Published May 10, 2024. Open access.

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Upper-Amazon Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira approximans)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Leptodeira approximans

English common name: Upper-Amazon Cat-eyed Snake.

Spanish common names: Ojo de gato altamazónica, serpiente ojo de gato anillada.

Recognition: ♂♂ 84.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=61.7 cm. ♀♀ 87.0 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=65.6 cm..1 Leptodeira approximans can be identified by having the following combination of features: dorsal scales arranged in 19 rows at mid-body, vertically elliptical pupils, an enlarged vertebral scale row, belly creamy tan, and dorsum brown with dark brown interconnected middorsal blotches forming a broad zigzag pattern (Fig. 1).14 This species differs from Imantodes cenchoa and I. lentiferus by having a more elongate snout with proportionally smaller eyes.4 Juveniles tend to have a cream or white nape band.2

Figure showing variation among individuals of Leptodeira approximans

Figure 1: Individuals of Leptodeira approximans from Ecuador: Maycu Reserve, Zamora Chinchipe province (); Limoncocha Reserve, Sucumbíos province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Leptodeira approximans is a common snake that inhabits old-growth to heavily disturbed rainforests, which may be terra-firme or seasonally flooded.14 The species occurs in higher densities along marshes, swamps, and lagoons in forest-edge situations and open areas such as crops and pastures.15 Upper-Amazon Cat-eyed Snakes are exclusively nocturnal, with greater activity between 8:00 and 11:00 pm.6 They are terrestrial to semi-arboreal, foraging among leaf-litter and roots, as well as on low (0.3–5 m above the ground) shrubs and trees.17 One individual was reported 43 m above the ground inside a bromeliad.8 During the day, these snakes remain hidden in thick accummulation of leaf-litter, inside bromeliads, in crevices, or under loose tree bark.36 The main prey of L. approximans are frogs36 (including toxic ones, such as Leptodactylus,4,7 Osteocephalus,9 Phyllomedusa,5 and Rhinella4,10,11) as well as their eggs and tadpoles.2,3,12 Opportunistic predation on birds has also been recorded.13 Likewise, these snakes have been found in the stomach of Micrurus helleri and M. obscurus.14 In general, Cat-eyed Snakes are calm and rarely attempt to bite. Instead, they imitate vipers of the genus Bothrops by triangulating the head and flattening the body dorsoventrally.1416 They are also notorious for expelling foul-smelling cloacal secretions and performing false strikes.1517 Their dentition is opistoglyphous, meaning they have enlarged teeth towards the rear of the maxilla and are venomous to small prey. The venom has hemorrhagic, neurotoxic, and myotoxic (muscle breaking) activities.18,19 In humans, it causes local effects, such as intense pain, edema, and hemorrhagic blistering.20,21 Gravid females of L. approximans have been found throughout the year, suggesting a continuous reproductive cycle, and their clutch size consists of 2–7 eggs.26 A shared nest between L. annulata and Leptophis nigromarginatus has also been reported.3 It contained 15 eggs inside a cavity in bamboo at 12 m above the ground.

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..28 Leptodeira approximans is a recently revalidated species.22 Therefore, it has not been formally evaluated by the IUCN Red List. Here, it is provisionally assigned to the LC category because the species has high population densities and a wide distribution spanning many protected areas.

Distribution: Leptodeira approximans is widely distributed throughout the western Amazon basin in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), and Perú.

Distribution of Leptodeira approximans in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Leptodeira approximans in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Chayahuitas, Amazonas department, Perú. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The genus name is derived from the Greek words leptos (=thin) and deire (=neck).23 The specific epithet approximans is a Latin word meaning “to approach,” probably in reference to the similarity between this species and Leptodeira annulata.24

See it in the wild: The Upper-Amazon Cat-eyed Snake is a fairly common species that can be seen with almost complete certainty along forested bodies of water in Yasuní National Park, Cuyabeno Reserve, and Limoncocha Reserve.

