Published May 12, 2018. Updated April 6, 2024. Open access.

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Neotropical Snail-eating Snake (Dipsas indica)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Dipsas indica

English common names: Neotropical Snail-eating Snake.

Spanish common name: Caracolera neotropical.

Recognition: ♂♂ 106.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=79.6 cm. ♀♀ 115.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=86.0 cm..1,2 Dipsas indica can be identified by having a grayish dorsum with 25–47 yellow-bordered blackish blotches, distinctly wider at the lower flanks than at the vertebral level, separated from each other by white or yellow spots (Fig. 1).36 This species differs from D. variegata by having yellow-bordered black reticulations on the dorsal surface of the head.36 From D. vermiculata and D. welborni, it differs by lacking a loreal scale.1,6

Figure showing variation among individuals of Dipsas indica

Figure 1: Individuals of Dipsas indica from Ecuador: Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve, Napo province (); Huella Verde Lodge, Pastaza province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Dipsas indica is a nocturnal snake that inhabits old-growth to moderately disturbed rainforests, occurring also but in lower densities in forest edges, plantations, and banana groves.37 Neotropical Snail-Eaters are active at night, especially if it is raining or drizzling.2 Their movements throught the foliage are slow, graceful, and generally occur during the first hours of the night on vegetation 0.8–12 m above the ground.24,8,9 However, they may also be seen crawling on leaf-litter or crossing trails at ground level.2 The diet in this species consists of slugs and snails,3,911 which are extracted from their shells by means of alternating contractions of the specialized adductor muscles.11 Individuals of D. indica have glands in the lower jaw which produce a mucous secretion that presumably causes paralysis and death of the molluscs as well as facilitates prey lubrication during ingestion.12 During the day, snakes of this species rest coiled inside the leaf-litter, under surface objects,2 or even inside the nests of passerine birds.13 The usual defense mechanism of the Neotropical Snail-Eater consists of musking and flattening the body while expand the head to simulate a triangular shape.2,8,14 Clutches of 5 eggs have been recorded.15 These may take about 107 days to hatch.15

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..16 Dipsas indica is listed in this category because the species is widely distributed, occurs in several protected areas (at least 20 in Ecuador), and is considered to be facing no major immediate threats of extinction.16

Distribution: Dipsas indica occurs throughout the Amazonian lowlands and adjacent slopes of the Andes in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. It also occurs in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil.

Distribution of Dipsas indica in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Dipsas indica 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)17 and probably refers to the fact that the bite of these snakes was believed to cause intense thirst. The specific epithet indica refers to the Indian Ocean. The holotype was mistakenly believed to have originated from Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.

See it in the wild: Neotropical Snail-eating Snakes can be seen at a rate of about once every few nights, especially after a rainy day in forested areas throughout their area of distribution in Ecuador. Prime localities for this species in Ecuador include Yasuní Scientific Station, Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve, Narupa Reserve, and Sani Lodge.

Special thanks to Samantha Schenker for symbolically adopting the Neotropical Snail-eating Snake and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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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) Neotropical Snail-eating Snake (Dipsas indica). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/PAPY4074

