Published March 20, 2024. Open access.

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Brown Spotbelly Snake (Coniophanes fissidens)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Coniophanes fissidens

English common names: Brown Spotbelly Snake, Yellow-bellied Snake, Brown Spotbelly.

Spanish common names: Culebra ventripunteada marrón, hojarasquera café.

Recognition: ♂♂ 63 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=39.4 cm. ♀♀ 80 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=54.4 cm..13 Coniophanes fissidens is a medium-sized snake that can be identified by having a brown dorsal coloration, a vertebral row of minute black spots (Fig. 1), and a yellowish to light reddish belly with with dark spots.14 The head differs slightly from the neck and has a light postocular stripe accompanied by small dark spots on the labial scales.2,4 This species differs from C. dromiciformis and R. decorata by having a spotted belly (immaculate or nearly so in the other two species).1,4,5

Figure showing an adult male individual of Coniophanes fissidens

Figure 1: Adult male of Coniophanes fissidens from Bosque Protector La Perla, Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Coniophanes fissidens is a terrestrial snake found in old growth to heavily disturbed lowland rainforests1,6,7 as well as in pastures and planted forests.8 Brown Spotbelly Snakes forage on leaf-litter by daytime or during the early evening, usually close to bodies of water.79 They have been observed with the body concealed among the substrate while peeking out of the leaves only with the top of the head.3,7,9 When not active, they remain hidden in the leaf-litter.8 These reptiles actively hunt and subdue prey by means of envenomation. Their diet is composed primarily on frogs (even toxic ones such as dendrobatid poison frogs,10,11 Leptodactylus, and Incilius),7,9,12 but also includes salamanders12 and lizards (anoles, skinks, geckos, whiptails, and the hedgehog lizard Echinosaura keyi).12 A variety of snakes are also consumed by C. fissidens,12 including conspecifics.13 Juveniles are partly insectivorous, feeding on earthworms and caterpillars.13 These jittery snakes rely primarily on crypsis to avoid detection. If disturbed, they quickly disappear into the leaf-litter.8 There are recorded instances of predation on members of this species, including by motmots14 and coralsnakes.15 The Brown Spotbelly is a venomous opisthoglyphous snake. In humans, its bite produces swelling, local pain, and slight hemorrhages.1,16 The tail is long, fragile, and breaks off easily when grabbed by a predator, enabling the escape and survival of the snake.17 The clutch size in this species consists of 1–7 eggs.2,3

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..18 Coniophanes fissidens is listed in this category primarily because the species’ wide distribution spans diverse habitats and dozens of protected areas. Furthermore, most populations appear to be stable and persist in human-modified habitats.18 However, in the southern part of its range, this species is restricted to a comparatively small (17,731 km2) isolated area that has lost approximately 75% of its original rainforest cover. Therefore, C. fissidens could qualify for the Vulnerable category at the national level in Ecuador if its habitat continues to be destroyed.

Distribution: Coniophanes fissidens is widely distributed throughout Mesoamerica and west of the Andes in South America, from Mexico to western Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Coniophanes fissidens in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The name Coniophanes comes from the Greek konios (=dust) and phanion (=dim),19 and probably refers to the light spots along the belly of some members of the genus. The specific epithet fissidens comes from the Latin fissure (=cleft) and dens (=tooth).19 This refers to the grooved rear fangs.

See it in the wild: Brown Spotbelly Snakes may be encountered at rate of about once a month in forested areas throughout their distribution in Ecuador. They are abundant in Bosque Protector La Perla and around the city Santo Domingo. The snakes may be seen as they cross forest trails during sunny mornings.