Authors: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador. and Amanda QuezadaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

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

How to cite? Arteaga A, Quezada A (2024) Upper-Amazon Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira approximans). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/NCYL2787

Literature cited:

  1. Costa JC (2014) Análise filogenética de Leptodeira FITZINGER, 1843 e taxonomia das espécies do clado do sul do complexo Leptodeira annulata/septentrionalis (Serpentes, Dipsadidae). PhD thesis, Universidade Federal do Pará, Belém, 240 pp.
  2. Duellman WE (2005) Cusco amazónico: the lives of amphibians and reptiles in an Amazonian rainforest. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 433 pp.
  3. Duellman WE (1978) The biology of an equatorial herpetofauna in Amazonian Ecuador. Publications of the Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas 65: 1–352.
  4. Dixon JR, Soini P (1986) The reptiles of the upper Amazon Basin, Iquitos region, Peru. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 154 pp.
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. Vitt LJ (1996) Ecological observations on the tropical colubrid snake Leptodeira annulata. Herpetological Natural History 2: 69–76.
  7. Camper JD, Torres-Carvajal O, Ron SR, Nilsson J, Arteaga A, Knowles TW, Arbogast BS (2021) Amphibians and reptiles of Wildsumaco Wildlife Sanctuary, Napo Province, Ecuador. Check List 17: 729–751.
  8. McCracken SF, Forstner MRJ (2014) Herpetofaunal community of a high canopy tank bromeliad (Aechmea zebrina) in the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve of Amazonian Ecuador, with comments on the use of “arboreal” in the herpetological literature. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation 8: 65–75.
  9. Arrivillaga C, Oakley J, Huang M (2019) Leptodeira annulata (Banded Cat-eyed Snake): diet. Herpetological Review 50: 802–803.
  10. Hagman M, Schulte R (2007) Leptodeira annulata (Banded Cat-eyed Snake): prey. Herpetological Review 38: 90.
  11. Cadena-Ortiz H, Barahona A, Bahamonde-Vinueza D, Brito J (2017) Anecdotal predation events of some snakes in Ecuador. Herpetozoa 30: 93–96.
  12. Duellman WE (1958) A monographic study of the colubrid snake genus Leptodeira. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 114: 1–152.
  13. Almendáriz A (1987) Contribución al conocimiento de la herpetofauna centroriental Ecuatoriana. Revista Politécnica 12: 77–133.
  14. Valencia JH, Garzón-Tello K, Barragán-Paladines ME (2016) Serpientes venenosas del Ecuador: sistemática, taxonomía, historial natural, conservación, envenenamiento y aspectos antropológicos. Fundación Herpetológica Gustavo Orcés, Quito, 653 pp.
  15. 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.
  16. Starace F (1998) Serpents et amphisbènes de Guyane Française. Ibis Rouge Editions, Guadeloupe, 450 pp.
  17. Martins M, Oliveira ME (1998) Natural history of snakes in forests of the Manaus region, Central Amazonia, Brazil. Herpetological Natural History 6: 78–150.
  18. Torres-Bonilla KA, Schezaro-Ramos R, Floriano RS, Rodrigues-Simioni L, Bernal-Bautista MH, da Cruz-Höfling M (2016). Biological activities of Leptodeira annulata (Banded Cat-eyed Snake) venom on vertebrate neuromuscular preparations. Toxicon 119: 345–351. DOI: 10.1016/j.toxicon.2016.07.004
  19. Lemoine K, Girón ME, Aguilar I, Navarrete LF, Rodríguez-Acosta A (2004) Proteolytic, hemorrhagic, and neurotoxic activities caused by Leptodeira annulata ashmeadii (Serpentes: Colubridae) Duvernoy’s gland secretion. Wilderness & Environmental Medicine 15: 82–89. DOI: 10.1580/1080-6032(2004)015[0082:phanac];2
  20. Ferreira-Cunha L, Fiszer M, Periard W, Pinna PH (2024) First case of envenomation in humans caused by the banded cat-eyed snake Leptodeira annulata (Linnaeus, 1758) (Squamata: Dipsadidae) in Brazil. Revista da Sociedade Brasileira de Medicina Tropical 57: e00803-2024. DOI: 10.1590/0037-8682-0555-2023
  21. Torres-Bonilla KA, Panunto PC, Pereira BB, Zambrano DF, Herrán-Medina J, Bernal MH, Hyslop S (2020) Toxinological characterization of venom from Leptodeira annulata (Banded Cat-eyed Snake; Dipsadidae, Imantodini) Biochimie 174: 171–188. DOI: 10.1016/j.biochi.2020.04.006
  22. Costa JC, Graboski R, Grazziotin FG, Zaher H, Rodrigues MT, Prudente ALDC (2022) Reassessing the systematics of Leptodeira (Serpentes, Dipsadidae) with emphasis in the South American species. Zoologica Scripta 51: 415–433. DOI: 10.1111/zsc.12534
  23. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  24. Günther A (1872) Seventh account of new species of snakes in the collection of the British Museum. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 9: 13–37.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Leptodeira approximans in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

