Published March 24, 2024. Open access.

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Brown Forest-Racer (Dendrophidion brunneum)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Dendrophidion brunneum

English common name: Brown Forest-Racer.

Spanish common name: Corredora selvática café.

Recognition: ♂♂ 123 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=70.0 cm. ♀♀ 136.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=79.6 cm..1 Dendrophidion brunneum can be identified by having a dorsal coloration that varies from olive to pale greenish-brown, where the anterior zone is lighter than the posterior (Fig. 1).1,2 Some individuals have a uniformly olive, blue-green, or brown dorsal coloration.2,3 The head of adults is dark green or bluish, changing drastically in color as it approaches the neck.1 The supralabial scales are white and the tongue is black. This species can be distinguished from other Dendrophidion primarily based on coloration.1 Unlike D. graciliverpa and D. prolixum, this species lacks transverse dorsal bars.2 From D. clarkii, it differs by lacking a brown nuchal band and a reddish brown tail.4

Figure showing a juvenile of Dendrophidion brunneum

Figure 1: Juvenile of Dendrophidion brunneum from Guayaquil, Guayas province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Dendrophidion brunneum is a terrestrial snake that inhabits old-growth to heavily disturbed seasonally dry forests and humid montane forests, usually in association with bodies of water.1,5 The species also tolerates disturbed areas such montane forest patches intermixed with grasslands, coffee plantations, banana crops, and even peri-urban areas.1,5 Brown Forest-Racers are diurnal and more likely to be active during sunny days, with an increase peak of activy during the end of the rainy season (May–June).1 The majority of their activity occurs at ground level but individuals may occasionally be spotted on low vegetation.6 At night or during overcast days, they remain hidden in ground burrows, in cavities among roots, or beneath surface objects such as rocks and bricks.1,5 These snakes are active hunters of terrestrial Pristimantis rainfrogs,1,5 but also include lizards of the genus Stenocercus in their diet.1 The Forest-Racer, when cornered, subtly inflates its neck, opens the mouth aggressively, and strikes.1 Its tail is long, fragile, and breaks off easily when grabbed by a predator, enabling the escape and survival of the snake.1 There is an unpublished photographic record of a Monitor Tegu (Callopistes flavipunctatus) preying upon an individual of this species.5 The clutch size in D. brunneum consists of 4–7 eggs.1,7 Breeding is presumed to occur during the dry season.1,7

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..8 Dendrophidion brunneum is listed in this category primarily because species’ wide distribution and presence in disturbed areas suggests no major population declines, although the proximity to these populated areas increases death events.8 The main threat to the long-term survival of some populations of D. brunneum is the continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat, mostly due to encroaching human activities such as agriculture, cattle grazing, wild fires, and the replacement of native vegetation with eucalyptus and pine trees. Brown Forest-Racers also suffer from traffic-related mortality and human persecution.5

Distribution: Dendrophidion brunneum is widely distributed along the Tumbesian lowlands and adjacent Andean foothills of northwestern Peru and western Ecuador (Fig. 2), with an isolated population in the mid-elevation montane forests of Pichincha and Imbabura provinces. Some snakes in this northern population were previously confused with D. bivittatus,9 but are morphologically more similar to D. brunneum.

Distribution of Dendrophidion brunneum in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Dendrophidion brunneum in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Guayaquil, Guayas province. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The genus name Dendrophidion comes from the Greek words dendron (=tree) and ophidion (=small snake).10 The specific epithet brunneum (=brown in Latin)10 refers to the dorsal coloration of some individuals.

See it in the wild: The Brown Forest-Racer is not uncommon throughout the southern portion of its distribution in Ecuador. In Loja province, for example, Dendrophidion brunneum is one of the most frequently encountred diurnal snakes, with sightings occurring at a rate of about once every few days, particularly in rural areas having remnants of native vegetation. The racers are most easily spotted by walking along forest trails or small dirt roads during sunny mornings at the end of the rainy season (April–May).

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Eduardo Zavala for finding the specimen of Dendrophidion brunneum photographed in this account.

Authors: Tatiana Molina-Moreno,aAffiliation: Departamento de Biología, Universidad de los Llanos, Villavicencio, Colombia. Andrés F. Aponte-Gutiérrez,bAffiliation: Grupo de Investigación en Ciencias de la Orinoquía, Universidad Nacional de Colombia sede Orinoquía, Arauca, Colombia.,cAffiliation: Fundación Biodiversa Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia. Danna Duque-Torres,dAffiliation: Grupo de Ornitología, Universidad Nacional de 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, Aponte-Gutierrez AF, Duque-Torres D, Arteaga A (2024) Brown Forest-Racer (Dendrophidion brunneum). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/FFVJ6432

Literature cited:

