Published November 12, 2020. Updated April 27, 2024. Open access.

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Günther’s False-Coralsnake (Erythrolamprus guentheri)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Erythrolamprus guentheri

English common name: Günther’s False-Coralsnake.

Spanish common name: Falsa coral de Günther.

Recognition: ♂♂ 72.5 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=62.9 cm. ♀♀ 90.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=80.8 cm.. Erythrolamprus guentheri can be distinguished from the true coralsnakes (genus Micrurus) that inhabit Ecuador by having eyes that are considerably (6.4–6.6 times) larger than the adjacent preocular scales, whereas in coralsnakes the eye is about the same size as the preocular scale. In Ecuador, E. guentheri mimics the coloration of two coralsnakes: M. ornatissimus and M. steindachneri (a case of BatesianA harmless species imitates the warning coloration of a venomous one. mimicry). Erythrolamprus guentheri differs from other false coralsnakes by having unpaired black rings instead of paired rings (such as in E. aesculapii), and by having the black rings separated form the red ones by thin white or yellowish rings.1,2 Ecuadorian false coralsnakes of the genus Oxyrhopus have the black and red rings in contact. Young individuals of E. guentheri have a distinct light band across the parietals.1

Figure showing a subadult individual of Erythrolamprus guentheri

Figure 1: Subadult of Erythrolamprus guentheri from Lumbaqui, Sucumbíos province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Erythrolamprus guentheri is a rarely seen terrestrial snake that inhabits old-growth to moderately disturbed rainforests. The species also occurs in pastures and occasionally inside houses.3 Most individuals have been seen during the day, foraging on the forest floor or crossing roads and trails.4 Individuals of E. guentheri are mildly venomous, which means they are dangerous to small prey, but not to humans.2

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..5 Erythrolamprus guentheri is included in this category on the basis of its wide range of distribution, occurrence in protected areas, and presumed stable populations.5 The most important threat to the long-term survival of the species is habitat destruction mostly due to mining and the expansion of the agricultural frontier. Individuals of E. guentheri also suffer from direct killing.3 Günther’s False-Coralsnakes are often mistaken with venomous snakes and therefore killed on sight.3

Distribution: Erythrolamprus guentheri is native to the Amazonian lowlands and adjacent Andean foothills of Ecuador (Fig. 2) and Peru.

Distribution of Erythrolamprus guentheri in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Erythrolamprus guentheri 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 (=red) and lampros (=brilliant),6 refers to the bright red body rings of some snakes in this genus. The specific epithet guentheri honors Albert Günther (1830–1914), a German-born British zoologist, ichthyologist, and herpetologist, best known for his role as Keeper of Zoology at the Natural History Museum in London.

See it in the wild: Günther’s False-Coralsnakes are recorded at a rate of about once every few months. However, in southeastern Ecuador, along the Río Zamora, up to 15–20 individuals of have been registered in a single locality during a period of 12 months.7

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Darwin Núñez and Jorge Vaca for providing natural history and locality data for Erythrolamprus guentheri. For providing morphological measurements of individuals of E. guentheri, the first author is grateful to Felipe Franco Curcio. 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).

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

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

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Günther’s False-Coralsnake (Erythrolamprus guentheri). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/GLZT9665

Literature cited:

  1. Peters JA (1957) Taxonomic notes on Ecuadorian snakes in the American Museum of Natural History. American Museum Novitates 1851: 1–13.
  2. Curcio FF, Scali S, Rodrigues MT (2015) Taxonomic status of Erythrolamprus bizona Jan (1863 (Serpentes, Xenodontinae): assembling a puzzle with many missing pieces. Herpetological Monographs 29: 40–64. DOI: 10.1655/HERPMONOGRAPHS-D-15-00002
  3. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  4. Darwin Núñez, pers. comm.
  5. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Almendáriz A, Catenazzi A (2016) Erythrolamprus guentheri. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T203510A2766824.en
  6. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  7. Jorge Vaca, pers. comm.

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

EcuadorMorona SantiagoFruta del NorteThis work
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacasCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacumaCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMetsankimiNaturalist
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSucúaCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTurulaCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorNapoArchidonaPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorNapoGareno LodgePhoto by Sandro Aguinda
EcuadorNapoIkiamPhoto by Grace Reyes
EcuadorOrellanaLoretoFugler & Walls 1978
EcuadorOrellanaTiguinoFugler & Walls 1978
EcuadorPastaza2.2 km from MeraCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorPastazaAlto CurarayCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorPastazaCabeceras del Río BobonazaCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorPastazaConamboCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorPastazaMeraCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorPastazaReserva Río AnzuMECN 2013
EcuadorPastazaRío AlpayacuCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorPastazaRío PastazaCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorPastazaRío PindoFugler & Walls 1978
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorPastazaShellCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorSucumbíosLumbaquiThis work
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeCopalingaReeves et al. 2016
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeMaycuPhoto by Darwin Núñez
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeProyecto Minero MiradorPhoto by Raquel Betancourt
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeZamoraPhoto by Darwin Núñez
PeruAmazonasSan Antonio, Río CenepaCampbell & Lamar 2004
PeruCajamarcaSanta RosaKoch et al. 2018