Published November 29, 2020. Open access.

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Golden-bellied Snake (Erythrolamprus albiventris)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Erythrolamprus | Erythrolamprus albiventris

English common name: Golden-bellied Snake.

Spanish common names: Culebra ventridorada, culebrilla ventridorada, culebra boba de vientre pálido, culebra boba verde.

Recognition: ♂♂ 67.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 80.5 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail.. The Golden-bellied Snake (Erythrolamprus albiventris) is a medium-sized snake having a white or yellow immaculate belly. The dorsum is bright leaf-green or olive with thin black stripes along the posterior half of the body and tail.1 Individuals of this species are distinguished from other greenish diurnal snakes in central and western Ecuador (particularly Chironius exoletus, C. monticola, and Dendrophidion graciliverpa) by being smaller (total length <1 meter), having contrasting black stripes on the body (not only on the tail), and by having smooth dorsal scales arranged in 17 rows at mid-body.2 The most similar snake in size and coloration that may be found living alongside E. albiventris in southwestern Ecuador is E. fraseri, a snake that has an olive or grayish brown dorsal coloration and black-checkered yellow ventral surfaces.1 Young individuals of E. albiventris usually have a black nape band.

Figure showing variation among individuals of Erythrolamprus albiventris

Figure 1: Individuals of Erythrolamprus albiventris from Guanazán, El Oro province (); Santa Lucía Reserve, Pichincha province (); Valle de los Chillos, Pichincha province (); Guápulo, Pichincha province (); Milpe, Pichincha province (); Manduriacu Reserve, Imbabura province (); and Otonga Reserve, Cotopaxi province, Ecuador (). ad=adult, j=juvenile.

Natural history: FrequentRecorded weekly in densities below five individuals per locality.. Erythrolamprus albiventris is a diurnal and terrestrial snake that inhabits evergreen to semi-deciduous forests, cloudforests, and humid montane shrublands. The species also occurs in areas having a matrix of pastures, plantations, and remnants of native vegetation, as well as in gardens of heavily-populated urban areas such as Quito.2 Individuals of E. albiventris seem to be particularly frequent in marshes, swamps, artificial ponds, and along streams,2,3 and they also venture inside caves and abandoned mines.4 Most active individuals are seen during sunny hours in the morning, crossing roads and trails, basking in open areas or foraging on leaf-litter, soil, or among grass or shrubs.2,3,5 However, individuals are capable of climbing on vegetation up to 2 m above the ground.3 When not active, they hide under logs, timber, agave plants, dirt clods, stones, building blocks, or in crevices.2,3,5

Golden-bellied Snakes have an aglyphous dentition,1 meaning their teeth lack specialized grooves to deliver venom. They are active hunters having a diet primarily based on frogs (including Hyloxalus infraguttatus,4 Epipedobates anthonyi,4 Leptodactylus melanonotus,2 Pristimantis achatinus,5 and P. unistrigatus),3 and tadpoles of Gastrotheca riobambae.3 They also feed on lizards such as Gonatodes caudiscutatus,4 Lepidoblepharis conolepis,2 Pholidobolus montium6 and Stenocercus guentheri.7 Individuals are usually calm and try to flee when threatened, relying mostly on crypsis as a primary defense mechanism. If disturbed, they may flatten their body dorsoventrally and produce a musky and distasteful odor.3 Individuals of Erythrolamprus albiventris are preyed upon by snakes (E. mimus) and by domestic animals (cats and chickens).2

Breeding congregations of Erythrolamprus albiventris have been observed during the rainy season in western Ecuador (December–May). In one hole, five males and one female were coiled into a reproductive ball.5,8 Females lay 5–10 eggs in heaps of rotten vegetation.9,10

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Conservation: Near Threatened Not currently at risk of extinction, but requires some level of management to maintain healthy populations..11 Erythrolamprus albiventris is included in this category on the basis of the specie’s wide distribution (here estimated to be ~53,539 km2), presence in over a dozen protected areas, and presumed stable populations.2 The main threat to the long-term survival of populations of E. albiventris is the continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat, mostly due to encroaching human activities such as agriculture, cattle grazing, wild fires, and the replacement of native vegetation with eucalyptus and pine trees. It is estimated that in Ecuador, ~63.3% of the potential habitat of the species has already been destroyed.12 Golden-bellied Snakes also suffer from human persecution and traffic-related mortality.3,5 Therefore, the species may qualify for a threatened category in the near future if these threats are not addressed. However, there is no current information on the population trend of E. albiventris to determine whether its numbers are declining.

