Published May 5, 2021. Open access.

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Green Whipsnake (Chironius exoletus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Chironius | Chironius exoletus

English common names: Green Whipsnake, Linnaeus’ Sipo, Green Sipo, Green Keelback.

Spanish common name: Serpiente látigo verde, juetiadora, lora.

Recognition: ♂♂ 153.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=97.3 cm. ♀♀ 154.5 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=100 cm..1 In its area of distribution, the Green Whipsnake (Chironius exoletus) can be differentiated from most other snakes by presenting a combination of 12 rows of dorsal scales at mid-body and a uniform bright green to olive dorsal coloration.1,2 Juveniles of C. exoletus differ from those of C. flavopictus by having a yellowish cream coloration on the lower flanks, instead of bright orange or yellow. The highland species C. monticola also has a bright green dorsum but it has contrasting black stripes on the tail.1 In the Amazon basin, C. exoletus is often confused with C. multiventris, but this other snake is darker, has more ventral scales (161–196 versus 123–162),1 and a proportionally longer tail.3 Due to its coloration, the Green Whipsnake can also be confused with snakes of the genera Erythrolamprus, Dendrophidion, Drymoluber, and Leptophis, from which C. exoletus differs by having a lower number of dorsal scales rows.4,5

Figure showing variation among individuals of Chironius exoletus

Figure 1: Individuals of Chironius exoletus from Maycu Reserve, Zamora Chinchipe province (), and Mindo, Pichincha province (), Ecuador. ad=adult, j=juvenile.

Natural history: FrequentRecorded weekly in densities below five individuals per locality.. Chironius exoletus is a diurnal, semi-arboreal snake most active during sunny weather. The species inhabits evergreen lowland and foothill forests as well as pastures with scattered trees, crops, and houses6 adjacent to these forests.5 In Brazil, the species also occurs in flooded plains and dry forest.7,8 At night, individuals sleep coiled on branches of bushes and trees 0.3–8 m above the ground, usually along bodies of water or at the edge of open areas such as roads and pastures.1,3,5 On sunny days, Green Whipsnakes forage actively on the ground or on low vegetation.1 Their diet is composed primarily of frogs (including Boana appendiculata,9 B. calcarata,10 B. lanciformis,1 B. punctata,1 Dendropsophus bifurcus,1 D. marmoratus,1 Osteocephalus taurinus,11 Phyllomedusa tomopterna,12 Scinax garbei,1 S. ruber,1 Smilisca phaeota,13 Lithobates palmipes)1 but also includes salamanders (Bolitoglossa altamazonica),1 tadpoles,8 lizards (such as Hemidactylus mabouia, Thecadactylus rapicauda, and anoles),12 and birds.1 In Brazil, a specimen was seen feeding on a toxic frog of the genus Trachycephalus.14 There are records of snakes (Clelia equatoriana) preying upon individuals of C. exoletus.5 The main defense mechanism of Green Whipsnakes is to flee quickly, although they can also inflate the neck and open the mouth aggressively to appear bigger and intimidating; if this does not work, they can also strike.1,5 However, this snake has no venom glands and is harmless to humans.5 Courtship and mating in C. exoletus consists of tactile alignment, meddling, and copulation that can last 27 minutes.15 Females lay clutches of 4–12 eggs.2

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..1618 Chironius exoletus is included in this category because the species is widely distributed, occurs in over a hundred protected areas, and persists in human-modified habitats.16,19 Although there is no current information on the population trend of C. exoletus, the decline in the number of anuran prey due to pollution and emerging diseases could have a negative localized impact on the species.20 Minor, but ongoing threats to C. exoletus include mortality from vehicular traffic and illegal trafficking.

Distribution: Chironius exoletus is widely distributed throughout the lowlands and adjacent mountain foothills of Central America and South America, from western Costa Rica to northeastern Argentina. The species has an estimated total range size of 2,983,076 km2 that encompasses eastern Mesoamerica, the Chocó rainforest, Magdalena valley, the entire Amazon basin, the Cerrado, and the Atlantic Forest. In Ecuador, this species occurs at elevations between 29 and 1732 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Chironius exoletus in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Chironius exoletus in Ecuador. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Chironius was coined by Leopold Fitzinger in 1826, but likely originated in 1790 with Blasius Merrem, who used the common name “Chiron’s Natter” for Linnaeus’ Coluber carinatus.21 In Greek mythology, Chiron was a centaur reputed for his healing abilities. Likewise, in ancient Greek civilization, sick people hoping for a cure flocked to temples where sacred snakes were carefully tended and presented to the sufferers. Therefore, the word Chironius was likely used as a reference to the healing power of snakes, a belief that lies at the foundation of medicine and crosses many cultures worldwide. The specific epithet exoletus is a Latin word meaning “fully grown” or “mature.”22 It probably refers to the holotype, a large adult specimen.1

See it in the wild: Green Whipsnakes can be seen with ~5–10% certainty in forested areas throughout their area of distribution in Ecuador. The area having the greatest number of observations is Mindo, a valley and town in Pichincha province. The snakes can be spotted sleeping on vegetation along rivers at night, or moving on pastures during sunny days.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Eric Osterman for finding two of the specimens of Chironius exoletus pictured in this account.

