Published May 12, 2018. Updated April 3, 2024. Open access.

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Elegant Snail-eating Snake (Dipsas elegans)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Dipsas elegans

English common name: Elegant Snail-eating Snake.

Spanish common name: Caracolera elegante.

Recognition: ♂♂ 91.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=68.3 cm. ♀♀ 93.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=78.2 cm..1,2 In its area of distribution, Dipsas elegans is the only snake having a brownish dorsum with 26–46 blackish, vertical bars between which there is a more or less distinct narrow pale bar (Fig. 1).14 This species differs from D. andiana by lacking a clearly defined dark ∩-shaped mark on the back of the head.5 From D. ellipsifera, an extremely similar species restricted to northern Ecuador, it differs by having a higher number of ventrals in both males and females.1 From Sibon vieirai, it differs by having a dorsal pattern consisting of vertical bars rather than irregular blotches.68

Figure showing variation among individuals of Dipsas elegans

Figure 1: Individuals of Dipsas elegans from Ecuador: Otonga Reserve, Cotopaxi province (); Mindo, Pichincha province (); old Nono–Mindo road, Pichincha province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Dipsas elegans is a nocturnal snake that inhabits old-growth to moderately disturbed cloudforests, montane forests, and highland shrublands, occurring in lower densities in plantations, pastures with scattered trees, and urban gardens.1,2 Elegant Snail-Eaters are active at night, especially if it is raining or drizzling.1 They move actively but slowly at ground level or on vegetation 0.15–4.3 m above the ground.9 The increased activity during humid periods is probably related to their diet, which consists primarily on slugs and snails (soft-bodied insect may also be consumed).10,11 During the day, individuals of D. elegans have been found resting, coiled inside the leaf-litter, under rotten logs, or deep among crevices in rock walls.4,9,12 The usual defense mechanism of the Elegant Snail-Eater consists on musking and flattening the body while expand the head to simulate a triangular shape.9 There is an unpublished record of predation on an individual of D. elegans by the viper Bothrops asper.9 Clutches consist of 2–7 eggs and are laid under rocks or in crevices.4,9,12

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Conservation: Near Threatened Not currently at risk of extinction, but requires some level of management to maintain healthy populations.. Dipsas elegans is listed in this category, instead of Vulnerable,13 because the species occurs in many more localities than previously thought, including 20 protected areas. Although approximately 53% of the species’ habitat is well-preserved, the subpopulations occurring on the Quito valley are severely depleted, fragmented, and isolated from one another.

Distribution: Dipsas elegans is endemic to an area of approximately 6,981 km2 along the western slopes of the Andes in Ecuador, including the inter-Andean valley of Quito (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Dipsas elegans in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Dipsas elegans 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)14 and probably refers to the fact that the bite of these snakes was believed to cause intense thirst. The specific epithet elegans is a Latin word meaning “elegant.”14 It refers to the dorsal color pattern.

See it in the wild: Elegant 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 the old Nono–Mindo road, Otonga Reserve, and the Intag valley.

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) Elegant Snail-eating Snake (Dipsas elegans). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/IOPI2991

Literature cited:

