Published May 12, 2018. Updated April 11, 2024. Open access.

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Pavonine Snail-eating Snake (Dipsas pavonina)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Dipsas pavonina

English common names: Pavonine Snail-eating Snake, Northern Snai-Eater.

Spanish common name: Caracolera pavonina.

Recognition: ♂♂ 75.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=57 cm. ♀♀ 73.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=52 cm..1,2 Dipsas pavonina can be identified by having a black head with a white transverse line on the snout and a light brown body with 15–35 white-lined black “saddles” that are broader at the top of the dorsum (Fig. 1). This species differs from D. catesbyi, D. klebbai, and D. palmeri by having blotches that are wider at the top of the dorsum.14

Figure showing variation among individuals of Dipsas pavonina

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

Natural history: Dipsas pavonina is a nocturnal snake that inhabits old-growth to moderately disturbed rainforests, which may be terra-firme or seasonally flooded.14 The species also occurs in pastures and peri-urban areas.5 Pavonine Snail-eating Snakes are active at night, especially if it is raining or drizzling.5 Their movements throught the foliage are slow, graceful, and generally occur at night on the lower (0.3–5.5 m above the ground) forest stratum.15 However, they may also be seen foraging on the leaf-litter.1,5 During the day, individuals have been found coiled, hidden inside the leaf-litter or on low vegetation.5 The diet in D. pavonina consists primarily on slugs and snails, but lizards are also eaten.1 The mollusks are presumably immobilized by the use of toxins secreted by the mucous cells of the infralabial glands.6 Nevertheless, all snakes in the genus Dipsas are considered harmless to humans. They never attempt to bite, resorting instead to musking and coiling into a defensive posture while expanding the head to simulate a triangular shape.1,7 One gravid female of D. pavonina from Brazil contained one egg,7 but the real clutch size is not known.

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..8 Dipsas pavonina is listed in this category primarily because the species is widely distributed, occurs in protected areas, and is believed to be facing no major immediate extinction threats.8

Distribution: Dipsas pavonina occurs throughout the Amazonian lowlands and adjacent slopes of the Andes in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Distribution of Dipsas pavonina in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Dipsas pavonina 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)9 and probably refers to the fact that the bite of these snakes was believed to cause intense thirst. The specific epithet pavonina is a Latin word meaning “related to a peacock.”9 It probably refers to the eye-catching dorsal coloration.

See it in the wild: Pavonine Snail-eating Snakes can be seen at a rate of about once every few weeks, especially after a rainy day in forested areas throughout their distribution in Ecuador. Prime localities for this species in Ecuador include Shiripuno Lodge, Huella Verde Lodge, and Reserva Natural Maycu.

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) Pavonine Snail-eating Snake (Dipsas pavonina). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/SXLV7570

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. De Lima AC, Da Costa Prudente AL (2009) Morphological variation and systematics of Dipsas catesbyi (Sentzen, 1796) and Dipsas pavonina Schlegel, 1837 (Serpentes: Dipsadinae)
  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. Peters JA (1960) The snakes of the subfamily Dipsadinae. Miscellaneous Publications, Museum of Zoology, Univesity of Michigan 114: 1–224.
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. 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
  7. 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.
  8. Nogueira CC, 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: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T176791A44949097.en
  9. 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 pavonina in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorMorona SantiagoEl TiinkArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorMorona SantiagoGualaquizaKU 152515; VertNet
EcuadorMorona SantiagoHidroabanicoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoJuyukamentza, 4 km SE ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoKushapukArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacasPeters 1960
EcuadorMorona SantiagoPueblo de IsraeliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoRío MacumaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoRío UpanoFugler & Walls 1978
EcuadorMorona SantiagoVall del QuimiBetancourt et al. 2018
EcuadorNapoArchidonaArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorNapoHamadryade LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoHuella Verde LodgeThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorNapoJatun Sacha Biological StationThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorNapoPitalala, sendero cañonesReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoReserva Colonso ChalupasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoReserva Río BigaiReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoTenaArteaga et al. 2018
EcuadorOrellanaEstación de Biodiversidad TiputiniCisneros-Heredia 2003
EcuadorOrellanaLoretoPeters 1960
EcuadorOrellanaSanta Rosa de ArapinoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaShiripuno LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaVía Hollín–LoretoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaYasuní Scientific StationReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaCabeceras del BobonazaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaCanelosPeters 1960
EcuadorPastazaFinca HeimatlosPhoto by Ferhat Gundogdu
EcuadorPastazaPuyoPeters 1960
EcuadorPastazaRío BobonazaUSNM 210963; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRío BufeoUSNM 210966; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuUSNM 210964; VertNet
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncochaKU 105401; VertNet
EcuadorSucumbíosPacayacuiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosPuerto LibreDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta CeciliaDuellman 1978
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeAlto NangaritzaAlmendáriz et al. 2014
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeCiudad PerdidaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeCumbaratzaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeReserva MaycuArteaga et al. 2018
PeruAmazonasAguaruna VillageMVZ 163270; VertNet
PeruAmazonasHuampamiUSNM 316591; VertNet
PeruAmazonasTeniente PingloUSNM 566567; VertNet