Published March 3, 2024. Open access.

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Typhon Ground Snake (Atractus typhon)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Atractus typhon

English common name: Typhon Ground Snake.

Spanish common name: Tierrera tifón.

Recognition: ♂♂ 43.8 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=37 cm. ♀♀ 43.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=34.9 cm..1,2 Atractus typhon differs from other snakes in its area of distribution by having a round head similar in width to the neck, small eyes, no preocular scale, and a banded dorsum.1,2 The dorsal surfaces are beige with broad dark brown bands or blotches (Fig. 1). The ventral surfaces are white with a checkerboard pattern.1,2 In juveniles, the bands/blotches are black and the narrow interspaces are white. This species differs from other Chocoan ground snakes by being larger and having a checkerboard ventral coloration.

Figure showing variation among adult individuals of Atractus typhon

Figure 1: Individuals of Atractus typhon from Canandé Reserve, Esmeraldas province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Atractus typhon is a rarely seen semi-fossorial snake that occurs primarily in old-growth rainforests, although individuals occasionally show up in buildings in the middle of the forest.3 Typhon Ground Snakes are usually active at night on soil or in leaf-litter on the forest floor.3 However, both juveniles and subadults have been observed perched on roots, stems, and leaves 5–100 cm above the ground.35 Based on what is know about other ground snakes, the diet of this species probably includes only earthworms.6,7 These totally harmless snakes rely on their cryptic coloration as a primary line of defense. If handled, individuals can use their sharp tail-tip for poking.3

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances.. Atractus typhon 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. Atractus typhon has a wide distribution that includes many protected areas throughout the Chocó region. Also, eight of the eleven records of A. typhon (listed in Appendix 1) are recent (2017–2024) and in private reserves. Therefore, the species is considered to be facing no major immediate extinction threats.

Distribution: Atractus typhon is native to the Chocoan lowlands and adjacent Andean foothills of northwestern Ecuador (Fig. 2) and western Colombia.

Distribution of Atractus typhon in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Atractus typhon in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Reserva Natural Biotopo Selva Húmeda, Nariño department, Colombia. 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”),911 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. According to Greek mythology, Typhon was a monstrous serpentine giant who fathered many famous monsters. Typhon was described by writer Hesiod as a fearsome creature “covered by a hundred serpent heads with dark flickering tongues flashing fire from their eyes.”1

See it in the wild: Although Atractus typhon is considered an extremely rare species, it is regularly spotted at Canandé Reserve, where the snakes are usually seen crossing forest trails at night.

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

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

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Typhon Ground Snake (Atractus typhon). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/HNNI1340

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. Arteaga A, Mebert K, Valencia JH, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Peñafiel N, Reyes-Puig C, Vieira-Fernandes JL, Guayasamin JM (2017) Molecular phylogeny of Atractus (Serpentes, Dipsadidae), with emphasis on Ecuadorian species and the description of three new taxa. ZooKeys 661: 91–123. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.661.11224
  3. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  4. Photo by Javier Aznar.
  5. Photo by Nicola Flanagan.
  6. 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
  7. Martins M, Oliveira ME (1998) Natural history of snakes in forests of the Manaus region, Central Amazonia, Brazil. Herpetological Natural History 6: 78–150.
  8. Bolívar W, Velasco J, Passos P (2017) Atractys typhon. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T44581368A44581371.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 typhon in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

ColombiaCaucaRío SaijaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaChocóTadóiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaNariñoReserva Natural Biotopo Selva HúmedaPassos et al. 2009
ColombiaNariñoReserva Natural El PangánPhoto by Carlos Luna
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReserveThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorEsmeraldasGualpíArteaga et al. 2017
EcuadorEsmeraldasItapoa ReserveArteaga et al. 2017
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote GualpiArteaga et al. 2017
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote RoseroThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Tesoro EscondidoMelo-Sampaio & Venegas 2023
EcuadorPichinchaReserva Un Poco del ChocóiNaturalist; photo examined