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. Duellman WE (1978) The biology of an equatorial herpetofauna in Amazonian Ecuador. Publications of the Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas 65: 1–352.
  4. Duellman WE (2005) Cusco amazónico: the lives of amphibians and reptiles in an Amazonian rainforest. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 433 pp.
  5. Dixon JR, Soini P (1986) The reptiles of the upper Amazon Basin, Iquitos region, Peru. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 154 pp.
  6. Peters JA (1960) The snakes of the subfamily Dipsadinae. Miscellaneous Publications, Museum of Zoology, Univesity of Michigan 114: 1–224.
  7. Maynard RJ, Aall NC, Saenz D, Hamilton PS, Kwiatkowski MA (2016) Road-edge effects on herpetofauna in a lowland Amazonian rainforest. Tropical Conservation Science 9: 264–290. DOI: 10.1177/194008291600900114
  8. Martins RA, Scheeffer I, Batista Turci LC, Machado RA, Bernarde PS (2019) Cases of melanism in Dipsas indica indica Laurenti, 1768 (Serpentes: Dipsadidae: Dipsadini) in northern and northeastern Brazil. Herpetology Notes 12: 1197–1200.
  9. Martins M, Oliveira ME (1998) Natural history of snakes in forests of the Manaus region, Central Amazonia, Brazil. Herpetological Natural History 6: 78–150.
  10. Beebe W (1946) Field notes on the snakes of Kartabo, British Guiana, and Caripito, Venezuela. Zoologica 31: 11–52.
  11. Sazima I (1989) Feeding behaivor of the snail-eating snake, Dipsas indica. Journal of Herpetology 23: 464–468.
  12. 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
  13. Photo by Ben Phalan.
  14. 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.
  15. Braz HBP, Almeida-Santos SM (2008) Dipsas indica (Snail-eating snake): reproduction. Herpetological Bulletin 106: 33–35.
  16. Arredondo JC, Castañeda MR, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Velasco J, Gagliardi G, Nogueira C, Schargel W, Rivas G (2019) Dipsas indica. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T15177300A15177305.en
  17. 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 indica in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaCaquetáAlto BonitoiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaCaquetáBelén de AndaquíesiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaCaquetáLa MinaGutiérrez-Lamus et al. 2020
ColombiaPutumayoFinca Villa IreneiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaPutumayoRío PutumayoFMNH 165847; VertNet
ColombiaPutumayoVereda Islas de CartagenaBorja-Acosta & Galeano 2024
EcuadorMorona Santiago9 de OctubreTipantiza-Tuguminago et al. 2021
EcuadorMorona SantiagoComunidad Shuar KukunkPazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorMorona SantiagoLimón, 6.6 km N ofNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacasPeters 1960
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacumaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoPuchimiTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoRío LlushinUSNM 210956; VertNet
EcuadorMorona SantiagoRosa de OroArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSardinayacuArteaga & Batista 2023
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTurulaPeters 1960
EcuadorMorona SantiagoValle del Río QuimiBetancourt et al. 2018
EcuadorMorona SantiagoVía Macas–RiobambaPeters 1960
EcuadorMorona SantiagoVicinity of MacasPeters 1960
EcuadorNapoChocolate LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoGarenoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoGareno LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoHidroeléctrica Coca Codo SinclairCOCASINCLAIR 2013
EcuadorNapoHuella Verde LodgeThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorNapoJatun Sacha Biological ReserveHarvey 2008
EcuadorNapoLumbaqui, 15 KM ENE ofKU 121871; VertNet
EcuadorNapoMisahuallíiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoPuerto NapoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoReserva NarupaMorales-Mite et al. 2013
EcuadorNapoReserva Privada AnkakuNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoRuna HuasiNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoSacha LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoTenaPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorNapoUniversidad IkiamReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoYachana ReserveWhitworth & Beirne 2011
EcuadorOrellanaCocaArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorOrellanaHacienda PrimaveraArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorOrellanaLa Joya de los SachasNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaLoretoUSNM 200011; VertNet
EcuadorOrellanaNPFPhoto by Paulina Romero
EcuadorOrellanaPlataforma Petrolera ApaikaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaPozo NashiñoAMNH 57338; VertNet
EcuadorOrellanaReserva Río BigalGarcía et al. 2021
EcuadorOrellanaRío CotapinoPeters 1960
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de PayaminoMaynard et al. 2017
EcuadorOrellanaShiripuno LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaTambocochaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity StationReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaVía Pompeya–Iro, km 42Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaVía Pompeya–Iro, km 97Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaYasuní Scientific StationNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaYuturiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaAndoasPeters 1960
EcuadorPastazaArajunoPeters 1960
EcuadorPastazaCabeceras del Río BobonazaPeters 1960
EcuadorPastazaCampo Villano K4Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaCanelosNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaChichirotaUSNM 200016; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaCopatazaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaKapawi LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoAlmendáriz 1987
EcuadorPastazaPiatúaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaPucayacuNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaPuyoPeters 1960
EcuadorPastazaPuyo, 14 Km ESE ofPeters 1960
EcuadorPastazaRío BobonazaPeters 1960
EcuadorPastazaRío BufeoOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaRío CapahuariUSNM 210952; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRío PastazaHarvey 2008
EcuadorPastazaRío Pastaza (Territorio Shiwiar, Achuar y Sápara)Ortega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorPastazaRío PindoUSNM 210948; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRío RutunoUSNM 210954; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaSanta AnaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuUSNM 210955; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaShellNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaSumak Kawsay In SituBentley et al. 2021
EcuadorPastazaTambo UniónPeters 1960
EcuadorPastazaTarquiPeters 1960
EcuadorPastazaTzarentzaArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorSucumbíosBloque 15Izquierdo et al. 2000
EcuadorSucumbíosCampamento CharapaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosEl ReventadorNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosLa Selva LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosLago AgrioNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncochaMCZ 156862; VertNet
EcuadorSucumbíosLumbaquiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosPuerto LibreDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosPuerto OreDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosPuerto RodríguezNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosReserva CuyabenoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosReserva Ecológica Cofán BermejoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosRío AguaricoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosSan Pablo de KantesiyaMHNG 2307.061; collection database
EcuadorSucumbíosSani LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta CeciliaDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosSimón BolívarNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosTerritorio Cofán DurenoYánez-Muñoz & Chimbo 2007
EcuadorSucumbíosVía a casa de Máquinas de Coca-CodoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorTungurahuaVía a BañosiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeAlto MachinazaAlmendáriz et al 2014
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeBosque Protector Alto NangaritzaPazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeConcesión ColibríNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeEl PanguiNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeVía a PindalNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeZurmiPhoto by Darwin Núñez
PeruAmazonasAguaruna VillageMVZ 163269; VertNet
PeruAmazonasCaterpizaUSNM 566564; VertNet
PeruAmazonasHuampamiUSNM 316597; VertNet
PeruAmazonasTeniente PingloUSNM 566566; VertNet
PeruAmazonasTseasimUSNM 316598; VertNet
PeruLoretoCerro de KampankisCatenazzi & Venegas 2016
PeruLoretoTrompeterosNogueira et al. 2019