Distribution: Erythrolamprus albiventris is endemic to Ecuador, where it is distributed throughout the Chocoan lowlands and adjacent foothills of the Andes as well as in the inter-Andean valley of Quito. The species occurs over an estimated ~53,539 km2 area at elevations between 4 and 3021 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Erythrolamprus albiventris in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Erythrolamprus albiventris in Ecuador. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The name Erythrolamprus, which comes from the Greek words erythros (meaning “red”) and lampros (meaning “brilliant”),13 refers to the bright red body rings of some snakes in this genus (such as E. aesculapii). The specific epithet albiventris, which comes from the Latin words albus (meaning “white”) and venter (meaning “belly”), refers to the characteristic immaculate ventral surfaces of individuals of this species.14

See it in the wild: Individuals of Erythrolamprus albiventris are frequently encountered in forested areas throughout the specie’s distribution. However, they are particularly abundant in the general area of Mindo and along the old Nono–Mindo road, Pichincha province. The snakes may be spotted as they cross trails and roads in areas having adequate vegetation cover, especially during sunny mornings.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Carlos Zorrilla, Eduardo Zavala, and Jose Manuel Falcón for providing locality data and natural history information for Erythrolamprus albiventris. This account was published with the support of Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior Ciencia y Tecnología (programa INEDITA; project: Respuestas a la crisis de biodiversidad: la descripción de especies como herramienta de conservación; No 00110378), Programa de las Naciones Unidas (PNUD), and Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ).

Special thanks to Annalaura Averill-Murray for symbolically adopting the Golden-bellied Snake and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

Click here to adopt a species.

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) Golden-bellied Snake (Erythrolamprus albiventris). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/LLLF9348

Literature cited:

  1. Dixon JR (1983) Systematics of the Latin American snake Liophis epinephelus (Serpentes: Colubridae). In: Rhodin AGJ, Miyamata K (Eds) Advances in herpetology and evolutionary biology. Museum of Comparative Zoology, Cambridge, 132–149.
  2. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  3. Ramírez-Jaramillo S (2015) Observaciones sobre la historia natural de Erythrolamprus epinephelus albiventris en el valle de quito, Ecuador. Avances en Ciencias e Ingenierías 7: 5–7.
  4. Jose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. Mafla-Endara P, Ayala-Varela F (2012) Pholidobolus montium (lagartija minadora). Predation. Herpetological Review 43: 137.
  7. Cadena-Ortiz H, Barahona A, Bahamonde-Vinueza D, Brito J (2017) Anecdotal predation events of some snakes in Ecuador. Herpetozoa 30: 93–96.
  8. Photographic record by Silvio Paladines.
  9. Morales MA (2004) Dinámica poblacional de las comunidades de anfibios y reptiles de siete localidades de la zona de amortiguamiento de la Reserva Ecológica Cotacachi-Cayapas, Esmeraldas, Ecuador. Universidad del Azuay, 122 pp.
  10. Copping R (1957) Reptiles and amphibians of the highlands of Ecuador. British Journal of Herpetology 2: 45–56.
  11. Carrillo E, Aldás A, Altamirano M, Ayala F, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Endara A, Márquez C, Morales M, Nogales F, Salvador P, Torres ML, Valencia J, Villamarín F, Yánez-Muñoz M, Zárate P (2005) Lista roja de los reptiles del Ecuador. Fundación Novum Millenium, Quito, 46 pp.
  12. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  13. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  14. Jan G (1863) Enumerazione sistematica degli ofidi appartenenti al gruppo Coronellidae. Archive per la Zoologia, l’Anatomia et la Fisiologia 2: 215–330.

