Andean Snail-Eater

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Dipsas | Dipsas andiana

English common names: Andean Snail-Eater.

Spanish common names: Caracolera andina.

Recognition: ♂♂ 69 cm ♀♀ 84.3 cm. In its area of distribution, the Andean Snail-Eater (Dipsas andiana) is the only snake having a clearly defined dark ∩-shaped mark on the back of the head. It also has a blunt, extremely prominent head and a characteristic pattern of dark blotches on a pale brown dorsum. The two most similar snake species that may be found living alongside D. andiana are D. oreas and D. elegans, both of which lack the distinctive head mark of D. andiana.

Natural history: Locally frequent. Dipsas andiana is a nocturnal snake that inhabits old-growth to heavily disturbed evergreen to semideciduous forests, pastures, cacao plantations, banana groves, and rural gardens, usually close to streams and rivers.1,2 Andean Snail-Eaters are active at night, especially if it is raining or drizzling.3 They move actively but slowly on soil and leaf litter, or on vegetation 10–300 cm above the ground.1 They feed on native slugs and snails as well as on the introduced Giant African Snail (Achatina fulica).35 During the day, snakes of this species rest coiled on their night perches.1 Individuals of D. andiana have been found overseas in shipments of bananas from Ecuador (at least five specimens of D. andiana found their way to New York in the period 1939–1958). Andean Snail-Eaters are harmless to humans; they are extremely docile and never attempt to bite.1 However, they coil into a defensive posture and produce a musky and distasteful odor when threatened.1 Females lay three eggs per clutch.3

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Conservation: Near Threatened.6 Dipsas andiana is listed in this category because the species occurs as fragmented populations over an area where most (~95.5%) of the forest cover has been destroyed and transformed mostly into cattle pastures, palm oil plantations, and human settlements.2,6 Therefore, D. andiana may qualify for a threatened category in the near future if its habitat continues to be degraded and fragmented. However, the species is widespread (56,283 km2) in western Ecuador and presumably tolerates moderate habitat degradation. There is no current information on the population trend of the Andean Snail-Eater to determine whether its numbers are declining.

Distribution: Dipsas andiana is endemic to an estimated 56,283 km2 area in the Pacific lowlands of western Ecuador.

Distribution of Dipsas andiana in Ecuador

Etymology: The generic name Dipsas, which comes from the Greek word dipsa (meaning “thirst”),7 probably refers to the fact that the bite of these snakes was believed to cause intense thirst. The specific epithet andiana comes from the Latin word andinus (meaning “pertaining to the Andes”).7 This species was described based on a specimen that was labeled as having been found in Quito.8

See it in the wild: Andean Snail-Eaters can be seen with ~30–60% certainty at night, especially during the rainy season in western Ecuador (December to May), in forested areas throughout its area of distribution. Some of the best localities to find Andean Snail-Eaters are Mindo, Bilsa Biological Reserve, Lalo Loor Reserve, Buenaventura Biological Reserve, and Mashpi Rainforest Reserve.

Special thanks to Catherine Woodward for symbolically adopting the Andean Snail-Eater and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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

Photographers: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Sebastián Di Doménico.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2020) Dipsas andiana. In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from:

Literature cited:

  1. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  2. Cisneros-Heredia DF (2007) Distribution and natural history of the Ecuadorian snake Dipsas andiana (Boulenger, 1896) (Colubridae: Dipsadinae) with considerations on its conservation status. Russian Journal of Herpetology 14: 199–202.
  3. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  4. Cadle JE, Myers CW (2003) Systematics of snakes referred to Dipsas variegata in Panama and Western South America, with revalidation of two species and notes on defensive behaviors in the Dipsadini (Colubridae). American Museum Novitates 3409: 1–47.
  5. MECN (2010) Serie herpetofauna del Ecuador: El Chocó esmeraldeño. Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales, Quito, 232 pp.
  6. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Almendáriz A (2017) Dipsas andiana. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from:
  7. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  8. Boulenger GA (1896) Catalogue of the snakes in the British Museum. Taylor & Francis, London, 727 pp.