Published January 13, 2023. Updated March 26, 2024. Open access.

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Ecuadorian Forest-Racer (Dendrophidion graciliverpa)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | 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 Dendrophidion graciliverpa can be identified 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). This species differs from D. clarkii by lacking a black nuchal collar and dark crossbands with embedded pale ocelli.3 From D. prolixum, it differs by having a higher number of pale body bands (57–87 vs 49–57).1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Dendrophidion graciliverpa

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

Natural history: Dendrophidion graciliverpa is a diurnal snake that inhabits old-growth rainforest, occurring also 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 area of approximately 44,693 km2 in western Ecuador (Fig. 2) and extreme northwestern Peru.

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 (=tree) and ophidion (=small snake).8 The specific epithet graciliverpa is derived from the Latin words gracilis (=slender) and verpa (=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 (2024) Ecuadorian Forest-Racer (Dendrophidion graciliverpa). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (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
EcuadorBolívarChaguancochoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorBolívarGuasagandaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorBolívarLas NavesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorChimborazoChaguarapataCadle 2012
EcuadorChimborazoCumandáPhoto by Eduardo Zavala
EcuadorChimborazoPallatangaBoulenger 1894
EcuadorCotopaxiEl Jardín de los SueñosPhoto by Christophe Pellet
EcuadorCotopaxiRecinto GalápagosArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCotopaxiSan Francisco de Las PampasCadle 2012
EcuadorEl OroEl RemolinoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroHualtacoCadle 2012
EcuadorEl OroLote TituanaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEl OroPasajeArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEl OroPasaje, 3 km E of*Cadle 2012
EcuadorEl OroPlayas de DaucayReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEl OroPortoveloArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEl OroReserva Biológica BuenaventuraGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroRosa Delia plantationCadle 2012
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasBolívar, 4 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasCentro de Fauna Silvestre James BrownPhoto by Salvador Palacios
EcuadorEsmeraldasEl PaisajeArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasFCAT ReserveThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa ConcordiaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa PierinaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasQuinindéCadle 2012
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Ecológica Mache ChinduliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasSameiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasTerminal Marítimo OCPValencia & Garzón 2011
EcuadorGuayasPuerto Baquerizo–NaranjaliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasRío PescadoCadle 2012
EcuadorLojaAlamorCadle 2012
EcuadorLojaBosque Petrificado PuyangoGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorLos RíosBuena Fé, 1 km N ofCadle 2012
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueCadle 2012
EcuadorLos RíosFinca Playa GrandeCadle 2012
EcuadorLos RíosPacaloriMZUA.RE.0175; examined
EcuadorLos RíosPlayas de MontalvoCadle 2012
EcuadorLos RíosReserva Forestal Cerro SamamaGuerra-Correa 2020
EcuadorLos RíosRío BabaCadle 2012
EcuadorLos RíosRío CongoCadle 2012
EcuadorManabíBosque La EsperanzaGuerra-Correa 2020
EcuadorManabíLos Senderos de TachilaPhoto by Tina Swan
EcuadorManabíMariano–PedernalesReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíReserva Jama CoaquePhoto by Ryan Lynch
EcuadorPichinchaBosque Integral OtongachiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaCabecera del río Sune ChicoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaCascadas El NaranjaliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaHostería Yellow HouseThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorPichinchaLos Bancos–Puerto QuitoUnpublished photo; this work
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi LodgeUnpublished photo; this work
EcuadorPichinchaMilpe Bird SanctuaryUnpublished photo; this work
EcuadorPichinchaPactoUnpublished photo; this work
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto QuitoCadle 2012
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto Quito, 1.6 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaRancho SuamoxiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaReserva Río GuaycuyacuiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaRío CintoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaRío Silanche Bird SanctuaryiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaRío ToachiCadle 2012
EcuadorPichinchaSanta Lucía Cloud Forest ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaSéptimo ParaísoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaTandapiArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaVicinity of Los BancosReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca la EsperanzaCadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasJoe Ramsey farmCadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLa Unión del BoloiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasMemeCadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasMulauteCadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRancho Santa TeresitaCadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío Baba, 19 km S of Santo DomingoCadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSan Luis de CanoasCadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los ColoradosCadle 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los Colorados, 5 km W ofCadle 2012
PeruTumbesReserva Nacional de TumbesiNaturalist; photo examined