Special thanks to Jenny Seymour for symbolically adopting the Green Whipsnake and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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Authors: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographers: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Frank PichardoaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Vieira J, Quezada A, Arteaga A (2021) Green Whipsnake (Chironius exoletus). 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/IJPD8457

Literature cited:

  1. Dixon JR, Wiest Jr JA, Cei JM (1993) Revision of the Neotropical snake genus Chironius Fitzinger (Serpentes, Colubridae). Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali di Torino, Torino, 280 pp.
  2. Savage JM (2002) The amphibians and reptiles of Costa Rica, a herpetofauna between two continents, between two seas. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 934 pp.
  3. Duellman WE (1978) The biology of an equatorial herpetofauna in Amazonian Ecuador. Publications of the Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas 65: 1–352.
  4. Peters JA, Donoso-Barros B (1970) Catalogue of Neotropical Squamata: part I, snakes. Bulletin of the United States National Museum, Washington, D.C., 347 pp.
  5. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  6. Photo by Nereida Guerra.
  7. Marques R, Tinôco MS, Couto-Ferreira D, Fazolato CP, Browne-Ribeiro HC, Travassos MLO, Dias MA, Mota JVL (2011) Reserva Imbassaí Restinga: inventory of snakes on the Northern coast of Bahia, Brazil. Journal of Threatened Taxa 3: 2184–2191. DOI: 10.11609/JoTT.o2812.2184-91
  8. Marques R, Mebert K, Fonseca E, Rodder D, Sole M, Tinoco MS (2016) Composition and natural history notes of the coastal snake assemblage from Northern Bahia, Brazil. Zookeys: 93–142. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.611.9529
  9. Photo by Luciano Amaral Breves.
  10. Photo by Jesus Ramos.
  11. Photo by Phan Lặng Yên.
  12. Roberto IJ, Ramos Souza A (2020) Review of prey items recorded for snakes of the genus Chironius (Squamata, Colubridae), including the first record of Osteocephalus as prey. Herpetology Notes 13: 1–5.
  13. Photo by Juan Carlos Narváez.
  14. Guimaraes M (2008) Chironius exoletus (Common Whipsnake). Prey and possible diet convergence. Herpetological Bulletin 105: 41–42.
  15. Gusmão AC, Casagrande LP, Silva AM, Crispin MA, Fereira-García JR, Souza MR, Suzeck E, Bernarde PS (2011) Chironius exoletus (Vine Snake). Reproductive behavior. Herpetological Review 42: 248.
  16. Acosta Chaves V, Arzamendia V, Ballesteros E, Batista A, Bolívar W, Fitzgerald L, García Rodríguez A, Giraudo A, Gutiérrez-Cárdenas P, Kacoliris F, Montero R, Pelegrin N, Saborío G, Scrocchi G, Vargas Álvarez J, Velasco J, Williams J, Nogueira CdC, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Hoogmoed MS, Schargel W, Rivas G (2019) Chironius exoletus. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T203279A2762756.en
  17. Carrillo E, Aldás A, Altamirano M, Ayala F, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Endara A, Márquez C, Morales M, Nogales F, Salvador P, Torres ML, Valencia J, Villamarín F, Yánez-Muñoz M, Zárate P (2005) Lista roja de los reptiles del Ecuador. Fundación Novum Millenium, Quito, 46 pp.
  18. 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.
  19. Avila-Pires TCS, Alves-Silva KR, Barbosa L, Correa FS, Cosenza JFA, Costa-Rodrigues APV, Cronemberger AA, Hoogmoed MS, Lima-Filho GR, Maciel AO, Missassi AFR, Nascimento LRS, Nunes ALS, Oliveira LS, Palheta GS, Pereira Jr AJS, Pinheiro L, Santos-Costa MC, Pinho SRC, Silva FM, Silva MB, Sturaro MJ (2018) Changes in amphibian and reptile diversity over time in Parque Estadual do Utinga, Pará State, Brazil, a protected area surrounded by urbanization. Herpetology Notes 11: 499–512.
  20. Zipkin EF, DiRenzo GD, Ray JM, Rossman S, Lips KR (2020) Tropical snake diversity collapses after widespread amphibian loss. Science 367: 814–816.
  21. Merrem B (1790) Beitrage zur Naturgeschichte. Duisburg um Lemgo, Berlin, 141 pp.
  22. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Chironius exoletus in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaCaquetáCaserío Los ÁngelesSINCHI 936
ColombiaCaquetáFlorenciaDixon et al. 1993
ColombiaNariñoLa GuayacanaDixon et al. 1993
ColombiaNariñoLlorenteDixon et al. 1993
ColombiaNariñoRicaurteDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorAzuayAzuay–El Oro limitJuan Carlos Sánchez, pers. comm.
EcuadorCañarHidroeléctrica OcañaJuan Carlos Sanchez
EcuadorCarchiChical–ImbaburaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCarchiChinambíPhoto by Andreas Kay
EcuadorCarchiTobar DonosoSamec & Samec 1988
EcuadorChimborazoBucayDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorChimborazoPallatangaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorChimborazoValle del ChanchánDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorCotopaxiEl Jardín de los SueñosPhoto by Christophe Pellet
EcuadorCotopaxiLa Unión del Toachi, 7 km S ofiNaturalist
EcuadorCotopaxiReserva YakusinchiPhoto by Jane Sloan
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasCentro de Fauna Silvestre James BrownPhoto by Salvador Palacios
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro CeiboPhoto by Paul Hamilton
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda EquinoxArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa MayrongaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorEsmeraldasSanto Domingo, 30 km NNW ofDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorImbaburaCafé Finca Las CascadasiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaLitaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorImbaburaParambaDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorImbaburaReserva Los CedrosPhoto by Eduardo Obando
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueUSNM 285476
EcuadorManabíJama Coaque ReserveiNaturalist
EcuadorManabíMaicitoDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorManabíTrinidadArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCusuimeDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorMorona SantiagoGualaquizaDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacasArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacumaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMéndezDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorMorona SantiagoQuebrada Río NapinazaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoRoad Shaime–Puerto MoronaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoFinca FischerTCWC 65514
EcuadorNapoGuagua Sumaco, 10 km west ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoRío CotopinoDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorNapoRío SunoUSNM 287926
EcuadorNapoWild Sumaco LodgeTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoYachana ReservePhoto by Scott Waters
EcuadorOrellanaÁvila ViejoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaCoca, 9 km south ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaLoretoDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorOrellanaRoad AMO 1–Río YasuníTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaShiripuno LodgePhoto by Rudy Gelis
EcuadorOrellanaYasuní Scientific StationTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaArajunoDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPastazaBalsauraOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaBloque 10-Agip OilTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaBobonazaDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPastazaCanelosDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPastazaConamboOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaCuraray MedioDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaPaltaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaPuyoDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPastazaRío Arajuno, headwaters ofDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPastazaRío CapahuariDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPastazaRío ChambiraDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPastazaRío HuiyoyacuDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPastazaRío PindoDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPastazaRío VillanoDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPastazaSumak Kawsay In SituPhoto by Danilo Medina
EcuadorPastazaTambo UniónDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPichinchaHostería Selva VirgenThis work
EcuadorPichinchaLa HesperiaBrouwer 2018
EcuadorPichinchaLa Unión del Toachi, 14 km SE ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaMaquipucuna ReserveiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi LodgeArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi ShungoThis work
EcuadorPichinchaMilpe Bird SanctuaryThis work
EcuadorPichinchaMindo Garden LodgeArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaMindo–Cunuco roadArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaMindo–Los BancosArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaNanegalito, 1 km NW ofThis work
EcuadorPichinchaOtongachi ReserveDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPichinchaRío AlambiArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaRío CintoPhoto by Lisa Brunetti
EcuadorPichinchaRío SilancheDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPichinchaSanta Lucía Cloud Forest ReserveThis work
EcuadorPichinchaSéptimo Paraíso LodgeArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaTandapiArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaVía a Cascada de MindoThis work
EcuadorPichinchaYellow House LodgeArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca la EsperanzaDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLa FloridaMHNG 2309.071
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasPuerto LimónTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasReserva Forestal La PerlaPhoto by Plácido Palacios
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío BabaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 23 km W ofDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorSucumbíosComunidad SingueTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosDurenoDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorSucumbíosEl PorvenirNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosEl ReventadorMHNG 2248.035
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncochaDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorSucumbíosNicky Amazon LodgeiNaturalist
EcuadorSucumbíosRoad El Reventador–LumbaquiTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosSan Pablo de KantesiyaMHNG 2309.072
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta CeciliaDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeCopalingaReeves et al. (unpublished)
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeCumbaratza, 2 km N ofArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeLas Orquídeas, 7 km N ofiNaturalist
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeMaycu ReserveThis work
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeValladolidMHNG 2248.034
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeValle del QuimiBetancourt et al. 2018
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeZamoraArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeZamora, 10 km north ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeZumba–Pucubamba roadThis work
PeruAmazonasAguaruna VillageMVZ 175311
PeruAmazonasChiriaco, 31 km SW ofDixon et al. 1993
PeruAmazonasHuambisa VillageMVZ 175307
PeruAmazonasHuampamiUSNM 316580
PeruAmazonasImasaMVZ 163248
PeruAmazonasKagkaUSNM 316582
PeruAmazonasKayamasUSNM 316581
PeruAmazonasLa PozaUSNM 566553
PeruAmazonasPuerto GalileaUSNM 566552
PeruAmazonasRío CaterpizaUSNM 566711
PeruAmazonasTujushik EntseUSNM 316579