4 The defensive behavior of A. savagei consists mainly of trying to flee or hide the head under body coils. Also, when an individual is handled, it can use its tail for poking.2

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Conservation: Data Deficient There is inadequate information to make an assessment of extinction risk..5 Atractus savagei is proposed to be included in this category because there is not enough information to make an accurate assessment of the species’ conservation status. Savage’s Ground Snakes have only been recorded in five localities in Carchi province, Ecuador, but there is a photographic record of an individual from Parque Nacional Natural Munchique, Cauca, Colombia, that could belong to this species.6 The identity of the Colombian specimen can play a critical role in whether A. savagei is allocated to a threatened category or not. A confirmed presence in Colombia would imply the species is more widely distributed than currently thought, occurs over regions that hold continuous forest cover, and is present in protected areas.

Distribution: Atractus savagei is endemic to the Pacific slopes of the Andes in extreme northwestern Ecuador. The species has been recorded only in Carchi province at elevations between 2058 and 2891 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Atractus savagei in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Atractus savagei 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”),79 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 savagei honors American herpetologist Jay M. Savage, in recognition of his lifetime of fruitful work on New World herpetofauna.1

See it in the wild: Savage’s Ground Snake can be seen with ~5–10% certainty at the type locality, Chilma Bajo, Carchi province, provided the search is targeted and includes turning over rocks and logs in pastures nearby remnants of native vegetation.

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).

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

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

How to cite? Arteaga A (2021) Savage’s Ground Snake (Atractus savagei). 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/GLSR7598

Literature cited:

  1. Salazar-Valenzuela D, Torres-Carvajal O, Passos P (2014) A new species of Atractus (Serpentes: Dipsadidae) from the Andes of Ecuador. Herpetologica 70: 350–363. DOI: 10.1655/HERPETOLOGICA-D-13-00045
  2. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  3. Cisneros-Heredia DF (2005) Report of molluscivory in Atractus carrioni Parker, 1930. Herpetozoa 18: 185–186.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Vera-Pérez LE, Zúñiga-Baos JA, Ayerbe González S (2018) Reptiles del Parque Nacional Natural Munchique, Colombia. Revista Novedades Colombianas 13: 97–131.
  7. 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.
  8. Beekes R (2010) Etymological dictionary of Greek. Brill, Boston, 1808 pp.
  9. 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 savagei in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorCarchiMaldonado–Tufiño roadThis work
EcuadorCarchiChilma BajoSalazar-Valenzuela et al. 2014
EcuadorCarchiMaldonado, 26.9 km E ofSalazar-Valenzuela et al. 2014
EcuadorCarchiCañón del MorániNaturalist
EcuadorCarchiVía Chinambí–ChicaliNaturalist
EcuadorCarchiRío La PlataArteaga et al. 2017