Published October 7, 2021. Updated April 30, 2024. Open access.

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Velvet Swampsnake (Erythrolamprus typhlus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Erythrolamprus typhlus

English common names: Velvet Swampsnake, Velvety Swampsnake, Green Smoothsnake, Small-eyed Marsh-Snake.

Spanish common name: Culebra pantanera miope.

Recognition: ♂♂ 74 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 85.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail..1 Erythrolamprus typhlus is a medium-sized snake having smooth dorsal scales arranged in 19 rows at mid-body.2 Dorsally, it presents a variable background coloration (bright leaf-green, gray, reddish brown, or slate blue) with minute white speckles as well as a series of diagonal black streaks extending posteriorly towards the ventral scales (Fig. 1).24 The streaks are more prominent, albeit sometimes broken into spots, in juveniles and become fainter in older individuals.2,3 The ventral surfaces are whitish, light yellow, or occasionally reddish.2,4 This species differs from Chlorosoma viridissimum by having a creamy white, instead of green, belly.4 From E. reginae, it differs by having immaculate white ventral surfaces, whereas in the other species the belly is black-checkered yellow. Unlike Leptophis nigromarginatus, this species has a higher number of dorsal scales rows and does not have black edges on the head shields.4

Figure showing a juvenile individual of Erythrolamprus typhlus

Figure 1: Juvenile of Erythrolamprus typhlus from Aguas Negras Lodge, Sucumbíos province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Erythrolamprus typhlus is an uncommon diurnal and terrestrial snake that inhabits old growth as well as heavily disturbed rainforests, which may be terra-firme or seasonally flooded.4,5 Velvet Swampsnakes also occur in areas having a matrix of pastures, plantations, and remnants of native vegetation. Individuals are typically active during the morning hours under sunny or cloudy6 conditions. They have been seen crossing roads and trails, basking in open areas or foraging on leaf-litter, soil,3 or among grass or shrubs.710 At night, they sleep on vegetation 30–70 cm above the ground.3,1113 Velvet Swampsnakes have an aglyphous dentition, meaning their teeth lack specialized grooves to deliver venom.14 They are active hunters having a diet primarily based on frogs (including those in the genera Leptodactylus,15 Elachistocleis,16 and Rhinella).3,17,18 Individuals are usually calm and try to flee when threatened, relying mostly on crypsis as a primary defense mechanism.15 If disturbed, they may flatten their body dorsoventrally15,19 and produce a musky and distasteful odor.3 Females containing 2–5 eggs have been reported in Brazil.3

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..20,21 Erythrolamprus typhlus is listed in this category mainly on the basis of the species’ wide distribution, occurrence in protected areas, and presumed stable populations.20 Therefore, the species is considered to be facing no major immediate extinction threats. However, the destruction and fragmentation of forested environments throughout South America can be a threat for the long-term of survival of some populations.

Distribution: Erythrolamprus typhlus is native to an area of approximately 672,414 km2 throughout the Amazon basin and adjacent foothills of the Andes in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.22 The species also occurs in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, in the Brazilian Cerrado, and El Chaco plains in Bolivia and Paraguay.22

Distribution of Erythrolamprus typhlus in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Erythrolamprus typhlus 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),23 refers to the bright red body rings of some snakes in this genus (such as E. aesculapii). The specific epithet typhlus comes from the Greek word typhlos (meaning “blind”),23 although the reason why the name was coined is unknown.

See it in the wild: In Ecuador, Velvet Swampsnakes are recorded no more than once every few months at any given locality. The areas having the greatest number of recent observations are Tiputini Biodiversity Station and Shiripuno Lodge. Active individuals of Erythrolamprus typhlus can be found by walking along forest trails during sunny mornings or sleeping snakes may be seen roosting on low vegetation during night walks.

