Published November 22, 2020. Updated May 1, 2024. Open access.

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Painted Marsh-Snake (Erythrolamprus vitti)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Erythrolamprus vitti

English common names: Painted Marsh-Snake, Vitt’s Marsh-Snake.

Spanish common names: Culebra pantanera pintada, culebra terrestre de Vitt.

Recognition: ♂♂ 49.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=38.1 cm. ♀♀ 62.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=45.1 cm.. Erythrolamprus vitti is a medium-sized snake having a distinctive reddish dorsal pattern with black blotches (anteriorly) that become longitudinal lines towards the tail.1 The ground color of the flanks ranges from light gray or pale yellow to slate blue (Fig. 1). No other snake in the highlands of northern Ecuador has a similar coloration, but some juveniles of E. vitti lack the reddish dorsal tint and may thus be confused with hatchlings of other snake species, including Mastigodryas pulchriceps, Chironius monticola, and Dipsas ellipsifera. However, these other snakes lack a dorsal pattern of black blotches that coalesce into lines towards the tail.

Figure showing variation among individuals of Erythrolamprus vitti in Ecuador

Figure 1: Individuals of Erythrolamprus vitti from Ecuador: Chilma Bajo, Carchi province (); Cahuasquí, Imbabura province (); San Jacinto, Carchi province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Erythrolamprus vitti is an uncommon diurnal and terrestrial snake that inhabits humid montane shrublands, high evergreen montane forests, cloud forests, and areas having a matrix of pastures, plantations, rural gardens, and remnants of native vegetation.2 Individuals also occur in rural gardens3 and along roads. During sunny hours, Painted Marsh-Snakes forage in grass, leaf-litter,4 or on soil in forested as well as in open areas.2 At night or during cold periods, they remain hidden under rocks or in leaf-litter.2,5 Painted Marsh-Snakes are active hunters. Their dentition is aglyphous,1 meaning their teeth lack specialized grooves to deliver venom. Their diet includes toads (Osornophryne occidentals),6 lizards (Andinosaura oculata),7 and members of its own species.2 Individuals are usually calm and try to flee when threatened. If disturbed, they may flatten their body dorsoventrally and produce a musky and distasteful odor.2 The eggs are laid under rocks.

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Conservation: Vulnerable Considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the mid-term future.. Erythrolamprus vitti is here proposed to be included in the Vulnerable, instead of Data Deficient,8 category following IUCN criteria9 because the species has a relatively small (~8,502 km2) extent of occurrence, its populations are severely fragmented, and its habitat continues to decline in extent and quality. Approximately 41.4% of the suitable habitat of E. vitti has been destroyed10,11 by encroaching human activities such as urban development, agriculture, cattle grazing, and the replacement of native vegetation with eucalyptus and pine trees. Painted Marsh-Snakes also suffer from human persecution and traffic-related mortality.2

Distribution: Erythrolamprus vitti is native to an area of 8,502 km2 in the inter-Andean valleys and western slopes of the Andes in northern Ecuador (Fig. 2) and southern Colombia.

Distribution of Erythrolamprus vitti in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Erythrolamprus vitti 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),12 refers to the bright red body rings of some snakes in this genus (such as E. aesculapii). The specific epithet vitti honors American herpetologist Laurie Vitt, in recognition of his contributions to improving the understanding about the herpetofauna of South America.1

See it in the wild: Painted Marsh-Snakes, though generally uncommon, are considered guaranteed sightings at the town Chilma Bajo, provided the search includes turning over rocks and logs in suitable habitats.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Diego Piñán for finding the juvenile specimen of Erythrolamprus vitti photographed pictured here. 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 Dr. Aimée K. Thomas for symbolically adopting the Olive Marsh-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.

Photographers: Jose Vieira,bAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. Alejandro Arteaga,aAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador. and Amanda QuezadaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Painted Marsh-Snake (Erythrolamprus vitti). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/VXQM2022

Literature cited:

  1. 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
  2. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  3. Photographic record by Gerard Schuijt.
  4. Photographic record by Bill Hagan.
  5. Photographic record by Gabriel Micanquer.
  6. Torres-Carvajal O, Guayasamin JM, Tapia E, Aldás S (2009) Liophis vitti. Diet. Herpetological Review 40: 356–357.
  7. Maigua-Salas S, Betancourt R, Yánez-Muñoz MH (2019) Erythrolamprus vitti. Diet and behavior. Herpetological Review 50: 156–157.
  8. Caicedo J (2017) Erythrolamprus vitti. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T44581770A44581773.en
  9. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  10. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  11. IDEAM (2014) Mapa de cobertura de la tierra adaptada para Colombia.
  12. 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 vitti in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaNariñoSantuario de las LajasiNaturalist
ColombiaNariñoVereda Santa FePhoto by Fernando Castro
EcuadorCarchiChilma BajoTorrres-Carvajal et al. 2009
EcuadorCarchiChilma Bajo, 10 km E ofTorres-Carvajal & Hinojosa 2020
EcuadorCarchiChilmba Bajo, vicinity ofSalazar-Valenzuela et al. 2015
EcuadorCarchiLa CentellaThis work
EcuadorCarchiMaldonadoDixon 2000
EcuadorCarchiQuebrada San José de Río BlancoDixon 2000
EcuadorCarchiReserva DraculaPhoto by Daniel Valencia
EcuadorImbaburaBellavista de San AntonioiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaCahuasquíThis work
EcuadorImbaburaLa PeñaiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaParambaDixon 2000
EcuadorImbaburaRoad Atuntaqui–PiñánTorres-Carvajal & Hinojosa 2020
EcuadorImbaburaSanta CeciliaMaigua-Salas et al. 2019
EcuadorPichinchaReserva Geobotánica PulhulahuaThis work