Published March 11, 2024. Open access.

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Long-tailed Whipsnake (Chironius multiventris)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Chironius multiventris

English common names: Long-tailed Whipsnake, Long-tailed Sipo, South American Sipo.

Spanish common name: Serpiente látigo colilarga.

Recognition: ♂♂ 261.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=168.1 cm. ♀♀ 209.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=132.9 cm..1 Chironius multiventris can be identified by having 12 rows of dorsal scales at mid-body, a divided anal plate, and 161–196 ventral scales.1 This species exhibits an ontogenetic shift in coloration, with juveniles presenting a light olive-brown dorsum with lighter colored scales (sometimes forming bars), and adults having a dark-brown dorsum with black paravertebral keels forming two longitudinal lines (Fig. 1).13 Both juveniles and adults have a bright yellow belly.13 Chironius multiventris differs from C. exoletus by having more ventral scales (123–162 in C. exoletus) and a proportionally longer tail.1,2 From C. fuscus and C. leucometapus, it differs by having 12 rows of dorsal scales at mid-body and a divided anal plate.1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Chironius multiventris

Figure 1: Individuals of Chironius multiventris from Ecuador: Yasuní National Park, Orellana province (); Suchipakari Lodge, Napo province (); Napo Wildlife Center, Sucumbíos province ().

Natural history: Chironius multiventris is a fairly common diurnal and semi-arboreal snake that inhabits primary rainforests, gallery forests, and occasionally disturbed areas such as roadsides and rural gardens.13 During the day, Long-tailed Whipsnakes can be seen actively moving on the forest floor or on shrubs and trees up to 7 m above the ground.4 At night, they sleep coiled on vegetation up to 9 m above the ground.1,3,4 Their diet is composed mainly of frogs, but reptiles (including Anolis fuscoauratus and Polychrus marmoratus) are also consumed.15 Gravid females have been found to contain 7–10 oviductal eggs,1,3 but the real clutch size is not known. The Long-tailed Whipsnake, when disturbed, can exhibit an aggressive behavior which consists of raising the first third of the body while striking repeatedly.4 However, this is an aglyphous snake, meaning it lacks venom-inoculating teeth.1 In Ecuador, two males of C. multiventris were observed entangled in combat.6

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..7 Chironius multiventris is listed in this category primarily because the species is widely distributed, occurs in protected areas, and is able to tolerate some degree of habitat disturbance so long as forest remain.7 Although little is known about threats to this species, deforestation and the decline in the number of anuran prey due to pollution and emerging diseases could have a negative localized impact on some populations. Chironius multiventris can also be particularly affected by vehicular traffic, being frequently found dead-on-road throughout its range.4

Distribution: Chironius multiventris is widespread throughout the Amazon rainforest Brazil, Peru, Ecuador (Fig. 2), Colombia, Suriname, Guyana, French Guyana and Venezuela.

Distribution of Chironius multiventris in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The 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.8 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. The specific epithet multiventris comes from the words multus (=many) and ventris (=venter), and refers to the high number of ventral scales.1

See it in the wild: Long-tailed Whipsnakes are particularly common at Yasuní National Park, where they are recorded at a rate of about twice a week especially along clearings during sunny days.

Special thanks to Mami Okura for symbolically adopting the Long-tailed Whipsnake and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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Authors: Esteban Garzón-FrancoaAffiliation: Colecciones Biológicas de la Universidad CES (CBUCES), Facultad de Ciencias y Biotecnología, Universidad CES, Medellín, Colombia. and Laura Gómez-Mesa,bAffiliation: Escuela de Ciencias Aplicadas e Ingeniería, Universidad EAFIT, Medellín, Colombia. and Alejandro ArteagacAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographer: Jose VieiradAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,eAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Garzón-Franco E, Gómez-Mesa L, Arteaga A (2024) Long-tailed Whipsnake (Chironius multiventris). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/ZZGF1100

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. 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.
  3. Martins M, Oliveira ME (1998) Natural history of snakes in forests of the Manaus region, Central Amazonia, Brazil. Herpetological Natural History 6: 78–150.
  4. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. 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.
  6. Photo by Kestrel DeMarco.
  7. Ortega A, Hoogmoed M, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Catenazzi A, Nogueira C, Schargel W, Rivas G (2016) Chironius multiventris. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T44580143A44580148.en
  8. Merrem B (1790) Beitrage zur Naturgeschichte. Duisburg um Lemgo, Berlin, 141 pp.

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

ColombiaCaquetáFlorencia Cárdenas Hincapié & Lozano Bernal 2023
ColombiaPutumayoReserva La Isla EscondidaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaPutumayoVereda Islas de CartagenaBorja-Acosta & Galeano 2024
EcuadorMorona SantiagoGualaquizaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoRío NamangozaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTurulaAMNH 23285; examined
EcuadorNapoHakuna Matata LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoHuaorani LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoIkiam UniversityPhoto by Grace Reyes
EcuadorNapoJatun Sacha Biological ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoMisahuallíiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoNeumaneiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoRío TenaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoRuna HuasiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoSacha LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoSuchipakari LodgeThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorNapoWild Sumaco Wildlife SanctuaryiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaÁvila ViejoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaCamino a Bogi 2Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaEPF, 3 km NW ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaMandaripanga LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaReserva Río BigalGarcía et al. 2021
EcuadorOrellanaRío CocaMCZ 164700; VertNet
EcuadorOrellanaRío Yasuní, 200 km upstream from mouthDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de PayaminoMaynard et al. 2016
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity Station Cisneros-Heredia 2003
EcuadorOrellanaYarina LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaYasuní Scientific StationThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorPastazaArutamiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaCampamento K4Torres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaCanelosReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaCentro Ecológico Zanja ArajunoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaFinca HeimatlosiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaFundación Hola VidaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaJardín Botánico Las OrquídeasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaJuyuintzaOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaMouth of Río VillanoDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPastazaPaparawuaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaRío LliquinoDixon et al. 1993
EcuadorPastazaRío SarayakilloTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaSan PascualiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuAMNH 36038; examined
EcuadorPastazaSumak Kawsay In SituiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaUniversidad Estatal AmazónicaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaUpper Río CurarayiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosLa Selva LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosLago AgrioDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncocha Biological ReserveNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosLumbaquiPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorSucumbíosNapo Wildlife CenterThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorSucumbíosPañacochaMHNG 2399.037; collection database
EcuadorSucumbíosPlayas del CuyabenoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosSan Pablo de KantesiyaMHNG 2458.1; collection database
EcuadorSucumbíosSani LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosSansahuariiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta Cecilia Duellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosTucán LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeCopalingaReeves et al. (unpublished)
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeReserva MaycuReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeSubcuenca del Río TundaymeBetancourt et al. 2018
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeTimbaraPhoto by Darwin Núñez
PeruAmazonasBoca del Río CenepaNogueira et al. 2019
PeruAmazonasBoca del Río SantiagoDixon et al. 1993
PeruAmazonasHuampamiMVZ 163256; VertNet
PeruLoretoCentro UniónNogueira et al. 2019
PeruLoretoCordillera EscaleraTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
PeruLoretoMoroponNogueira et al. 2019