Published February 1, 2024. Open access.

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Mimetic False-Coralsnake (Erythrolamprus mimus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Erythrolamprus mimus

English common names: Mimetic False-Coralsnake, Mimic False Coral Snake, Stripe-bellied False Coralsnake.

Spanish common names: Falsa coral mimética, falsa coral de cabeza anillada.

Recognition: ♂♂ 60.8 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=55.3 cm. ♀♀ 67.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=61.5 cm..1,2 Erythrolamprus mimus is a medium-sized snake with red, white, and black rings (Fig. 1). Dorsally, the black rings are separated on either side from the red sections by thin white rings, with a thicker, white ring occasionally present in the middle of the black ring.3 This species differs from the true coral snakes of the genus Micrurus that inhabit Ecuador by having eyes that are considerably (3.3–4.5 times) larger than the adjacent preocular scale, whereas in coral snakes the eye is about the same size as the preocular scale. In Ecuador, E. mimus mimics M. transandinus and M. ancoralis, from which it differs by lacking complete rings (the pattern is broken on the belly). This species differs from Lampropeltis micropholis by having white rings bordering the black rings.4

Figure showing variation among individuals of Erythrolamprus mimus

Figure 1: Individuals of Erythrolamprus mimus from Colombia: Cariazul, Antioquia department (); Morromico Reserve, Chocó department (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Erythrolamprus mimus is a diurnal and crepuscular snake that inhabits pristine rainforests and cloud forests, but also occurs in plantations and rural gardens.5 Mimetic False-Coralsnakes are primarily terrestrial active hunters. They search for prey in open areas as well as in shelters or on low vegetation.6 Unlike most ophiophagus serpents,7 they ingest prey tail-first.8 Their diet is based primarily on long-bodied vertebrates such as snakes (including Atractus dunni,9 A. paucidens, Ninia teresitae,8 Pliocercus euryzonus,5 Tantilla equatoriana,5 and Liotyphlops albirostris10) and caecilians,10 but also includes frogs3 and lizards.1,11 Snakes are seized near the tail or at mid-body and are chewed up until the venom paralyzes them, usually within a few minutes.5,6 False coralsnakes rely on their warning coloration as a primary defense mechanism. Individuals are usually calm and try to flee when threatened.5 If disturbed, they may flatten their body dorsoventrally or curl and display their bright tails as a decoy in a way similar to the behavior of true coralsnakes.1,4 Erythrolamprus mimus is an opistoglyphous (having enlarged teeth towards the rear of the maxilla) and mildly venomous snake.12,13 People bitten by it experience pain, bleeding, and swelling at the bite site.4,6 The clutch size is 3–8 eggs.2,6 Hawks have been observed preying upon individuals of this species.5

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..14 Erythrolamprus mimus is listed in this category mainly on the basis of the species’ wide distribution, occurrence in protected areas, and presumed stable populations.14 Ongoing threats include deforestation, traffic mortality, and direct killing.5 Mimetic False-Coralsnakes are often mistaken with venomous snakes and are therefore killed on sight.

Distribution: Erythrolamprus mimus is widely distributed throughout the Chocó and Mesoamerica biomes, from the Atlantic slopes of Honduras to the Pacific lowlands of Colombia and Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Erythrolamprus mimus in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The name Erythrolamprus comes from the Greek words erythros (=red) and lampros (=brilliant),15 and refers to the bright red body rings. The specific epithet mimus means “mimic” in Latin. It refers to the coloration, which mimics that of true coralsnakes.

See it in the wild: In Ecuador, Mimetic False-Coralsnakes are recorded at a rate of about once every few months. The area having the greatest number of recent observations is the Intag valley, where snakes are routinely spotted in coffee plantations.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Kevin Narum for providing novel information on the diet of Erythrolamprus mimus.

Authors: Sophia HurtadoaAffiliation: Universidad ICESI, Cali, Colombia. and Alejandro ArteagabAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographers: Jose VieiracAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Duvan ZambranoeAffiliation: Universidad del Tolima, Ibagué, Colombia.

