Published March 17, 2024. Open access.

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Equatorial Mussurana (Clelia equatoriana)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Clelia clelia

English common name: Equatorial Mussurana.

Spanish common name: Ratonera ecuatoriana.

Recognition: ♂♂ 142.2 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 157.5 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=140 cm..1,2 Clelia equatoriana is a large, robust snake that experiences a change in coloration throughout its lifespan. The adults have a uniform glossy black or gray dorsum whereas juveniles have a bright red dorsum with black scale tips, black head, and a cream or yellow nuchal collar followed by a black band (Fig. 1).13 The belly is always white but the dorsal coloration impinges the margins of the ventral scales.2,3 This is the only snake in western Ecuador having this coloration in combination with 17 rows of smooth scales at mid-body. The lower number of dorsals can be used to separate this species from C. clelia and Oxyrhopus petolarius.13

Figure showing variation among individuals of Clelia equatoriana

Figure 1: Individuals of Clelia equatoriana from Ecuador: Itapoa Reserve, Esmeraldas province (); Reserva Río Manduriacu, Imbabura province (); Séptimo Paraíso Lodge, Pichincha province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Clelia equatoriana is a terrestrial snake that inhabits old growth rainforests and cloud forests.1 The species also occurs in cultivated areas, pastures, and rural gardens.4 At night or at dusk after a warm day, Equatorial Mussuranas may be seen foraging on the forest floor or along rocky river shores.1,5 During cold nights, they use roads for thermoregulation.5 By daytime, some individuals remain hidden in leaf-litter, under logs,6 or beneath debris,4 but others are seen crawling at ground level.4 Clelia equatoriana is an ophiophagous species; that is, it feeds on other snakes, including Chironius exoletus,1 Bothrocophias campbelli,1 and Bothrops asper.7 Rodents are also consumed.8,9 Mussuranas active foragers, tracking prey by quickly flicking their tongues to detect their scent trail. Although it has grooved rear fangs and venom glands, the Equatorial Mussurana is very docile and rarely bites in defense.1,4

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..10 Clelia equatoriana 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.5,10 However, this species can be particularly affected by traffic, being frequently found dead-on-road in Ecuador4 and Colombia.5

Distribution: Clelia equatoriana is widespread throughout the slopes and foothills of the Andes, being found in Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), and Peru.

Distribution of Clelia equatoriana in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The word clelia is derived from the Latin Cloelia, a girl’s name meaning “illustrious” or “famous.” According to Roman legend, Cloelia was a heroine who was held hostage by an Etruscan invader. However, she managed to escape by swimming across the river Tiber.11 The specific epithet refers to the terra-tipica: Ecuador.

See it in the wild: Despite being large and conspicuous, the Equatorial Mussurana is only seldom seen in Ecuador. Nevertheless, the species appears more common in the general area of Mindo, where individuals are spotted crossing roads at dusk at a rate of about once every two weeks.

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

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

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Equatorial Mussurana (Clelia equatoriana). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/XIOD4373

Literature cited:

  1. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  2. Zaher H (1996) A new genus and species of pseudoboine snake, with a revision of the genus Clelia (Serpentes, Xenodontinae). Bolletino dei Musei di Zoologia ed Anatomia Comparata della Università di Torino 14: 289–337.
  3. Pérez-Santos C, Moreno AG (1988) Ofidios de Colombia. Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali, Torino, 517 pp.
  4. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. Rojas-Morales JA (2012) Snakes of an urban-rural landscape in the central Andes of Colombia: species composition, distribution, and natural history. Phyllomedusa 11: 135–154.
  6. Chávez-Arribasplata JC, Vásquez D, Torres C, Echevarría LY, Venegas PJ (2016) Confirming the presence of Clelia equatoriana Amaral, 1924 (Squamata: Dipsadidae) in Peru. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation 10: 1–4.
  7. Photo by Juan José Arévalo.
  8. Photo by ONG Juglans.
  9. Photo by Jehave on iNaturalist.
  10. Acosta Chaves V, Ballesteros E, Batista A, García Rodríguez A, Ines Hladki A, Ramírez Pinilla M, Renjifo J, Saborío G, Urbina N, Vargas Álvarez J, Caicedo J (2016) Clelia equatoriana. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T203440A2765472.en
  11. Beolens B, Watkins M, Grayson M (2011) The eponym dictionary of reptiles. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 296 pp.

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

ColombiaCaucaParque Nacional MunchiqueVera-Pérez et al. 2018
ColombiaNariñoReserva La PlanadaPhoto by Fernando Santander
ColombiaNariñoReserva Natural El PangánOnline multimedia
EcuadorBolívarBalzapambaKU 132502; VertNet
EcuadorCarchiPeñas BlancasReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorChimborazoSalsipuedesArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCotopaxiLas PampasArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCotopaxiOtonga Biological StationArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEl OroCasa de investigadoresReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEl OroReserva Biológica BuenaventuraGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEsmeraldasAlto TamboArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasItapoa ReserveThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Tesoro EscondidoPazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorGuayasBucayZaher 1996
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquil*Amaral 1924
EcuadorImbaburaLos Yumbos, 2 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaReserva ManduriacuReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorImbaburaSelva AlegreArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaBellavista LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaEstación Puerto Quito OCPValencia & Garzón 2013
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda La HesperiaBrouwer 2018
EcuadorPichinchaMaquipucuna ReserveiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaMindoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaMonterreal Rainforest EcolodgePhoto by Jorge Ambuludi
EcuadorPichinchaNanegalBoulenger 1883
EcuadorPichinchaNanegalitoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaPuma SachaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaRoad to MindoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaSachatamia LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaSeptimo Paraíso LodgeThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorPichinchaTandapiZaher 1996
EcuadorPichinchaTandayapaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaVía los LaurelesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaYaku QuindeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasBosque Protector Río GuajalitoReyes 2008
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los ColoradosZaher 1996
PeruCajamarcaEl Sauce ForestChávez-Arribasplata et al. 2016
PeruPiuraQuebrada MolletónChávez-Arribasplata et al. 2016