Published May 12, 2024. Open access.

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Ornate Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira ornata)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Leptodeira ornata

English common name: Ornate Cat-eyed Snake.

Spanish common name: Ojo de gato adornada.

Recognition: ♂♂ 78.8 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=56.7 cm. ♀♀ 86.0 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=64.7 cm..1 Leptodeira ornata is the only member of its genus known to occur in the lowlands of western Ecuador. It can be identified from other co-occurring snakes by having the following combination of features: dorsal scales arranged in 21 rows at mid-body, vertebral row not enlarged or only so slightly, vertically elliptical pupils, and a unique coloration.1 The dorsum is light brown with a longitudinal series of dark brown vertebral blotches, some of which are fused in a zigzag pattern (Fig. 1).13 This species differs from Imantodes and Dipsas by having an acutely rounded, instead of truncated snout and by having vertebral scales not enlarged or only barely so. From L. misinawui, it differs by having considerably larger dorsal blotches and a lower number of them (30–47 vs 54–72).4

Figure showing variation among individuals of Leptodeira ornata

Figure 1: Individuals of Leptodeira ornata: Morromico Reserve, Chocó deparment, Colombia (); Centro Científico Río Palenque, Los Ríos province, Ecuador (); Vinces, Los Ríos province, Ecuador (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Leptodeira ornata is a common snake that inhabits a wide variety of ecosystems, from pristine rainforests and seasonally dry forests to heavily degraded habitats such as pastures and peri-urban areas.5,6 The species occurs in higher densities along marshes, swamps, and lagoons in forest-edge situations.5,6 Ornate Cat-eyed Snakes are exclusively nocturnal, with greater activity during the first hours of the night.5 They are terrestrial and semi-arboreal, foraging on leaf-litter and on bare soil, as well as on low (0.2–4 m above the ground) understory vegetation. During the day, these snakes remain hidden under surface objects, inside bromeliads, or in the thatch of roofs.5,6 The main prey of L. approximans are anurans (including Pristimantis achatinus, Engystomops pustulosus, and the very toxic Rhinella bella).5,6 Opportunistic predation on snakes has also been recorded.7 Small prey are swallowed whole and alive, whereas larger prey are subdued through envenomation.6,7 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 performing false strikes.5,6 They are also notorious for expelling foul-smelling cloacal secretions. 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.8,9 In humans, it causes local effects, such as intense pain, edema, and hemorrhagic blistering.10,11

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances.. Leptodeira ornata is a recently revalidated species.4 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 ornata is widely distributed throughout the Chocoan lowland and adjacent foothills of the Andes, occurring from eastern Panama, through Colombia and Ecuador (Fig. 2), to extreme northern Perú.

Distribution of Leptodeira ornata in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Leptodeira ornata in Ecuador. 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).12 The specific epithet ornata is a Latin word meaning “ornate,”12 in reference to the dorsal coloration.

See it in the wild: Leptodeira ornata is the most common terrestrial snake in the seasonally dry forest ecosystem of western Ecuador, reported almost every night and in high densities along forest trails of Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco, Bilsa Biological Reserve, and Jama Coaque Reserve.

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) Ornate Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira ornata). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/ANWY5313