ColombiaCaquetáFlorenciaCosta et al. 2022
ColombiaCaquetáLa Tagua, Río CaquetáDuellman 1958
ColombiaCaquetáSan Vicente del CaguánCosta et al. 2022
ColombiaCaucaPiamonteCosta et al. 2022
ColombiaPutumayoLos ÁngelesGutiérrez Lamus et al. 2020
ColombiaPutumayoPuerto AsísCosta et al. 2022
ColombiaPutumayoPuerto LeguizamoCosta et al. 2022
ColombiaPutumayoReserva La Isla EscondidaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaPutumayoVereda Pueblo ViejoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCerro ShaimeNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoChiguazaUSNM 232736; VertNet
EcuadorMorona SantiagoEl TiinkCosta 2014
EcuadorMorona SantiagoFauna de la AmazoníaPhoto by Andreas Kay
EcuadorMorona SantiagoKumpakCadena-Ortiz et al. 2017
EcuadorMorona SantiagoLa LibertadiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoLas PeñasMZUA.RE.0200; examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoLimón, 9 km N ofCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorMorona SantiagoLos TayosNHMUK 1976.112
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacasDuellman 1958
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMakumaDuellman 1958
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMendez, 2 km N ofNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoNormandíaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoNuevo IsraelCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorMorona SantiagoPankintsCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSantiago, 1 km E ofNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSucúaFugler and Walls 1978
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTurulaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoWisuiChaparro et al. 2011
EcuadorNapoAhuanoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoArchidonaCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorNapoCocodriloNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoEl ChacoCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorNapoHidroeléctrica Coca CodoCOCASINCLAIR 2013
EcuadorNapoJatun Sacha Biological StationVigle 2008
EcuadorNapoJondachi–CocodrilosPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorNapoJumandyNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoNarupa ReserveiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoNarupayacuPhoto by José Simbaña
EcuadorNapoPuerto NapoDuellman 1958
EcuadorNapoPuerto NapoDuellman 1958
EcuadorNapoRío CotapinoDuellman 1958
EcuadorNapoRío PusunoCosta 2014
EcuadorNapoSan Juan de PiatúaCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorNapoTenaCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorNapoTenaDuellman 1958
EcuadorNapoUniversidad IkiamPhoto by Grace Reyes
EcuadorNapoWildSumaco Wildlife SanctuaryCamper et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoYachana ReserveBeirne et al. 2013
EcuadorOrellana25 de DiciembreCosta 2014
EcuadorOrellanaÁvilaDuellman 1958
EcuadorOrellanaCocaMCZ R-164914; VertNet
EcuadorOrellanaComuna Juan Pablo IINogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaCotapinoDuellman 1958
EcuadorOrellanaDayumaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaECY, 7.5 km NW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaEl EdénNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaFlorenciaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaGuiyeroAlmendáriz 2011
EcuadorOrellanaIshpingoCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorOrellanaJoya de los SachasCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorOrellanaLaguna TaracoaMCZ R-156872; VertNet
EcuadorOrellanaLoretoDuellman 1958
EcuadorOrellanaMandaripanga CampiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaNPFReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaNuevo RocafuerteDuellman 1958
EcuadorOrellanaPañacocha, Río NapoMHNG 2399.018; collection database
EcuadorOrellanaPlataforma Petrolera ApaikaCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorOrellanaPM2Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaPozo Azul CiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaPozo NashiñoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaPuerto VenturaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaReserva Río BigalGarcía et al. 2021
EcuadorOrellanaRío NapoDuellman 1958
EcuadorOrellanaRío YasuníiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de PayaminoMaynard et al. 2016
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity StationCisneros-Heredia 2003
EcuadorOrellanaTransecto SPFCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorOrellanaYarina LodgeBringsøe 2024
EcuadorOrellanaYasuní Scientific StationiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaAlto Río OglanUSNM 232767; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaAndoasDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaArajunoCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorPastazaArutamNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaBalsauraOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaBataburo LodgeOnline multimedia
EcuadorPastazaBetween Puyo and CanelosDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaBobonazaDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaBufeoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaCanelosDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaCentro Ecológico Zanja ArajunoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaChichirotaDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaChuyayacuNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaComunidad MurialdoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaCononaco, 6 km E ofNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaCopatazaDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaCopataza, 20 km NE ofRBINS-568
