Published November 18, 2021. Updated April 24, 2024. Open access.

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Short-snouted Marsh-Snake (Erythrolamprus breviceps)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Erythrolamprus breviceps

English common names: Short-snouted Marsh-Snake, Short Ground Snake, Tricolored Swamp Snake.

Spanish common name: Culebra pantanera hocicorta.

Recognition: ♂♂ 53.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 81 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail..1 Erythrolamprus breviceps is a medium-sized snake having smooth dorsal scales arranged in 17 rows at mid-body.2,3 Dorsally, it presents a series of ill-defined dark brown blotches, some of which extend across the venter (Fig. 1). The blotches enclose narrow whitish bands and are separated mid-dorsally by similar whitish bands.25 The ventral surfaces are bright orange with alternating black blotches along the sides of the belly.6 This species differs from E. taeniogaster and E. festae by having narrow white dorsal bands (broad pale interspaces in the other species).4,7 Erythrolamprus breviceps is not a sexually dimorphic species: males and females are similar in size, number of scales, and coloration.3 Juveniles have a conspicuous white nape band.8

Figure showing an adult female of Erythrolamprus breviceps

Figure 1: Adult female of Erythrolamprus breviceps from Aguas Negras Lodge, Sucumbíos province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Erythrolamprus breviceps is an uncommon diurnal and terrestrial to semi-aquatic snake that inhabits rainforests, which may be terra-firme or seasonally flooded,4,5 usually in or around bodies of water.9 Short-snouted Marsh-Snakes also occur in rice fields,10 clearings along big rivers, and disturbed areas.9,11 Individuals are typically active during the day or at dusk11 on leaf-litter,5,9,10 grass,11 or in streams.4 At night, one individual was found buried 10 cm under ground in a marshy rice field,10 but others have been found active.5 Short-snouted Marsh-Snakes have an aglyphous dentition, meaning their teeth lack specialized grooves to deliver venom.12 They are active hunters having a diet composed of earthworms, centipedes, frogs, and swamp eels of the genus Synbranchus.9,10 Individuals are usually calm and try to flee when threatened, relying mostly on crypsis as a primary defense mechanism.10 Females have been found to contain 6–8 eggs,5,10 but the real clutch size is not known.

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..13,14 Erythrolamprus breviceps is listed in this category mainly on the basis of the species’ wide distribution, occurrence in protected areas, and presumed large stable populations.13 Therefore, the species is considered to be facing no major immediate extinction threats. However, some populations are destined to be extirpated due to the destruction and fragmentation of forested environments throughout the Amazon basin.

Distribution: Erythrolamprus breviceps is widely distributed throughout the Amazon basin and adjacent foothills of the Andes in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.3,15

Distribution of Erythrolamprus breviceps in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Erythrolamprus breviceps in Ecuador. The type locality is Suriname. 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 (=red) and lampros (=brilliant),16 refers to the bright red body rings of some snakes in this genus (such as E. aesculapii). The specific epithet breviceps comes from the Latin words brevis (=short) and ceps (=head).16

See it in the wild: In Ecuador, Short-snouted Marsh-Snakes cannot be expected to be seen reliably using standard methods of field herping, since individuals are recorded rarely and no more than once every few months. The area having the greatest number of recent observations is the environs of the town Tena. Active snakes can be found by walking along forest trails during the day.

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) Short-snouted Marsh-Snake (Erythrolamprus breviceps). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/GBLY7993

Literature cited:

  1. Dixon JR (1983) The Liophis cobella group of the neotropical snake genus Liophis. Journal of Herpetology 17: 149–165.
  2. Dixon JR, Soini P (1986) The reptiles of the upper Amazon Basin, Iquitos region, Peru. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 154 pp.
  3. Fernandes DS, Germano VJ, Fernandes R, Franco FL (2002) Taxonomic status and geographic distribution of the lowland species of the Liophis cobella group with comments on the species from the Venezuelan tepuis (Serpentes, Colubridae). Boletim do Museu Nacional 481: 1–14.
  4. Duellman WE (2005) Cusco amazónico: the lives of amphibians and reptiles in an Amazonian rainforest. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 433 pp.
  5. 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.
  6. de Fraga R, Lima AP, da Costa Prudente AL, Magnusson WE (2013) Guia de cobras da região de Manaus - Amazônia Central. Editopa Inpa, Manaus, 303 pp.
  7. Dixon JR (2000) Ecuadorian Peruvian, and Bolivian snakes of the Liophis taeniurus complex with descriptions of two new species. Copeia 2000: 482–490. DOI: 10.1643/0045-8511(2000)000[0482:EPABSO]2.0.CO;2
  8. Natera-Mumaw M, Esqueda-González LF, Castelaín-Fernández M (2015) Atlas serpientes de Venezuela. Dimacofi Negocios Avanzados S.A., Santiago de Chile, 456 pp.
  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. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  12. Hurtado-Gómez JP (2016) Systematics of the genus Erythrolamprus Boie 1826 (Serpentes: Dipsadidae) based on morphological and molecular data. PhD thesis, Universidade de São Paulo, 62 pp.
  13. Nogueira C, Gonzales L, Gagliardi G, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Catenazzi A, Schargel W, Rivas G (2019) Erythrolamprus breviceps. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T15179202A15179207.en
  14. Reyes-Puig C (2015) Un método integrativo para evaluar el estado de conservación de las especies y su aplicación a los reptiles del Ecuador. MSc thesis, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, 73 pp.
  15. Nogueira CC, Argôlo AJS, Arzamendia V, Azevedo JA, Barbo FE, Bérnils RS, Bolochio BE, Borges-Martins M, Brasil-Godinho M, Braz H, Buononato MA, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Colli GR, Costa HC, Franco FL, Giraudo A, Gonzalez RC, Guedes T, Hoogmoed MS, Marques OAV, Montingelli GG, Passos P, Prudente ALC, Rivas GA, Sanchez PM, Serrano FC, Silva NJ, Strüssmann C, Vieira-Alencar JPS, Zaher H, Sawaya RJ, Martins M (2019) Atlas of Brazilian snakes: verified point-locality maps to mitigate the Wallacean shortfall in a megadiverse snake fauna. South American Journal of Herpetology 14: 1–274. DOI: 10.2994/SAJH-D-19-00120.1
  16. 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 Erythrolamprus breviceps in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacumaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoFinca FischerTCWC 69777; VertNet
EcuadorNapoSuchipakari LodgeThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorNapoTenaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoWild Sumaco Wildlife SanctuaryCamper et al. 2021
EcuadorOrellanaCuadrante de los monosMCZ 164693; VertNet
EcuadorOrellanaSan Jose Viejo de SumacoDixon 1983
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoUSNM 232845; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRío PindoDixon 1983
EcuadorPastazaSacha YakuPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorSucumbíosAguas Negras LodgeThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorTungurahuaEl TopoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipePaquishaNogueira et al. 2019
PeruLoretoPampa HermosaDixon 1983
PeruLoretoReserva Nacional Pacaya SamiriaCampbell & Lamar 2004