  1. Cadle JE (2010) Systematics, natural history, and hemipenial morphology of Dendrophidion brunneum (Günther) (Serpentes: Colubridae), a poorly known snake from the Andes of Ecuador and Peru. Zootaxa 2433: 1–24. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.2433.1.1
  2. Cadle JE (2012) Systematics of the Neotropical snake Dendrophidion percarinatum (Serpentes: Colubridae), with descriptions of two new species from western Colombia and Ecuador and supplementary data on Dendrophidion brunneum. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 160: 259–344. DOI: 10.3099/0027-4100-160.6.259
  3. Cruz-García K, Barreno M, Cuadrado S, Moretta-Urdiales MDM, Molina-Moreira N, Salas JA, Torres-Domínguez A, Narváez AE (2023) Amphibians and reptiles of Isla Santay (Durán, Ecuador). Check List 19: 347–369. DOI: 10.15560/19.3.347
  4. Cadle JE, Savage JM (2012) Systematics of the Dendrophidion nuchale complex (Serpentes: Colubridae) with the description of a new species from Central America. Zootaxa 3513: 1–50. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3513.1.1
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. Photo by Fernando García.
  7. Kuch U (1993) Dendrophidion brunneum: reproduction and size. Herpetological Review 24: 106.
  8. Yánez-Muñoz M, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Brito J (2022) Dendrophidion brunneum. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2022-1.RLTS.T203285A217779727.en
  9. Valencia J, Garzón K (2007) First record of the snake Dendrophidion bivittatus (Duméril, Bibron & Duméril, 1854) and taxonomic remarks on the genus in Ecuador. Herpetozoa 20: 86–88.
  10. 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 Dendrophidion brunneum in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

EcuadorAzuayGirón, 10 km SW ofCadle 2010
EcuadorAzuayPoetateReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorAzuayPuente de ChauchaFausto Siavichay
EcuadorAzuayReserva Biológica YunguillaPhoto by Jorge Luis Romero
EcuadorAzuaySusudelPhoto by Jorge Luis Romero
EcuadorAzuayValle de YunguillaAlmendáriz & Brito 2011
EcuadorAzuayYunguillaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorChimborazoAlausíReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorChimborazoRío ChiguancayCadle 2012
EcuadorChimborazoSacramentoCadle 2010
EcuadorCotopaxiLa ManáCadle 2010
EcuadorEl OroBosque Petrificado de PuyangoAcosta 2014
EcuadorEl OroChepelGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroPortoveloCadle 2012
EcuadorEl OroReserva Biológica BuenaventuraCogălniceanu et al. 2015
EcuadorEl OroZarumaCadle 2012
EcuadorEl OroZaruma–HuertasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasCapeiraPhoto by Eduardo Zavala
EcuadorGuayasDaule, 10 km S ofCadle 2012
EcuadorGuayasDurán, 18 km E ofCadle 2012
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquil, Fuerte HuancavilcaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquil*Günther 1858
EcuadorGuayasIsla SantayCruz-García et al. 2023
EcuadorGuayasMilagroUSNM 237061; VertNet
EcuadorGuayasVeneciaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaChalguayacuRodríguez-Guerra & Guerra-Correa 2020
EcuadorImbaburaIbarraCadle 2012
EcuadorImbaburaIntagCadle 2010
EcuadorImbaburaRíolindo Coffee FarmPhoto by Kevin Narum
EcuadorImbaburaSan AntonioRodríguez-Guerra & Guerra-Correa 2020
EcuadorImbaburaSelva AlegreValencia & Garzón 2007
EcuadorLojaAlamorCadle 2012
EcuadorLojaCamposanto Los RosalesPhoto by Rita Hidalgo
EcuadorLojaCelénRodríguez-Guerra & Guerra-Correa 2020
EcuadorLojaChaguarpambaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaChivatoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaEl SaucoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorLojaFinca SagradaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaHacienda MasacaCadle 2012
EcuadorLojaLojaPhoto by Darwin Núñez
EcuadorLojaLoja, 7.3 km N ofCadle 2010
EcuadorLojaLoja, calle BruselasReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaQuebrada BuenavistaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaQuinara, 3.5 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaQuinara, 4.5 km SE ofMUTPL 441; GBIF
EcuadorLojaRío CochurcoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaRumishitanaRodríguez-Guerra & Guerra-Correa 2020
EcuadorLojaSan Pedro de la BenditaMUTPL 421; GBIF
EcuadorLos RíosBosque Protector Pedro Franco DávilaCruz & Sánchez 2016
EcuadorLos RíosFinca Playa GrandeCadle 2012
EcuadorLos RíosHacienda Los CanchonesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosQuevedo, 20 km NE ofCadle 2012
EcuadorManabíChone, 3 km N ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíEl GuayacániNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíEloy AlfaroPhoto by Redgy Vera
EcuadorManabíMaicitoMHNG 1363.036; collection database
EcuadorManabíMantaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíN of PedernalesPhoto by Konrad Mebert
EcuadorManabíPedernalesReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíPuerto RicoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorManabíRefugio de Vida Silvestre PacocheiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíSalangoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíSanta RosaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíSesmeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaDos PuentesPhoto by Axel Marchelie
EcuadorPichinchaKm 32 Calacalí–Los BancosValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaNanegalitoPhoto by Andrew Cecil
EcuadorPichinchaSanta MarianitaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaTandayapaPhoto by Jacobo Quero
EcuadorPichinchaTulipeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanta ElenaBarcelonaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanta ElenaOlón, 3 km E ofCadle 2012
EcuadorZamora Chinchipe Bella VistaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora Chinchipe Río IsimanchiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora Chinchipe Zumba–PucubambaReptiles of Ecuador book database
PeruAmazonasChachapoyasCadle 2010
PeruCajamarcaAsunciónCadle 2010
PeruCajamarcaEl PradoMVZ 119329; VertNet
PeruCajamarcaRío Zaña study siteCadle 2010
PeruLa LibertadCascasCadle 2010
PeruPiuraCanchaque, 15 km E ofCadle 2010
PeruPiuraImmediate vicinity of AyabacaCadle 2010
PeruPiuraMorroponCadle 2010
PeruPiuraQuebrada CimarrónCadle 2010