Acknowledgments: 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: Jose VieirabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Velvet Swampsnake (Erythrolamprus typhlus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/EPSX4868

Literature cited:

  1. Dixon JR (1987) Taxonomy and geographic variation of Liophis typhlus and related “green” species of South America (Serpentes: Colubridae). Annals of Carnegie Museum 56: 173–191.
  2. Dixon JR, Soini P (1986) The reptiles of the upper Amazon Basin, Iquitos region, Peru. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 154 pp.
  3. Martins M, Oliveira ME (1998) Natural history of snakes in forests of the Manaus region, Central Amazonia, Brazil. Herpetological Natural History 6: 78–150.
  4. Duellman WE (2005) Cusco amazónico: the lives of amphibians and reptiles in an Amazonian rainforest. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 433 pp.
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. Photo by Alex Victor.
  7. Photo by Danielle Aube.
  8. Photo by Tim Guida.
  9. Photo by Peter Maessen.
  10. Photo by Fernando Mateos-González.
  11. Photo by Fernando Vaca.
  12. Photo by Jose Cueva.
  13. Photo by John Sullivan.
  14. 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.
  15. Beebe W (1946) Field notes on the snakes of Kartabo, British Guiana, and Caripito, Venezuela. Zoologica 31: 11–52.
  16. Natera-Mumaw M, Esqueda-González LF, Castelaín-Fernández M (2015) Atlas serpientes de Venezuela. Dimacofi Negocios Avanzados S.A., Santiago de Chile, 456 pp.
  17. Prado PC, Gonzalez RC, De Castro TM, Silva-Sorares T (2016) Erythrolamprus typhlus (Green Smoothsnake): diet. Herpetological Review 47: 478.
  18. Cunha OR, Nascimento FP (1978) Ofídios da Amazônia. X. As cobras da região leste do Pará. Papéis Avulsos Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi 31: 1–218.
  19. Photo by David Fischer.
  20. Caicedo J, Calderón M, Ines Hladki A, Ramírez Pinilla M, Renjifo J, Rivas G, Urbina N, Gagliardi G, Gonzales L, Nogueira C (2019) Erythrolamprus typhlus. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T44581753A44581764.en
  21. 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.
  22. 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
  23. 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 typhlus in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaCaquetáFlorenciaDixon 1983
ColombiaPutumayoPuerto AsísDunn 1944
ColombiaPutumayoRío PutumayoFMNH 165842
ColombiaPutumayoVereda La PrimaveraiNaturalist
EcuadorMorona SantiagoHuamboyaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacasFugler & Walls 1978
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacumaUSNM 232932
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMarantian Wildlife RefugePhoto by Alex Achig
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMaykiumtsNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoNormandíaAMNH 35929
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSantiago de MendezUSNM 232935
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSantiago de TiwintzaUMMZ 82889
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSawastianOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSucúaFugler & Walls 1978
EcuadorMorona SantiagoVilla AshuaraOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorNapoFinca FischerTCWC 70945
EcuadorNapoHuaorani LodgePhoto by Etienne Littlefair
EcuadorNapoJatun Sacha Biological StationVigle 2008
EcuadorNapoPuerto Barantilla, 1.8 km E ofiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoTenaUSNM 232939
EcuadorOrellanaBoca del Río CocaUSNM 232947
EcuadorOrellanaConcepciónUSNM 232942
EcuadorOrellanaEl CocaMHNG 2401.003
EcuadorOrellanaNWC Welcome CenterThis work
EcuadorOrellanaRío YasuníTorrres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity Station iNaturalist
EcuadorPastazaAndoasNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaCanelosOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaCopatazaUSNM 232937
EcuadorPastazaMontalvo, 27 km NE ofNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaRío BufeoUSNM 232936
EcuadorPastazaRío CorrientesUSNM 232946
EcuadorPastazaRío LliquinoUSNM 232945
EcuadorPastazaRío Oglán AltoUSNM 232940
EcuadorPastazaRío PucayacuUSNM 232944
EcuadorPastazaRío RutunoUSNM 232935
EcuadorPastazaSanta Rosa, Río TigreNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuAMNH 28796
EcuadorPastazaShiripuno LodgePhoto by Fernando Vaca
EcuadorSucumbíosAdhán Payahüaje, 3.4 km E ofiNaturalist
EcuadorSucumbíosAguas Negras LodgeThis work
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeTrail to Cascada La PoderosaDarwin Núñez, pers. comm.
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeYantzazaDarwin Núñez, pers. comm.
PeruAmazonasAguaruna VillageMVZ 179762
PeruAmazonasCaterpizaUSNM 566735
PeruAmazonasPuerto GalileaDixon 1983
PeruLoretoCapahuanasNogueira et al. 2019