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

EcuadorAzuayAbove Agua CalienteThis work
EcuadorAzuayChaucha valleyDixon 1983
EcuadorAzuayChilcaplayaJosé Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorAzuaySarayungaJosé Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorAzuayYunguillaJosé Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorBolívar7 km NW CumandáiNaturalist
EcuadorBolívarBalzapambaDixon 1983
EcuadorBolívarChazo JuanTorres-Carvajal & Hinojosa 2020
EcuadorCañarHuatacónThis work
EcuadorCañarLa TroncalMZUA.RE.0038
EcuadorCarchiChicalUSNM 286302
EcuadorChimborazoValle del ChanchánANSP 18119
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque Integral OtongaThis work
EcuadorCotopaxiCutzualoMHNG 2442.053
EcuadorCotopaxiGalápagosMHNG 2411.041
EcuadorCotopaxiLas DamasMHNG 2458.021
EcuadorCotopaxiLas PampasCésar Tapia, pers. comm.
EcuadorCotopaxiNaranjitoTorres-Carvajal & Hinojosa 2020
EcuadorCotopaxiPalo QuemadoMHNG 2410.100
EcuadorCotopaxiPeñas Coloradas, SigchosQCAZ 1698
EcuadorEl Oro10 km SE MachalaDixon 1983
EcuadorEl Oro4 km W Urna BuenaventuraiNaturalist
EcuadorEl OroBella MaríaQCAZ 8989
EcuadorEl OroChillaTorres-Carvajal & Hinojosa 2020
EcuadorEl OroEl ProgresoMHNG 2308.078
EcuadorEl OroReserva Biológica BuenaventuraTorres-Carvajal & Hinojosa 2020
EcuadorEl OroSan RoqueMECN 189
EcuadorEl OroZambotamboThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldas30 km NNW Santo DomingoUSNM 232849
EcuadorEsmeraldasAtacamesMHNG 2221.057
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé ReserveYánez-Muñoz et al. 2005
EcuadorEsmeraldasCentro de Fauna Silvestre James BrownPhoto by Salvador Palacios
EcuadorEsmeraldasCupaMECN 206
EcuadorEsmeraldasEsmeraldasUSNM 232824
EcuadorEsmeraldasMayronga, LagartoQCAZ 2261
EcuadorEsmeraldasPajonalMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasPlaya RicaMNHN 1902.356
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Biológica BilsaOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasVicheQCAZ 2881
EcuadorGuayasBalzarDixon 1983
EcuadorGuayasBucayPhoto by Keyko Cruz
EcuadorGuayasCapeiraPhoto by Eduardo Zavala
EcuadorImbabura2 km E El RosarioiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaCabañas ColibríiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaIntagPeter Joost, pers. comm.
EcuadorImbaburaIntag Cloudforest ReservePhoto by Carlos Zorrilla
EcuadorImbaburaLa Merced de Buenos AiresJesse Kimmerling, pers. comm.
EcuadorImbaburaLitaUSNM 232905
EcuadorImbaburaParambaBoulenger 1898
EcuadorImbaburaReserva Los CedrosPhoto by Fernando Rojas
EcuadorImbaburaRío Aguas ClarasDixon 1983
EcuadorImbaburaVicinity of Siempre VerdePhoto by Nelson Ruiz
EcuadorImbaburaWarimanPhoto by Peter Joost
EcuadorLojaAlamorDixon 1983
EcuadorLojaAlamor, vicinity ofThis work
EcuadorLojaCamino a VicentinoTorres-Carvajal & Hinojosa 2020
EcuadorLojaCelicaPhoto by Jorge Castillo
EcuadorLojaEl LimoiNaturalist
EcuadorLojaHuajalaTorres-Carvajal & Hinojosa 2020
EcuadorLojaSan RamónUSNM 232906
EcuadorLojaY de BalsonesiNaturalist
EcuadorLos Ríos24 km S Río BabaDixon 1983
EcuadorLos RíosHacienda La ClementinaDixon 1983
EcuadorLos RíosRío BabaAMNH 110588
EcuadorLos RíosRío PalenqueKU 152605
EcuadorPichincha1.5 km E NanegalitoDixon 1983
EcuadorPichincha13 km NW NonoKU 158534
EcuadorPichincha15 km NE QuitoDixon 1983
EcuadorPichincha3.7 km NE Dos RíosKU 142807
EcuadorPichincha4 km N MindoDixon 1983
EcuadorPichincha4.5 km NW NonoKU 218423
EcuadorPichincha9 km SE TandapiAMNH 113020
EcuadorPichinchaAlambiThis work
EcuadorPichinchaAldea Ecoturística Puma SachaiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaAlluriquínDixon 1983
EcuadorPichinchaAmaguañaQCAZ 755
EcuadorPichinchaBarrio RunahurcoiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaBellavista Cloudforest ReservePascal Vagner
EcuadorPichinchaBelow PactoDixon 1983
EcuadorPichinchaBirdwatcher HouseThis work
EcuadorPichinchaBosque de la OccidentalMECN 186
EcuadorPichinchaBosque Protector VerdecochaMECN 2009
EcuadorPichinchaBosque Seco Nueva Esperanza–GuayllabambaMECN 2009
EcuadorPichinchaCalacali–Nanegalito roadThis work
EcuadorPichinchaCarcelénValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaCarcelén BajoValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaCarretasValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaCashapambaQCAZ 3269
EcuadorPichinchaCayambeMHNG 2399.099
EcuadorPichinchaCerro MontecristiValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaChiribogaMHNG 2221.055
EcuadorPichinchaClub Los ChillosTorres-Carvajal & Hinojosa 2020
EcuadorPichinchaDos PuentesPhoto by René Lima
EcuadorPichinchaDowntown MindoThis work
EcuadorPichinchaEl CedralThis work
EcuadorPichinchaEl PancilloValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaEl QuincheQCAZ 6995
EcuadorPichinchaEl TingoMHNG 2442.054
EcuadorPichinchaEric’s terrainThis work
EcuadorPichinchaEstación La FavoritaiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaGualeaDixon 1983
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda CababuroQCAZ 8044
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda Las Palmas-Río BlancoMECN 2009
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda OlallaDixon 1983
EcuadorPichinchaHda. CapeloMECN 196