Published January 6, 2024. Open access.

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Ecuadorian Milksnake (Lampropeltis micropholis)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Lampropeltis micropholis

English common name: Ecuadorian Milksnake.

Spanish common names: Falsa coral ecuatoriana, serpiente de leche ecuatoriana.

Recognition: ♂♂ 160.0 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 136.2 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail..1,2 Lampropeltis micropholis can be identified by its distinctive coloration consisting of two black rings separated by a white to cream ring, alternating with a red ring (Fig. 1). Ontogenetic changes may result in the characteristic ringed pattern being obscured in older specimens.1 Notably, younger, or smaller individuals may display a white band across the prefrontal region.3,4 Unlike real coral snakes, such as Micrurus ancoralis and M. transandinus, the Ecuadorian Milksnake has large laterally positioned eyes and a loreal scale.5

Figure showing variation among individuals of Lampropeltis micropholis

Figure 1: Individuals of Lampropeltis micropholis from Ecuador: Poetate, Azuay province (); Santa Isabel, Azuay province (); Canandé Reserve, Esmeraldas province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Lampropeltis micropholis is a terrestrial serpent that inhabits a wide range of habitats, from pristine rainforest to dry shrublands, crops, and urban parks.2,6 Ecuadorian Milksnakes exhibit both diurnal and nocturnal activity.6,7 At night and during unfavorable weather, they tend to remain hidden under leaf-litter, among roots, or in blocks, emerging to forage during cloudy days.2,8 Milksnakes in general feed on small mammals, snakes, and lizards,9 but so far only rodents have been confirmed as prey items in Ecuadorian populations.10 Their feeding strategy consists of biting and progressively constricting the prey until it succumbs to suffocation.11 There are recorded instances of predation on L. micropholis by hawks12 and by house cats.2 Clutch sizes in Lampropeltis range from 5 to 16 eggs, with an incubation period of approximately 35–50 days.1

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..13 Lampropeltis micropholis is listed in this category primarily on the basis of the species’ wide distribution, occurrence protected areas, and lack of evidence of widespread threats or decline.13 Despite this relatively favorable conservation status, in Ecuador these snakes are usually killed on sight by local people who confuse them with real coral snakes.8 The species also faces habitat loss and fragmentation attributable to the rapid urbanization of once wild or rural areas.8

Distribution: Lampropeltis micropholis is widely distributed throughout the lowlands of Mesoamerica, the Chocó, and Río Magdalena valley regions. The species occurs from Costa Rica to southwestern Ecuador (Fig. 2). It has also been recorded on Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos,7 but whether this represents an isolated individual or part of an established population is uncertain.

Distribution of Lampropeltis micropholis in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The name Lampropeltis comes from the Greek lampro (=brightness) and pelte (=shield).14 It refers to the distinctive enamel-like characteristics of the dorsal scales. The specific name comes from the Greek mikros (=small) and pholis (=scales),14 an epithet that underscores the relatively small dorsals.

See it in the wild: In Ecuador, Lampropeltis micropholis is a frequently observed snake in forested peri-urban areas, particularly around large cities such as Guayaquil and Quito.7,8 Most observations are of individuals crossing roads and trails during cloudy days.

Authors: Gabriela SandovalaAffiliation: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Quito, Ecuador. and Alejandro ArteagabAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographer: Jose VieiracAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Sandoval G, Arteaga A (2024) Ecuadorian Milksnake (Lampropeltis micropholis). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/NYTD2467