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 (1958) A monographic study of the colubrid snake genus Leptodeira. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 114: 1–152.
  3. 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
  4. Torres-Carvajal O, Sánchez-Nivicela JC, Posse V, Celi E, Koch C (2020) A New Species of Cat-Eyed Snake (Serpentes: Dipsadinae: Leptodeirini) from the Andes of southern Ecuador. Zootaxa 4895: 357–80. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.4895.3.3
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  7. Unpublished report by Amanda Quezada.
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  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 Leptodeira ornata in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaNariñoCandelillasiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaNariñoLlorenteiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorAzuaySarayungaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorBolívarBalzapambaDuellman 1958
EcuadorBolívarCalumaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorBolívarLas NavesTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorCañarEl ChorroPhoto by Alex Angulo
EcuadorCañarHidroeléctrica OcañaMZUA.Re.0160; examined
EcuadorCarchiDestacamento MilitarArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCarchiTobar DonosoSamec & Samec 1988
EcuadorChimborazoHuigraDuellman 1958
EcuadorChimborazoPallatangaDuellman 1958
EcuadorCotopaxiEl Jardín de los SueñosArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCotopaxiFinca YakusinchiArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEl OroArenillas Ecological ReserveTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorEl OroBase Militar MontúfarTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorEl OroBosque Protector PuyangoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorEl OroCaliforniaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEl OroEl ProgresoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEl OroHualtacoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEl OroMachalaDuellman 1958
EcuadorEl OroReserva Biológica BuenaventuraArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldas3 km on road Durango–San LorenzoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasAgua SuciaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasAngosturaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque Protector La PerlaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasCaimitoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé ReserveArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasDurangoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasEl AguacateArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasLaguna de CubeTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote RoseroArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote SalvadoresArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasMompicheArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasMonte SaínoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasPlayón de San FranciscoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasQuingueTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasQuinindéDuellman 1958
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío San FranciscoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío TinajasTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan JavierDuellman 1958
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan LorenzoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasTesoro Escondido ReserveTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasTundaloma LodgeTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasTundaloma Lodge, 20 km SE ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasVerdecanandéReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasVicheTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasBalzarTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasBucayDuellman 1958
EcuadorGuayasCapeiraEduardo Zavala
EcuadorGuayasCerro Blanco Protected ForestTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasCerro de HayasReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasCerro MasvaleTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasDuránDuellman 1958
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquilArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorGuayasIsla PunáDuellman 1958
EcuadorGuayasLago CanclónTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasLas Mercedes, 27 km S ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasLos ÁlamosArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorGuayasMilagroDuellman 1958
EcuadorGuayasParque Histórico de GuayaquilTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasParque LagoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasQuinta CaobaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasRío CongoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorGuayasRío DauleDuellman 1958
EcuadorGuayasSan PabloTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasSendero AulladoresTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorImbaburaParambaBoulenger 1898
EcuadorLojaAlamor, 14 km N ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLojaCelicaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorLojaEl FaiquéTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLojaEl PindoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaJorupe ReserveArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorLojaMangahurcoPhoto by Fausto Siavichay
EcuadorLojaPuyangoDuellman 1958
EcuadorLojaReserva CazaderosTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLojaReserva La CeibaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaZapotilloTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLos RíosBabahoyoDuellman 1958
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLos RíosEl DescansoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLos RíosJaunecheTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLos RíosPacaloriMZUA.Re.0170; examined
EcuadorLos RíosVincesReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíAguas BlancaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorManabíBahía de CaraquezArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorManabíBosque Seco Lalo LoorJosé Schreckinger
EcuadorManabíCerro Pata de PájaroHamilton et al 2005
EcuadorManabíChonePhoto by Redgy Vera
EcuadorManabíCojimies–PedernalesReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíComunidad Río JavierTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorManabíComunidad Santa RosaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorManabíEl AromoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorManabíFlavio AlfaroArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorManabíGanaderos OrensesTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorManabíHacienda SiberiaHamilton et al 2005
EcuadorManabíJama Coaque ReserveTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorManabíLa CrespaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíLa MinaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorManabíMachalillaAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorManabíMantaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorManabíNalpeArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorManabíPacoche LodgeTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorManabíPedernales, 20 km E ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorManabíPlaya LiguiquiTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorManabíPoza HondaPhoto by Lisa Brunetti
EcuadorManabíPunta PrietaHamilton et al 2005
EcuadorManabíRefugio de Vida Silvestre PacochePhoto by Ronald Pincay
EcuadorManabíRío AyampeTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorManabíRío CanoaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorManabíRío CoaqueTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorManabíSan LorenzoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíThree Forests TrailPhoto by Paul Maier
EcuadorManabíTito SantosHamilton et al 2005
EcuadorManabíVía El Carmen–PitaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorManabíZapoteTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda Yellow HouseArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaKapari LodgeArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaMaquipucuna ReserveArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi LodgeArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaMilpe Bird SanctuaryTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorPichinchaPactoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaPedro Vicente MaldonadoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto QuitoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorPichinchaRío CaoniDuellman 1958
EcuadorSanta ElenaColoncheDuellman 1958
EcuadorSanta ElenaReserva Las BalsasReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanta ElenaRincón del TigreTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorSanta ElenaSan Vicente, represaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasCentinelaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca La SelvaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasHacienda DyottArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasHacienda EspinosaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasHacienda TinalandiaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto DomingoDuellman 1958
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 9 km W ofDuellman 1958
PerúPiuraEl AngoloCosta 2014
PerúPiuraMangamangillaCosta 2014
PerúPiuraMorropónCosta 2014
PerúPiuraQuebrada El ZorroCosta 2014
PerúTumbesEl PlátanoCosta 2014
PerúTumbesEstación Biológica El CauchoiNaturalist; photo examined
PerúTumbesQuebrada FaicalTello 1998
PerúTumbesQuebrada HuarapalCosta 2014