Published April 23, 2024. Open access.

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Fugler’s Shadow-Snake (Emmochliophis fugleri)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Emmochliophis fugleri

English common name: Fugler’s Shadow-Snake.

Spanish common name: Culebra sombría de Fugler.

Recognition: ♂♂ 39.2 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=25.9 cm..1 Emmochliophis fugleri is a relatively small and slender snake that differs from other shadow snakes by having the following combination of characters: head flattened, snout distinctly sloping, dorsal scales strongly keeled and arranged in 19 rows at mid-body, prefrontal scales fused, and loreal scale absent (Fig. 1).2,3 This species differs from E. miops by lacking a yellowish white nuchal band in adults as well as by having vertebrae with articular processes (zygapophyses) expanded into a rod-and-groove mechanism.2,3 From snakes of the genus Ninia, it differs by having fused, instead of paired, prefrontals.2,3 From Diaphorolepis, it differs by having a row of unexpanded single-keeled intervertebral scales (instead of expanded and double-keeled).4 From Synophis, it differs by lacking a loreal scale.3,4 From Nothopsis, it differs by having white, instead of blotched, ventral surfaces.3 It is unknown if there is sexual dimorphism in the species.

Illustration of an adult male of Emmochliophis fugleri

Figure 1: Illustration of an adult male of Emmochliophis fugleri from Ecuador.

Natural history: Emmochliophis fugleri is an extremely rare snake that inhabits evergreen foothill forests. This species occurs both near human-modified habitats such as banana plantations with small patches of rainforest2 as well as in areas of old-growth forest.1 The available information about the natural history of this species comes from only two observations,1 suggesting that Fugler’s Shadow-Snakes are terrestrial, nocturnal, cryptozoic, and apparently require humid areas. One individual was found at night moving slowly through leaf-litter near mossy rocks along a stream.1 The diet in E. fugleri is unknown. However, the only other member of the genus (E. miops) had remains of lizards of the family Gymnophthalmidae in its stomach contents.5

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Conservation: Critically Endangered Considered to be facing imminent risk of extinction..1 Emmochliophis fugleri has been proposed for inclusion in this category based on IUCN criteria. This is because only two specimens from two localities have been recorded since 1966. One of these localities is threatened by large-scale gold mining whereas the other is transformed into plantations, rendering the survival of the species there unlikely.6 On the other hand, the ecological requirements of the species are little known and no specific studies have been carried out to rediscover it.6 In general, the habitat of E. fugleri is characterized by severe fragmentation due to human activities such as logging, agriculture, and cattle raising.1 The only known protected area where the species occurs is Reserva Río Manduriacu, where a single individual has been reported.1

Distribution: Emmochliophis fugleri is endemic to Ecuador. The species is known only from two localities along the western foothills of the Andes in the provinces Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas and Imbabura at elevations between 393 and 1221 m above sea level (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Emmochliophis fugleri in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Emmochliophis fugleri in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Río Baba Bridge, Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas province. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The genus name Emmochliophis, which comes from the Greek words emmochlion (=a socket) and ophis (=snake),2 refers to the shape of the vertebral zygapophyses, which are expanded laterally, forming rod–and–bar assembly. The shape of the interlocking vertebrae is considered one of the most extreme skeletal modifications known in snakes.2 The specific epither fugleri honors Dr. Charles M. Fugler, in recognition of the innumerable South American herpetological specimens that he deposited in US collections.

See it in the wild: The Fugler’s Shadow-Snake has only been recorded twice since 1966, making it one of the rarest snake species in Ecuador. The probability of observing it in the wild is extremely slim, but not impossible, especially within the limits of Río Manduriacu Reserve. Shadow snakes in general are usually found incidentally during nocturnal herpetological sampling of well-preserved forest trails near bodies of water at night.

Author: Amanda QuezadaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

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

Illustrator: Valentina Nieto Fernández

How to cite? Quezada A (2024) Fugler’s Shadow-Snake (Emmochliophis fugleri). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/DHUM5947

Literature cited:

  1. Maynard RJ, Culebras J, Kohn S, Guayasamin JM, Trageser SJ (2021) Finding a shadow in the dark: rediscovery of Fugler’s Shadow Snake (Emmochliophis fugleri Fritts & Smith, 1969) after 54 years, with comments on its conservation status, distribution, and the tribe Diaphorolepidini. Check List 17: 239–245. DOI: 10.15560/17.1.239
  2. Fritts TH, Smith HM (1969) A new genus and species of snake from western Ecuador. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 72: 60–66. DOI: 10.2307/3627049
  3. Pyron R, Guayasamin J, Peñafiel N, Bustamante L, Arteaga A (2015) Systematics of Nothopsini (Serpentes, Dipsadidae), with a new species of Synophis from the Pacific Andean slopes of southwestern Ecuador. ZooKeys 541: 109–147. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.541.6058
  4. Bogert CM (1964) Snakes of the genera Diaphorolepis and Synophis and the colubrid subfamily Xenoderminae. Senckenbergiana Biologica 45: 509–531.
  5. Sheil CA (1998) Emmochliophis miops: redescription of Synophis miops (Boulenger, 1898). Journal of Herpetology 32: 604. DOI: 10.2307/1565222
  6. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Yánez-Muñoz M, Valencia J (2016) Emmochliophis fugleri. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T50951446A50951451.en

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Emmochliophis fugleri in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorImbaburaRío Manduriacu ReserveMaynard et al. 2021
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío Baba Bridge, 4 km E of*Fritts & Smith 1969