How to cite? Hurtado S, Arteaga A (2024) Mimetic False-Coralsnake (Erythrolamprus mimus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/WDBS8067

Literature cited:

  1. Savage JM (2002) The amphibians and reptiles of Costa Rica, a herpetofauna between two continents, between two seas. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 934 pp.
  2. Goldberg SR (2004) Notes on reproduction in the false coral snakes, Erythrolamprus bizona and Erythrolamprus mimus (Serpentes: Colubridae) from Costa Rica. Texas Journal of Science 56: 171–174.
  3. Solórzano A (2004) Serpientes de Costa Rica. Distribución, taxonomía e historia natural. Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, 792 pp.
  4. Lotzkat S (2014) Diversity, taxonomy, and biogeography of the reptiles inhabiting the highlands of the Cordillera Central (Serranía de Talamanca and Serranía de Tabasará) in western Panama. PhD thesis, Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main, 931 pp.
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. Leenders T (2019) Reptiles of Costa Rica: a field guide. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 625 pp.
  7. Greene HW (1976) Scale overlap as a directional sign stimulus for prey ingestion by ophiophagous snakes. Zeitschrift fur Tierpsychologie 41: 113–120. DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.1976.tb00473.x
  8. Esquerré D (2021) Erythrolamprus mimus (Mimic False Coralsnake): diet. Herpetological Review 52: 871–872.
  9. Photo by Kevin Narum.
  10. Ray JM, Santana P (2012) Erythrolamprus mimus (Stripe-bellied False Coralsnake): diet. Herpetological Review 43: 344.
  11. McCranie JR (2011) The snakes of Honduras: systematics, distribution, and conservation. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Ithaca, 714 pp.
  12. Suárez AM, Alzate E (2014) Guía ilustrada de anfibios y reptiles de Cañón del Río Porce. Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, 138 pp.
  13. 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.
  14. Nicholson K, Porras LW, Chaves G, Köhler G (2013) Erythrolamprus mimus. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-2.RLTS.T203511A2766831.en
  15. 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 mimus in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaCaucaReserva Natural TambitoiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaCaucaTimbiquí, 1.89 km NE of Boca de PatíaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaNariñoAltaqueriNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaNariñoReserva Natural El PangániNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorBolívarCascada San Mateo, 3.56 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCañarEl ChorroPhoto by Alex Angulo
EcuadorCañarHidroeléctrica OcañaPazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorCarchiLitaCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque protegido JDLSiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCotopaxiVia La Maná–PujilíiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCotopaxiVia Pucayacu–ChugchilániNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasBloque SirúaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasCorredor Ecológico AwacachiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasDurangoAMNH 13540; examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda San MigueliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasMontalvoUSNM 210997; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasPulúnCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva PambilariNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío DurangoCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío SantiagoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaCabañas Intag, 5.5 km NE of iNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaCuellajeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaFinca La CascadaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaJunínPhoto by Carlos Zorrilla
EcuadorImbaburaLa PeñaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaLitaAMNH 13430; examined
EcuadorImbaburaManduriacuiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaRepresa Hidroeléctrica Manduriacu, 6.48 km NE of iNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Cientifico Río Palenque MCZ 151578; VertNet
EcuadorManabíEl CarmenPazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorPichinchaBosque Nublado YunguillaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaCascadas de DiabloiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaHostería Selva VirgenReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaMirador de MashpiReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaNanegaliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaNanegalitoValencia 2017
EcuadorPichinchaPachijalPhoto by Vinicio Perez
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto QuitoMHNG 2248.099; collection database
EcuadorPichinchaReserva Geobotánica PulhulahuaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaReserva MaquipucunaValencia 2017
EcuadorPichinchaReserva MashpiMedina 2021
EcuadorPichinchaReserva MirafloresiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaSanta LucíaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaSanto Domingo de los ColoradosCurcio et al. 2015
EcuadorPichinchaTandayapaPhoto by Brian Kronhke
EcuadorPichinchaVia Celica–El CisneiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaYunguillaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío Baba, 24 km S of Santo DomingoUIMNH 92345; collection database