Published January 13, 2023. Open access.

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Ecuadorian Forest-Racer (Dendrophidion graciliverpa)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Dendrophidion | Dendrophidion graciliverpa

English common name: Ecuadorian Forest-Racer.

Spanish common name: Corredora selvática ecuatoriana.

Recognition: ♂♂ 105.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=67.6 cm. ♀♀ 102.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=66.3 cm..1 In its area of distribution, the Ecuadorian Forest-Racer (Dendrophidion graciliverpa) can be identified from most other snakes by having conspicuously large eyes, keeled dorsal scales arranged in 17 rows at mid-body, and a brown dorsum with pale crossbars, but without a black nuchal collar.1,2 In juveniles, the crossbars are conspicuous, but these become faint in adults (Fig. 1). Similar species in western Ecuador are D. clarkii and D. prolixum. The former can be recognized by having a black nuchal collar and dark crossbands with embedded pale ocelli (both characters lacking in D. graciliverpa).3 The other species, D. prolixum, occurs north of the known distribution of D. graciliverpa and has a lower number of pale body bands (49–57 vs 57–87) than D. graciliverpa.1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Dendrophidion graciliverpa

Figure 1: Individuals of Dendrophidion graciliverpa from Ecuador: Mindo, Pichincha province (); and Canandé Reserve, Esmeraldas province (). ad=adult, j=juvenile.

Natural history: Dendrophidion graciliverpa is a frequentlyRecorded weekly in densities below five individuals per locality. encountered snake in some areas of Ecuador.2 The species occurs in old-growth rainforest as well as in pastures with scattered trees, cacao plantations, and banana groves.1,2 Snakes of this species are most often seen active at ground level,3 either basking or actively foraging on the leaf-litter.1 At night, they roost on low (less than 1.5 m above the ground) understory vegetation.4 Ecuadorian Forest-Racers are active hunters having an aglyphous dentition (meaning their teeth lack specialized grooves to deliver venom).1 Therefore, they ingest prey quickly to avoid them from escaping. There are records of individuals of D. graciliverpa feeding on rainfrogs (Pristimantis achatinus)5 and poison frogs (Epipedobates anthonyi).1 The main defense mechanism of Ecuadorian Forest-Racers is to flee quickly, but they can also strike or shed-off parts of their tail.1

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..6 Dendrophidion graciliverpa is listed in this category primarily on the basis of its wide (over 40,000 km2; Fig. 2) distribution, presence in protected areas, adaptability to disturbed habitats, and presumed large and stable populations. However, D. graciliverpa is distributed over an area where more than 75% of the forest has been converted to pastures, agricultural fields, and human settlements.7 Thus, the species may qualify for a threatened category in the future if deforestation in western Ecuador continues at the current rate.

Distribution: Dendrophidion graciliverpa is native to an estimated area of 44,693 km2 in western Ecuador and extreme northwestern Peru. The species has been recorded at elevations between 4 and 1585 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Dendrophidion graciliverpa in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Dendrophidion graciliverpa in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: 3 km E Pasaje, El Oro province. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Dendrophidion comes from the Greek words Dendron (meaning “tree”) and ophidion (meaning “small snake”).8 The specific epithet graciliverpa is derived from the Latin words gracilis (meaning “slender”) and verpa (meaning “penis”).1 It refers to the long, slender hemipenes of this species.1

See it in the wild: Ecuadorian Forest-Racers are seen at a rate of about once every week in areas having adequate canopy cover. Snakes of this species are particularly common around the Mindo valley, Pichincha province, as well as in Bilsa Biological Reserve, Esmeraldas province. These snakes are most easily spotted sleeping on low vegetation at night, or moving on pastures with scattered trees during sunny days.