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. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  3. Ruane SB, Byrson RW, Pyron RA, Burbrink FT (2014) Coalescent species delimitation in milksnakes (Genus Lampropeltis) and impacts on phylogenetic comparative analyses. Systematic Biology 63: 231–250. DOI: 10.1093/sysbio/syt099
  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. MECN (2010) Serie herpetofauna del Ecuador: El Chocó esmeraldeño. Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales, Quito, 232 pp.
  6. Almendáriz A, Brito J (2011) Biodiversidad de los valles secos interandinos del Ecuador. Escuela Politécnica Nacional, Quito, 60 pp.
  7. Cisneros-Heredia DF (2018) The hitchhiker wave: non-native small terrestrial vertebrates in the Galápagos. In: Torres MdL, Mena CF (Eds) Understanding invasive species in the Galápagos Islands. Springer, New York, 95–139.
  8. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Touzet JM (2007) On the distribution and conservation of Lampropeltis triangulum (Lacepede, 1789) in Ecuador. Herpetozoa 19: 182–183.
  9. Williams KL (1988) Systematics and natural history of the American Milk Snake, Lampropeltis triangulum. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 258 pp.
  10. Cárdenas-Ortega MS, Herrera-Lopera JM, Ramírez-Chaves HE (2018) Lampropeltis micropholis (Ecuadorian Milksnake, Falsa coral interandina): diet. Herpetological Review 49: 549.
  11. Vogt RC (1981) Natural history of amphibians and reptiles of Wisconsin. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 205 pp.
  12. Gerhardt RP, Harris PM, Vásquez-Marroquín MA (1993) Food habits of nesting Great Black Hawks in Tikal National Park, Guatemala. Biotropica 25: 349–352. DOI: 10.2307/2388794
  13. Rivas G, Schargel W, Urbina N, Ramírez Pinilla M, Lavin P, Ines Hladki A, Mendoza-Quijano F, Renjifo J (2022) Lampropeltis micropholis. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2022-1.RLTS.T67662806A217811917.en
  14. 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 Lampropeltis micropholis in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaÑariñoCumbitaraiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaÑariñoSan Andrés de TumacoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorAzuayChilcaplayaMZUA.Re.0061; examined
EcuadorAzuayJubonesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorAzuayLa UniónMZUA.Re.0109; examined
EcuadorAzuayOld bridge over the Leon riverReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorAzuayPoetateReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorAzuaySan Rafael de SharugMZUA.Re.0242
EcuadorAzuaySanta IsabeliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorAzuayYunguillaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorBolívarVía a EcheandíaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroMachala–Girón roadCisneros-Heredia 2007
EcuadorEl OroPiñasPhoto by Amanda Quezada
EcuadorEl OroReserva Biológica BuenaventuraYánez-Muñoz et al. 2004
EcuadorEl OroSendero, ZarumaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé ReserveiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasMontalvoPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva ItapoaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío VerdeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasVichePazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorGuayasBalzarUSNM 211026; VertNet
EcuadorGuayasBosque Protector Cerro BlancoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasBosque Protector La ProsperinaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasCapeiraPhoto by Eduardo Zavala
EcuadorGuayasEstero SaladoUSNM 62811; VertNet
EcuadorGuayasFinca ElbaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasIsla MocoliiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasIsla SantayCruz-García et al. 2023
EcuadorGuayasLa AuroraiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasRepresa Daule PeripaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasSamborondóniNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasSubestación ChorillosiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasUrbanización Altos del RíoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasVía a la CostaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaBosque Protector GolondrinasUMMZ 83696; collection database
EcuadorImbaburaCuellajeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaImbiolaPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorImbaburaLitaAMNH 13429; examined
EcuadorImbaburaPeñaherreraUMMZ 83694; collection database
EcuadorImbaburaSanta Catalina de SalinasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaChaquinaliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaChiguangoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaValle de CatamayoParker 1938
EcuadorLojaVía a Santa Isabel UchucayiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaVía Pindal–AlamorPazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorLos RíosBabahoyoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosBosque Protector Pedro Franco DávilaCruz-García et al. 2016
EcuadorLos RíosDole María JoseiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosHotel Palmar del SoliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosLechugalMZUA.Re.0190; examined
EcuadorLos RíosQuevedoUSNM 211025; VertNet
EcuadorLos RíosRecinto La MurallaPazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorLos RíosRío VincesReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLos RíosVentanasReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíCocosoloPhoto by Carlos Robles
EcuadorManabíHacienda María LuisaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíMaicitoMHNG 1379.052; collection database
EcuadorManabíMembrilloiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíPresa La EsperanzaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíQuiroga, 3 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaCarcelén BajoValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaCentral Térmica Gualberto HernándezValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaChacapungoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaChipalReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaClub JacarandáValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaCóndor IlalóiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaConocotoValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaCráter del PululahuaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaCumbayá, Av. San Francisco de PinshaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaCumbayá, Calle BuganvillasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaCunuyacuValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaEl AndrangoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaEl ChaquiñánReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaEl Potrero de CumbayáValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaEl TingoFernández Liger & Margarisca Mogro 2022
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda La HesperiaBrouwer 2018
EcuadorPichinchaHostería JumboValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaHuertos del IlalóiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaJardín Alado IlalóiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaJardines del ValleValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaLa ArmeniaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaLlano ChicoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaLomas de CumbayáValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaLumbisíValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaLumbisí, Av. IntervallesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaMirador del PululahuaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaMiravalle, Av. Oswaldo GuayasaminiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaNanegaliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaParque AlgarrobosPhoto by Tristan Schramer
EcuadorPichinchaParque Central de CumbayáValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaParque Metropolitano GuanguiltaguaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaParque Metropolitano La ArmeniaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaPeruchoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaPerucho, 2 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaPintag, 7 km N ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaPlaza PampiteiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaPuéllaroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto QuitoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Av. Colón y 6 de DiciembreValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Av. Colón y Reina VictoriaValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Av. Río San PedroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Calle Cruz del SuriNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Río San PedroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, sector MonjasValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaReserva Geobotánica PululahuaValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaReservorio de GuangopoloiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaSan AlfonsoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaSan Antonio de PichinchaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaSan Antonio de Pichincha, 13 km N ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaTanlahuaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaTumbacoValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaTumbaco, calle Juan BautistaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaTumbaco, Calle Juan MontalvoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaValle HermosoCisneros-Heredia 2007
EcuadorPichinchaVía a San PatricioValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaVía CharhuayacuiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaVolcán IlalóiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaZoológico de GuayllabambaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasBosque Protector La PerlaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasReserva OtongachiReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 4 km W ofUSNM 211027; VertNet