  1. Cadle JE (2005) Systematics of snakes in the Dipsas oreas complex (Colubridae: Dipsadinae) in western Ecuador and Peru, with revalidation of D. elegans (Boulenger) and D. ellipsifera (Boulenger). Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 158: 67–136.
  2. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  3. Kofron CP (1982) The identities of some dipsadine snakes: Dipsas elegans, D. ellipsifera and Leptognathus andrei. Copeia 1982: 46–51. DOI: 10.2307/1444266
  4. Orcés VG, Almendáriz A (1987) Sistemática y distribución de las serpientes Dipsadinae del grupo oreas. Politécnica 12: 135–155.
  5. 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.
  6. Arteaga A, Salazar-Valenzuela D, Mebert K, Peñafiel N, Aguiar G, Sánchez-Nivicela JC, Pyron RA, Colston TJ, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Yánez-Muñoz MH, Venegas PJ, Guayasamin JM, Torres-Carvajal O (2018) Systematics of South American snail-eating snakes (Serpentes, Dipsadini), with the description of five new species from Ecuador and Peru. ZooKeys 766: 79–147. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.766.24523
  7. Peters JA (1960) The snakes of the subfamily Dipsadinae. Miscellaneous Publications, Museum of Zoology, Univesity of Michigan 114: 1–224.
  8. Arteaga A, Batista A (2023) A consolidated phylogeny of snail-eating snakes (Serpentes, Dipsadini), with the description of five new species from Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama. ZooKeys 1143: 1–49. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.1143.93601
  9. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  10. Savit AZ (2006) Reptiles of the Santa Lucía Cloud Forest, Ecuador. Iguana 13: 94–103.
  11. Cisneros-Heredia DF (2005) Report of molliscivory in Atractus carrioni Parker 1930. Herpetozoa 18: 185–186.
  12. Almendáriz A, Orcés G (2004) Distribución de algunas especies de la herpetofauna de los pisos: altoandino, temperado y subtropical. Politécnica 25: 97–150.
  13. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Almendáriz A, Yánez-Muñoz M (2017) Dipsas elegans. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T50951285A50951294.en
  14. 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 elegans in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorBolívarRuta del LibertadorPazmiño-Otamendi et al. 2021
EcuadorChimborazoPallatangaCadle 2005
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque Integral OtongaThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorCotopaxiCorazónCadle 2005
EcuadorCotopaxiCutzualoArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorCotopaxiGalápagosArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorCotopaxiHacienda La MarielaArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorCotopaxiLas DamasArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorCotopaxiLas PampasArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorCotopaxiPalo QuemadoArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorCotopaxiQuillotuña–PucayacuArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorImbaburaChontal AltoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorImbaburaCuellajeArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorImbaburaFinca El ParaísoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaHacienda La FloridaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorImbaburaIntag Cloudforest ReserveiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaPeñaherreraCadle 2005
EcuadorImbaburaPucará, 2 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaReserva Los CedrosPhoto by Fernando Rojas
EcuadorImbaburaReserva ManduriacuArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorImbaburaSelva AlegreArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorImbaburaSendero a Reserva los CedrosiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaAlaspungoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaBosque Protector CambugánYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorPichinchaBosque Seco Nueva EsperanzaYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorPichinchaCapeloArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaChiribogaCadle 2005
EcuadorPichinchaCooperativa Primero de MayoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaCumbayáOrcés & Almendáriz 1987
EcuadorPichinchaCumbayá, Viña del RíoPhoto by Juan Perez
EcuadorPichinchaEl BucalCadle 2005
EcuadorPichinchaEl GolánArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaEl Quinche Orcés & Almendáriz 1987
EcuadorPichinchaEstación ChiquilpeValencia & Garzón 2011
EcuadorPichinchaFinca ElenitaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda La HesperiaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaIlalóArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorPichinchaLa Unión–Río CintoYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorPichinchaLos Armadillos, 3 km E ofReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaMindo, 12 km SW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaNanegalCadle 2005
EcuadorPichinchaNieblí, 1.24 km SW ofArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaNono-Mindo roadReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaPacha QuindiPhoto by Tony Nunnery
EcuadorPichinchaPacto, 2 km SW ofCadle & Myers 2003
EcuadorPichinchaParque ItchimbíaYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorPichinchaPaz de las AvesPhoto by Vinicio Paz
EcuadorPichinchaPeruchoCadle 2005
EcuadorPichinchaPuente de GuayllabambaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaQuinta La MicaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Centro Comercial Naciones UnidasArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaRefugio Mindo-NambilloCadle 2005
EcuadorPichinchaReserva Alambi, 1 km S ofReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaReserva ArlequínArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaReserva Las GralariasArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaReserva MashpiReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaReserva PahumaYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorPichinchaRío BravoPhoto by Lisa Brunetti
EcuadorPichinchaRío GuayllabambaCadle 2005
EcuadorPichinchaRío SaloyaCadle 2005
EcuadorPichinchaRoad to MindoCadle 2005
EcuadorPichinchaSanta LucíaSavit 2006
EcuadorPichinchaSanta Teresita, 2 km N ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaSaragoza–Río CintoYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorPichinchaSéptimo Paraíso LodgeArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaTababelaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaTambo TandaArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorPichinchaTandapiArteaga & Batista 2023
EcuadorPichinchaTandayapaCisñeros-Heredia 2007
EcuadorPichinchaTandayapa, 2.9 km SW ofArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorPichinchaTandayapa, 9 km SE ofArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaTumbacoOrcés & Almendáriz 1987
EcuadorPichinchaVía a JerusalénArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaVía Pachijal–TulipeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasBosque Protector Río GuajalitoCisneros-Heredia & Reyes 2003
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca FigueroaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasHacienda Las PalmerasArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLa FavoritaAlmendáriz & Orcés 2004
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLas PalmerasArteaga et al. 2013