Special thanks to Joseph Mendelson for symbolically adopting the Brown Spotbelly Snake and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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Authors: Tatiana Molina-Moreno,aAffiliation: Departamento de Biología, Universidad de los Llanos, Villavicencio, Colombia. Sophia Hurtado,bAffiliation: Universidad ICESI, Cali, Colombia. Andrés F. Aponte-Gutiérrez,cAffiliation: Grupo de Investigación en Ciencias de la Orinoquía, Universidad Nacional de Colombia sede Orinoquía, Arauca, Colombia.,dAffiliation: Fundación Biodiversa Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia. and Alejandro ArteagaeAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

Photographer: Jose VieirafAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,gAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Molina-Moreno T, Hurtado S, Aponte-Gutiérrez AF, Arteaga A (2024) Brown Spotbelly Snake (Coniophanes fissidens). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/UFTZ2364

Literature cited:

  1. 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.
  2. Heimes P (2016) Snakes of Mexico. Chimaira, Frankfurt, 572 pp.
  3. Zug GR, Hedges SB, Sunkel S (1979) Variation in reproductive parameters of three neotropical snakes, Coniophanes fissidens, Dipsas catesbyi, and Imantodes cenchoa. Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 300: 1–20.
  4. Bailey JR (1939) A systematic study of the snakes of the genus Coniophanes. Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters 24: 1–48.
  5. Myers CW (1969) Snakes of the genus Coniophanes in Panamá. American Museum Novitates 2372: 1–28.
  6. MECN (2010) Serie herpetofauna del Ecuador: El Chocó esmeraldeño. Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales, Quito, 232 pp.
  7. Cadle JE (1989) A new species of Coniophanes (Serpentes: Colubridae) from northwestern Peru. Herpetologica 45: 411–424.
  8. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  9. Landy MJ, Langebartel DA, Moll EO, Smith HM (1966) A collection of snakes from Volcán Tacana, Chiapas, Mexico. Journal of the Ohio Herpetological Society 48: 93–101.
  10. Solano M, Vega A, Saporito RA (2017) Phyllobates lugubris (Lovely Poison Frog): predator-prey interactions. Herpetological Review 48: 831.
  11. Saporito RA, Zuercher R, Roberts M, Gerow KG, Donnelly MA (2007) Experimental evidence for aposematism in the Dendrobatid poison frog Oophaga pumilio. Copeia 2007: 1006–1011. DOI: 10.1643/0045-8511(2007)7[1006:EEFAIT]2.0.CO;2
  12. Aguilar-López JL, Rodríguez PAA (2023) Interacción predador-presa entre Coniophanes fissidens (Squamata: Colubridae) y Craugastor rhodopis (Anura: Craugastoridae) en la región montañosa central de Veracruz. Revista Latinoamericana de Herpetología 6: 100–123. DOI: 10.22201/fc.25942158e.2023.4.810
  13. Seib RL (1985) Euryphagy in a tropical snake, Coniophanes fissidens. Biotropica 17: 57–64.
  14. Photo by Esteban Berrío.
  15. Anderson CV, Liebl AL (2019) Micrurus alleni (Allen’s Coralsnake): diet. Herpetological Review 50: 162–163.
  16. Unpublished data by Alejandro Arteaga.
  17. Mendelson JR (1992) Frequency of tail breakage in Coniophanes fissidens (Serpentes: Colubridae). Herpetologica 48: 448–455.
  18. Flores-Villela O, Nicholson K, Wilson LD, Caicedo J (2019) Coniophanes fissidens. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T197472A151731529.en
  19. 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 Coniophanes fissidens in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological StationOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasCabeceras de BilsaAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorEsmeraldasCaimitoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasEl GuaboiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasMalimpiaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Tesoro EscondidoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío CupaUSNM 204108; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasZapotaliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueKU 152603; VertNet
EcuadorLos RíosLa PlanadaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíCerro Pata de PájaroPhoto by Carlos Robles
EcuadorManabíMaicitoMHNG 1367.084; collection database
EcuadorManabíReserva Jama CoaqueLynch et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíSan LuisiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaCelicaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaEl AchiotePazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorPichinchaHostería Selva VirgenReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaLa Unión del ToachiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaMilpe Bird SanctuaryiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaPedro Vicente MaldonadoPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorPichinchaPedro Vicente Maldonado, 2 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto de IlaUSNM 204109; VertNet
EcuadorPichinchaRío Silanche Bird SanctuaryiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaRío ToachiUIMNH 92328; collection databse
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasBosque Protector La PerlaThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca La EsperanzaUSNM 204110; VertNet
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca La FloreanaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasHacienda EspinosaCAS 13311; VertNet
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSan Pablo de ChilaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los ColoradosCAS 16639; VertNet