Published May 12, 2018. Updated March 30, 2024. Open access.

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Andean Snail-eating Snake (Dipsas andiana)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Dipsas andiana

English common name: Andean Snail-eating Snake.

Spanish common name: Caracolera andina.

Recognition: ♂♂ 69 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=48.8 cm. ♀♀ 84.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=67.3 cm..1,2 In its area of distribution, 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 (Fig. 1).1,2 This species differs from D. elegans and D. oreas by virtue of the the distinctive head mark (absent in the other species).1,2

Figure showing variation among individuals of Dipsas andiana

Figure 1: Individuals of Dipsas andiana from Ecuador: FCAT Reserve, Esmeraldas province (); Centro Científico Río Palenque, Los Ríos province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Dipsas andiana is a nocturnal snake that inhabits old-growth to heavily disturbed rainforests and seasonally dry forests, usually close to streams and rivers.1,2 The species also ventures into pastures, cacao plantations, banana groves, and rural gardens.2 Andean Snail-Eaters are active at night, especially if it is raining or drizzling. They move actively but slowly at ground level on soil and leaf-litter, or on vegetation 10–300 cm above the ground.2 They feed on native slugs and snails as well as on the introduced Giant African Snail (Achatina fulica).13 During the day, these snakes remained coiled and hidden among understory vegetation. Dipsas andiana has been found overseas in shipments of bananas from Ecuador. At least five specimens found their way to New York in the period 1939–1958.1 Andean Snail-Eaters are harmless to humans; they are extremely docile and never attempt to bite. However, they coil into a defensive posture and produce a musky and distasteful odor when threatened.1,2 There is a recorded instance of predation on a member of this species by the viper Bothrops asper.4 The clutch size in this species consists of 3–5 eggs laid inside holes in the ground.3,5

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Conservation: Near Threatened Not currently at risk of extinction, but requires some level of management to maintain healthy populations..6 Dipsas andiana is listed in this category primarily because the species occurs as fragmented populations over an area where approximately 67% of the forest cover has been destroyed and transformed into cattle pastures, palm oil plantations, and human settlements.6 Therefore, D. andiana may qualify for a threatened category in the near future if its habitat continues to be degraded and fragmented.

Distribution: Dipsas andiana is endemic to an area of approximately 52,735 km2 in western Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Dipsas andiana in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Dipsas andiana in Ecuador. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The name Dipsas comes from the Greek dipsa (=thirst) and probably refers to the fact that the bite of these snakes was believed to cause intense thirst.7 The specific epithet andiana comes from the Latin andinus (=pertaining to the Andes).7 This species was described based on a specimen that was labeled as having been found in Quito.1

See it in the wild: Andean Snail-eating Snakes can be seen at a rate of about once every few nights, especially during the rainy season in western Ecuador (Dec–May). Prime localities for the species include Mindo, Bilsa Biological Reserve, Lalo Loor Reserve, Buenaventura Biological Reserve, and Mashpi Rainforest Reserve.

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) Andean Snail-eating Snake (Dipsas andiana). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/ERHE2385

Literature cited:

  1. 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.
  2. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  3. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  4. Gabrysova B, Aznar González de Rueda J, Barrio-Amorós CL (2020) Bothrops asper (Terciopelo): diet/ophiophagy. Herpetological Review 51: 859–860.
  5. Photo by Jose Vieira.
  6. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Almendáriz A (2017) Dipsas andiana. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T50951272A50951279.en
  7. 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 Dipsas andiana in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorAzuaySarayungaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorAzuayVía Molleturo–Manta RealArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorBolívarBalzapambaCadle & Myers 2003
EcuadorBolívarGavilanesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCañarEl ChorroPhoto by Alex Angulo
EcuadorCañarHidroeléctrica OcañaArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorCarchiReserva Siete CascadasReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorCarchiSendero AwaYánez-Muñoz 2005
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque Privado JDLSGabrysova et al. 2020
EcuadorCotopaxiLas PampasArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorCotopaxiVía Pucayacu–SigchosArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEl OroCascadas de Manuel Garzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroCaserío Tigre 1Arteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEl OroLote TituanaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEl OroMarcabelíGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroReserva Biológica BuenaventuraArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorEl OroTorata, 4 km SW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasAlto TamboCisneros-Heredia 2007
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasCaimitoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasCampamento 106iNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro CeiboArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote SalvadoresThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva FCATReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío San FranciscoCisneros-Heredia 2007
EcuadorEsmeraldasTabucheArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorLojaRío CochurcoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorLos RíosBabahoyoCadle & Myers 2003
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorLos RíosHacienda Cerro ChicoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorManabíAyampeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíBoca de PalmitoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíBosque Seco Lalo LoorArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorManabíCantalapiedraPhoto by Manuel Mejía
EcuadorManabíCerro Pata de PájaroPhoto by Paul Hamilton
EcuadorManabíEl AchioteReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíLa CrespaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíPacoche LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíPileiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíPuerto López, 5 km NW ofArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorManabíRancho StephanyiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíReserva Jama CoaqueLynch et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíReserva Tito SantosHamilton et a. 2005
EcuadorManabíThree Forests TrailPhoto by Paul Maier
EcuadorManabíZapoteArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaDos Ríos, 4 km NE ofCadle & Myers 2003
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda La HesperiaBrouwer 2018
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda La JoyaArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda Yellow HouseArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaKapari LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaLa PalmaCadle & Myers 2003
EcuadorPichinchaLos Bancos–Valle Hermoso roadArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorPichinchaLower MashpiReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi LodgeArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorPichinchaMindo Night WalksiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto QuitoCadle & Myers 2003
EcuadorPichinchaRancho SuamoxPhoto by Rafael Ferro
EcuadorPichinchaRío ToachiArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaSan Miguel de los BancosCisneros-Heredia 2007
EcuadorPichinchaTandayapaArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorSanta ElenaComuna Loma AltaCisneros-Heredia 2007
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasBosque Protector La PerlaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasDos RíosCisneros-Heredia 2007
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los ColoradosCadle & Myers 2003