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

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

How to cite? Arteaga A (2023) Ecuadorian Forest-Racer (Dendrophidion graciliverpa). 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/GZPJ7260

Literature cited:

  1. 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
  2. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  3. 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
  4. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. Photo by Esteban Suárez.
  6. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Yánez-Muñoz M, Brito J, Valencia J, Arteaga A, Bustamante L (2016) Dendrophidion graciliverpa. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T48329024A48329039.en
  7. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  8. 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 graciliverpa in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

EcuadorAzuayUzhcurumiArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorBolívarChaguancochoJMG 745; this work
EcuadorBolívarLas NavesiNaturalist
EcuadorChimborazoChaguarapataAMNH R-23032; Cadle 2012
EcuadorChimborazoCumandáPhoto by Eduardo Zavala
EcuadorChimborazoPallatangaBoulenger 1894
EcuadorCotopaxiEl Jardín de los SueñosPhoto by Christophe Pellet
EcuadorCotopaxiRecinto GalápagosArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCotopaxiSan Francisco de Las PampasMCZ 163968–69; Cadle 2012
EcuadorEl OroBirón AltoDHMECN 16408; not examined
EcuadorEl OroEl RemolinoPhoto of QCAZ 12452 in Torres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroHualtacoCadle 2012
EcuadorEl OroLote TituanaUnpublished photo; this work
EcuadorEl OroPasajeArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEl OroPasaje, 3 km E of*AMNH R-110584; Cadle 2012
EcuadorEl OroPlayas de DaucayUnpublished photo; this work
EcuadorEl OroPortoveloArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEl OroReserva Biológica BuenaventuraGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroRosa Delia plantationUSNM 60523; Cadle 2012
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasBolívar, 4 km E ofiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasCentro de Fauna Silvestre James BrownPhoto by Salvador Palacios
EcuadorEsmeraldasEl PaisajeArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa ConcordiaiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa PierinaiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote SalvadoresFig. 1; this work
EcuadorEsmeraldasQuinindéUSNM 237066; Cadle 2012
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Ecológica Mache ChinduliNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan Francisco del CaboDHMECN 3501; not examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasTerminal Marítimo OCPValencia & Garzón 2011
EcuadorGuayasPuerto Baquerizo–NaranjaliNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasRío PescadoAMNH R-23438; Cadle 2012
EcuadorLojaAlamorCadle 2012
EcuadorLojaBosque Petrificado PuyangoGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorLos RíosBuena Fé, 1 km N ofMCZ R-156327; Cadle 2012
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueMCR R-156328–29; Cadle 2012
EcuadorLos RíosFinca Playa GrandeUIMNH 77347; Cadle 2012
EcuadorLos RíosPacaloriMZUA.RE.0175; this work
EcuadorLos RíosPlayas de MontalvoCadle 2012
EcuadorLos RíosReserva Forestal Cerro SamamaPhoto of QCAZ 5835 in Torres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorLos RíosRío BabaCadle 2012
EcuadorLos RíosRío CongoCadle 2012
EcuadorManabíBosque La EsperanzaQCAZ 18029, Torres-Carvajal et al. 2019; not examined
EcuadorManabíMariano–PedernalesThis work
EcuadorManabíReserva Jama CoaquePhoto by Ryan Lynch
EcuadorPichinchaBosque Integral OtongachiiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaCabecera del río Sune ChicoMZUTI 687; Arteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaCascadas El NaranjaliNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaHostería Yellow HouseJames Christensen, pers. comm.
EcuadorPichinchaLos Bancos–Puerto QuitoUnpublished photo; this work
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi LodgeUnpublished photo; this work
EcuadorPichinchaMilpe Bird SanctuaryUnpublished photo; this work
EcuadorPichinchaPactoUnpublished photo; this work
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto QuitoMCZ R-166539; Cadle 2012
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto Quito, 1.6 km E ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaRancho SuamoxiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaReserva Río GuaycuyacuiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaRío CintoPhoto by Lisa Brunetti; Arteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaRío Silanche Bird SanctuaryiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaRío ToachiCadle 2012
EcuadorPichinchaSanta Lucía Cloud Forest ReserveUnpublished photo; this work
EcuadorPichinchaSéptimo ParaísoUnpublished photo; this work
EcuadorPichinchaTandapiArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaVicinity of Los BancosUnpublished photo; this work
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca la EsperanzaUSNM 237072; Cadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasJoe Ramsey farmUSNM 237069; Cadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLa Unión del BoloiNaturalist
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasMemeUSNM 237074–75; Cadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasMulauteUSNM 237073; Cadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRancho Santa TeresitaUSNM 283531–32; Cadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío Baba, 19 km S of Santo DomingoUIMNH 92244; Cadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSan Luis de CanoasUSNM 237067; Cadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los ColoradosKU 179500–01; Cadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los Colorados, 5 km W ofUSNM 237071; Cadle 2012
PeruTumbesReserva Nacional de TumbesiNaturalist