Published May 12, 2018. Updated April 4, 2024. Open access.

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George Jett’s Snail-eating Snake (Dipsas georgejetti)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Dipsas georgejetti

English common name: George Jett’s Snail-eating Snake.

Spanish common name: Caracolera de George Jett.

Recognition: ♂♂ 71.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=54.1 cm. ♀♀ 85.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=70.6 cm..1 Dipsas georgejetti can be identified based on its light brown dorsum with 53–61 drab to brown black-edged middorsal blotches that, on the anterior third of the body, form complete “saddles” that reach the ventral scales (Fig. 1). This species differs from D. andiana and from Leptodeira ornata, by having a tan-brown head with bold dark brown to black irregular blotches.1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Dipsas georgejetti

Figure 1: Individuals of Dipsas georgejetti from Ecuador: Cerro Seco Reserve, Manabí province (); Las Balsas Reserve, Santa Elena province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Dipsas georgejetti is a nocturnal snake that inhabits old-growth to moderately disturbed dry lowland shrublands, savannas, and seasonally dry forests.1 The species also occurs in pastures and may occasionally venture inside houses.2 George Jett’s Snail-Eaters move actively but slowly at ground level or on shrubs up to 2 m above the ground.1 Nothing is known about the diet in this species, but snakes of the genus Dipsas in general feed almost exclusively on snails and slugs. Although some snail-eaters produce saliva that is toxic to mollusks,3 these snakes are considered harmless to humans. They never attempt to bite, resorting instead to musking and flattening the body while expanding the head to simulate a triangular shape. One female of D. georgejetti from Manabí province laid a clutch of six eggs.4 There is an unpublished record of predation on an individual of this species by the coral snake Micrurus bocourti.5

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Conservation: Vulnerable Considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the mid-term future..1 Dipsas georgejetti is listed in this category because the species’ extent of occurrence is estimated to be less than 20,000 km2 and its habitat is severely fragmented and declining in extent and quality due to deforestation.1 Approximately 51% of the seasonally dry forest habitat of this species has already been destroyed. Furthermore, D. georgejetti can be particularly affected by traffic, being the most frequently found dead-on-road snake in some areas of Manabí province.2,6

Distribution: Dipsas georgejetti is endemic to an area of approximately 16,834 km2 on the Tumbesian lowlands of the central Pacific coast of Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Dipsas georgejetti in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Dipsas georgejetti in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Cabuyal, Manabí province. 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)7 and probably refers to the fact that the bite of these snakes was believed to cause intense thirst. The specific epithet georgejetti honors George Jett, who has been a long-time donor to Rainforest Trust and has supported the reserves of Fundación Jocotoco in Ecuador. He is an international traveler with a passion for reptiles, amphibians, and birds.1

See it in the wild: George Jett’s Snail-eating Snakes can be seen at a rate of about once a week, especially during the rainy season in western Ecuador (Dec–May). Prime localities for the species include Las Balsas Reserve and Cerro Seco Reserve, where these snakes are most easily located by scanning low understory vegetation along forest trails at night.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Eduardo Zavala and Regdy Vera for providing novel natural history data on Dipsas georgejetti.

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) George Jett’s Snail-eating Snake (Dipsas georgejetti). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/ZFDX9964

Literature cited:

  1. 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
  2. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  3. De Oliveira L, Jared C, da Costa Prudente AL, Zaher H, Antoniazzi MM (2008) Oral glands in dipsadine “goo-eater” snakes: morphology and histochemistry of the infralabial glands in Atractus reticulatus, Dipsas indica, and Sibynomorphus mikanii. Toxicon 51: 898–913. DOI: 10.1016/j.toxicon.2007.12.021
  4. Photo by Regdy Vera.
  5. Photo by Eduardo Zavala.
  6. Medrano-Vizcaíno P, Brito-Zapata D, Rueda-Vera A, Jarrín-V P, García-Carrasco JM, Medina D, Aguilar J, Acosta-Buenaño N, González-Suárez M (2023) First national assessment of wildlife mortality in Ecuador: an effort from citizens and academia to collect roadkill data at country scale. Ecology and Evolution 13: e9916. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.9916
  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 georgejetti in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

EcuadorGuayasÁrea de Conservación La EsperanzaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasCapeiraArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorGuayasCerro BlancoArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorGuayasESPOLiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasLa ProsperinaPhoto by Eduardo Zavala
EcuadorGuayasNear Zoo El PantanaliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasPuerto El MorroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasRío BravoReptiles of Ecuador book
EcuadorManabíCabuyal*Arteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorManabíCerro La MocoraArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorManabíCerro SecoThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorManabíEl AromoArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorManabíEl Guayacán, 5 km S ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíFinca TigrilloPhoto by Regdy Vera
EcuadorManabíGuayaquil, 10 km N ofArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorManabíLa PilaPhoto by Redgy Vera
EcuadorManabíLago ColoradoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíMembrillal, 9 km E ofReptiles of Ecuador book
EcuadorManabíMontecristiArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorManabíPajonal, 3 km S ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíPortoviejo, 17 km NW ofArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorManabíRecinto Estero HondoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíRecinto Santa RosaReptiles of Ecuador book
EcuadorManabíRío MantaArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorManabíRocafuerteArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorManabíSendero Las GuacharacasPhoto by Guido Zedeño
EcuadorSanta ElenaCordillera de Chongón ColonchePhoto by Matteo Resisto
EcuadorSanta ElenaLas GarzasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanta ElenaReserva Las BalsasThis work; Fig. 1