Graceful Snail-Eater

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Dipsas | Dipsas gracilis

English common names: Graceful Snail-Eater.

Spanish common names: Caracolera grácil.

Recognition: ♂♂ 81.9 cm ♀♀ 76.5 cm. In its area of distribution in Ecuador, the Graceful Snail-Eater (Dipsas gracilis) is the only snake having a combination of large bulging eyes and a pattern of 22–32 broad black body rings separated from each other by narrow light reddish brown interspaces. It differs from the similar D. bobridgelyi, which occurs in southwestern Ecuador, by having the head completely black or black scattered with reddish brown, whereas in D. bobridgelyi the head is heavily stippled with white and tan pigment, especially on the snout. The Western Flame-Snake (Oxyrhopus sebae) also has a pattern of black rings, but this snake has a pointed snout and has smaller non-bulging eyes.

Natural history: Frequent. Dipsas gracilis is a nocturnal snake that inhabits old-growth to heavily disturbed evergreen to semideciduous forests and rural gardens.1 Graceful Snail-Eaters are active at night, especially if it is raining or drizzling.2 They move actively but slowly at ground level on vegetation 0.2–3 m above the ground.1,2 They feed on snails and slugs.1,3 During the day, individuals of D. gracilis rest coiled in tree holes or inside leaf axils.2 Graceful 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

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Conservation: Least Concern.4 Dipsas gracilis is listed in this category because the species is widely distributed, occurs in several protected areas (at least 21 in Ecuador), and individuals are frequently encountered.4 Although much (~68.8%) of this species’ habitat in western Ecuador has been destroyed, its habitat in Colombia appears to be well preserved. Therefore, it is presumed that the total current rate of habitat loss throughout its range is unlikely to be severe enough to warrant listing D. gracilis in a more threatened category.4

Distribution: Dipsas gracilis is native to the lowlands and adjacent Andean foothills of the Chocó and Magdalena River regions in Ecuador and Colombia. It also occurs marginally in the transition zone between the humid Chocoan and arid Tumbesian lowlands in western Ecuador. Although the area of distribution of D. gracilis in Ecuador is ~62,718 km2, we estimate that only an area of ~19,560 km2 holds habitat where the species might occur.

Distribution of Dipsas gracilis in Ecuador

Etymology: The generic name Dipsas, which comes from the Greek word dipsa (meaning “thirst”),5 probably refers to the fact that the bite of these snakes was believed to cause intense thirst. The specific epithet gracilis is a Latin word meaning “slender.”5 It is appropriate for snakes of this species, which are among the thinnest snail-eating snakes.

See it in the wild: Graceful Snail-Eaters can be seen with ~10–40% certainty at night, especially during the rainy season in western Ecuador (December to May), in forested areas throughout the species' area of distribution. Some of the best localities to find Graceful Snail-Eaters are: Mindo, Bilsa Biological Reserve, Lalo Loor Reserve, and Mashpi Rainforest Reserve.

Special thanks to Britton Conway for symbolically adopting the Graceful Snail-Eater and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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Author: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Biodiversity Field Lab, Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographers: Jose Vieira,aAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. Alejandro Arteaga,aAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador. and Sebastián Di Doménico.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2020) Dipsas gracilis. In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (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. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  3. 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.
  4. Inés Hladki A, Ramírez Pinilla M, Renjifo JM, Urbina N, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Brito J, Yánez-Muñoz MH, Sánchez JC (2019) Dipsas gracilis. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from:
  5. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.