Pavonine Snail-Eater

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Dipsas | Dipsas pavonina

English common names: Pavonine Snail-Eater, Northern Snail-Eater.

Spanish common names: Caracolera pavonina.

Recognition: ♂♂ 75.9 cm ♀♀ 73.7 cm. In Ecuador, the Pavonine Snail-Eater (Dipsas pavonina) can be identified based on its black head with a white transverse line on the snout, and light brown body with 15–35 white-lined black “saddles” that are broader at the top of the dorsum. The most similar species that may be found living alongside D. pavonina in Ecuador are D. catesbyi, D. klebbai, and D. palmeri. These other Dipsas species have blotches that are narrower at the top of the dorsum.

Natural history: Locally frequent. Dipsas pavonina is a nocturnal snake that inhabits old-growth to moderately disturbed evergreen forests, pastures, and forest borders.13 Pavonine Snail-Eaters are active at night, especially during warm nights after rainy days.3 They move actively but slowly at ground level, or on vegetation up to 5.5 m above the ground.3 They feed on slugs, snails, and occasionally also on lizards.1,4 Pavonine Snail-Eaters are harmless to humans; they are extremely docile and never attempt to bite.3 If threatened, individuals may flatten their body, expand their head to simulate a triangular shape, and produce a fetid distasteful odor.1,5

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Conservation: Least Concern.6 Dipsas pavonina is listed in this category because it is widely distributed throughout the Amazon basin and is considered to be facing no major immediate threats of extinction.6

Distribution: Dipsas pavonina occurs throughout the Amazon basin and adjacent slopes of the Andes in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Distribution of Dipsas pavonina in Ecuador

Etymology: The generic name Dipsas, which comes from the Greek word dipsa (meaning “thirst”),7 probably refers to the fact that the bite of these snakes was believed to cause intense thirst. The specific epithet pavonina, which comes from the Latin word pavoninus (meaning “related to a peacock”),7 probably refers to the attractive color pattern of this snake.

See it in the wild: In Ecuador, Pavonine Snail-Eaters are encountered frequently only in some localities. These snakes can be seen with ~5–30% certainty at night, especially after a rainy day, in Shiripuno Lodge, Huella Verde Lodge, and Reserva Natural Maycu.


Do snails attract snakes? Yes. Snail-eating snakes follow snails visually or by tracking their scent trail.8

Do snail-eating snakes eat the shell of the snails? They don't. These snakes use specialized muscular contractions of their wedge-like head to extract snails from their shells.8

Author: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographer: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2020) Dipsas pavonina. 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. Martins M, Oliveira ME (1998) Natural history of snakes in forests of the Manaus region, Central Amazonia, Brazil. Herpetological Natural History 6: 78–150.
  2. 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.
  3. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  4. Peters JA (1960) The snakes of the subfamily Dipsadinae. Miscellaneous Publications, Museum of Zoology, Univesity of Michigan 114: 1–224.
  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. Nogueira C, Gagliardi G, Catenazzi A, Kornacker P, Embert D, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Gonzales L, Schargel W, Rivas G (2019) Dipsas pavonina. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from:
  7. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  8. Sheehy C (2012) Phylogenetic relationships and feeding behavior of Neotropical snail-eating snakes (Dipsadinae, Dipsadini). PhD Thesis, UT Arlington.