EcuadorPastazaEstación Científica Juri JuriiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaFinca de Peter ArcherYatin Kalki
EcuadorPastazaFinca San AntonioiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaJuyuintzaOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaMeraDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaNueva VidaCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorPastazaPozo Garza 1Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaPucayacu (Río Pucayacu)Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaPuerto Santana, 3 km N ofBouamer et al. 2001
EcuadorPastazaPuyoDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaPuyo, 1 km N ofDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaRío CopatazaUSNM 232764; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRío Curaray, mouth of Río VillanoDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaRío LliquinoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaRío OglánDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaRío PastazaDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaRío PindoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaRío Pucayacu, BobonazaUSNM 232787; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRío RutunoUSNM 232783; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRío TigreNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaRío VillanoUSNM 232776; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaSanta AnaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaSanta Rosa (along Río Conambo =Tigre)Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaSarayakuDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaShellDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaShell-MeraDuellman 1958
EcuadorPastazaShiripuno LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaSumak Kawsay In SituBentley et al. 2021
EcuadorPastazaTamandúa ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaTigüinoCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorPastazaTiwino WaoraniUSNM 321126; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaToñampare, 4 km W ofUSNM 232774; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaTzarentzaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaVillanoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosBrisas del Cuyabeno, 1.7 km NE ofCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorSucumbíosCampamento ConcientiNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosComunidad SábaloNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosEl PilcheiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosEstación PUCE en CuyabenoCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorSucumbíosLa Nueva TroncalKU 121911; VertNet
EcuadorSucumbíosLa Selva LodgeCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorSucumbíosLago AgrioCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorSucumbíosLago AgrioNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncochaCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncocha, 2.6 km E ofReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosPuerto OreDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosRío AguaricoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosRío Cuyabeno, Puerto BolívarCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorSucumbíosRío Pichira (Bloque 15)Izquierdo et al. 2000
EcuadorSucumbíosRío SábaloNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosRío SingueCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorSucumbíosSacha LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosSan Pablo de KantesiyaCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorSucumbíosSan Pedro de los CofanesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosSani LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta CeciliaDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta ElenaCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorSucumbíosShushufindiCosta et al. 2022
EcuadorSucumbíosSimón Bolivar, 5 km NE ofKU 155510; VertNet
EcuadorSucumbíosTapir LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeAlto MachinazaAlmendáriz et al. 2014
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeAlto NangaritzaGuayasamin & Bonaccorso 2011
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeBombuscaroPhoto by Darwin Núñez
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeCabañas YankuamObservation by Amanda Quezada
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeEl Zarza, Río MachinazaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeMaicu ReserveObservation by Amanda Quezada
EcuadorZamora ChinchipePachicutzaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipePalandaDuellman 1958
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeRío ChumbiriazaOnline multimedia
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeShaimeFreile 2010
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeValle del QuimiBetancourt et al. 2018
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeZamoraDuellman 1958
PerúAmazonasBaguaCosta et al. 2022
PerúAmazonasChayahuitas*Günther 1872
PerúAmazonasCondorcanquiCosta et al. 2022
PerúAmazonasFalso PaquishaReynolds 1997
PerúAmazonasGalilea, vicinity ofUSNM 566583; VertNet
PerúAmazonasHuampamiMVZ 163290; VertNet
PerúAmazonasLa PozaUSNM 566584; VertNet
PerúAmazonasRío Alto ComainaUSNM 560432; VertNet
PerúAmazonasSan Antonio, Río CenepaUSNM 316618; VertNet
PerúAmazonasYusa PatagkamuUSNM 316622; VertNet
PerúCajamarcaPericoMCZ R-17415; VertNet
PerúLoretoAndoas Costa et al. 2022
PerúLoretoDatem del MarañónCosta et al. 2022
PerúLoretoLagartococha, Aguas NegrasUSNM 521055; VertNet
PerúLoretoPanguanaCatenazzi & Bustamante 2007
PerúLoretoProvincia Alto AmazonasCosta et al. 2022
PerúSan MartínPicotaCosta et al. 2022