Published March 28, 2024. Open access.

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Humpback Shadow-Snake (Diaphorolepis wagneri)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Diaphorolepis wagneri

English common names: Humpback Shadow-Snake, Ecuador Frog-eating Snake.

Spanish common name: Culebra sombría jorobada.

Recognition: ♂♂ 70.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=44.7 cm. ♀♀ 78.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=52.4 cm..1 A single feature sets Diaphorolepis wagneri apart from the other snakes in Ecuador. It has enlarged, doubly-keeled scales on the vertebral row. It also has fused prefrontal scales, a uniformly blackish dorsum (Fig. 1), and a pale-goldenrod belly.13 Juveniles have an incomplete pale nuchal collar that becomes fainter with age. This species differs from the other shadow snakes (genus Synophis) by having an expanded vertebral scale row with weak to strong double keeling (vertebral row with a single keel and barely expanded or not at all in the other species).13

Figure showing variation among individuals of Diaphorolepis wagneri

Figure 1: Individuals of Diaphorolepis wagneri from Ecuador: Milpe Bird Sanctuary, Pichincha province (); Río Manduriacu Reserve, Imbabura province (). sa=subadult; j=juvenile.

Natural history: Diaphorolepis wagneri is an extremely rare nocturnal and semi-arboreal snake that inhabits well-preserved evergreen forests in mountainous areas.2 Humpback Shadow-Snakes occur at ground level or on low (less than 200 cm off the ground) vegetation, usually within a few meters from streams and rivers.2,4 They appear to be more active during rainy or drizzle nights.2 During the day, individuals of D. wagneri have bee found hidden in leaf-litter, under logs, or coiled within trunks.2,5 When grabbed, the Shadow Snake never attempts to bite and is rather inclined to head-hiding and tail-pricking.2 Nothing is know about the diet of this harmless snake, but a close living relative feeds on small lizards.2 One female of D. wagneri from Ecuador laid a clutch of three eggs.4

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..6 Diaphorolepis wagneri is listed in this category primarily because the species is widely distributed, its habitat is not severly fragmented, and its populations are unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for a more threatened category.7 The most important threat for the long-term survival of this strictly forest-dwelling snake is the loss of habitat due to large-scale deforestation.

Distribution: Diaphorolepis wagneri is widely distributed along the Chocoan foothills of the Andes in Ecuador (Fig. 2) and Colombia.

Distribution of Diaphorolepis wagneri in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Diaphorolepis wagneri in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Milpe, Pichincha province, Ecuador. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The name Diaphorolepis is derived from the Greek diaphoros (=differentiated) and lepis (=scales), likely referring to the enlarged vertebral scale row as compared to the rest of the dorsal scales.1 The specific epithet wagneri honors German explorer Moritz Wagner, (1813–1887) who collected the holotype.1

See it in the wild: In Ecuador, the majority of records of Diaphorolepis wagneri come from the Mindo–Milpe area, where the species is spotted at a rate of about once every few months. These snakes are most easily found by walking along forest trails near rivers during rainy nights.

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) Humpback Shadow-Snake (Diaphorolepis wagneri). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/JXXF4716

Literature cited:

  1. Pyron RA, Guayasamin JM, Peñafiel N, Bustamante L, Arteaga A (2015) Systematics of Nothopsini (Serpentes, Dipsadidae), with a new species of Synophis from the Pacific Andean slopes of southwestern Ecuador. ZooKeys 541: 109–147. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.541.6058
  2. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  3. Bogert CM (1964) Snakes of the genera Diaphorolepis and Synophis and the colubrid subfamily Xenoderminae. Senckenbergiana Biologica 45: 509–531.
  4. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. Jeff Streicher, pers. comm. to AA.
  6. Ibáñez R, Jaramillo C, Velasco J, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Bolívar W (2017) Diaphorolepis wagneri. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T203499A2766344.en

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Diaphorolepis wagneri in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

ColombiaCaucaParque Nacional MunchiqueVera-Pérez et al. 2018
ColombiaChocóReserva Natural Comunitaria Cerro El InglésiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaChocóSan José de Palmar, 18 km E ofPyron et al. 2015
ColombiaNariñoReserva La PlanadaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaNariñoReserva Natural El PangánPhoto by Carlos Luna
ColombiaValle del CaucaDapaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaValle del CaucaPancePyron et al. 2015
ColombiaValle del CaucaPichindePyron et al. 2015
ColombiaValle del CaucaRepresa MurrapalPhoto by Santiago Orozco
ColombiaValle del CaucaRío CalimaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCarchiTobar DonosoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2012
EcuadorCotopaxiLas DamasMHNG 2459.005; collection database
EcuadorCotopaxiLas PampasPyron et al. 2015
EcuadorCotopaxiRecinto GalápagosMHNG 2441.095; collection database
EcuadorCotopaxiVía Pucayacu–SigchosPyron et al. 2015
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReservePyron et al. 2015
EcuadorImbaburaCielo Verde, 5 km N ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaLitaPyron et al. 2015
EcuadorImbaburaManduriacu ReserveLynch et al. 2014
EcuadorManabíPalmarBogert 1964
EcuadorPichinchaAgrofinquitaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaCascadas de MindoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi ReserveiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaMilpe*Pyron et al. 2015
EcuadorPichinchaReserva Un Poco del ChocóiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaSéptimo ParaísoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaTandapiPyron et al. 2015
EcuadorPichinchaYellow HouseArteaga et al. 2013