Published May 14, 2024. Open access.

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Copper Parrot-Snake (Leptophis cupreus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Leptophis cupreus

English common name: Copper Parrot-Snake.

Spanish common name: Serpiente loro cobriza.

Recognition: ♂♂ 132.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=83.1 cm. ♀♀ 121.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=73.9 cm..1 Leptophis cupreus can be identified by having keeled dorsal scales arranged in 15 rows at mid-body, no loreal scale, and a copper coloration.14 The dorsum has a uniformly coppery tint with faint oblique green bands, a narrow black ocular stripe, and blue or black interscale skin (Fig. 1).14 This species is usually confused with Oxybelis transandinus and O. inkaterra from which it differs by having a shorter snout and prominent keels on the dorsal scales.

Figure showing variation among individuals of Leptophis cupreus

Figure 1: Individuals of Leptophis cupreus: Mindo, Pichincha province, Ecuador (); Yasuní Scientific Station, Orellana province, Ecuador ().

Natural history: Leptophis cupreus is an extremely rare snake that occurs in old-growth rainforest as well as in pastures with scattered trees, gallery forests, and rural gardens.15 Copper Parrot-Snakes are diurnal.2,5 Their activity occurs at ground level on leaf-litter, rocks, and on bare soil, as well on low (0.1–1.5 m above the ground) understory vegetation.36 Parrot snakes are active hunters having an opistoglyphous dentition, meaning they have enlarged teeth towards the rear of the maxilla and are mildly venomous. Their diet is primarily based on frogs, and L. cupreus is no exception, with rainfrogs having been recorded as prey items.1 A salient defense mechanism of the Copper Parrot-Snake consists of adopting a stiff position in which the tongue extended, remaining immobile like a stick, but alert.5 If handled, it can inflate the neck and open the mouth aggressively, but usually prefers just to flee into vegetation.5 The clutch size in this species consists of two eggs.1

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..7 Leptophis cupreus is listed in this category because the species is widely distributed, occurs in many protected areas (at least 10 in Ecuador), and is considered to be facing no major immediate threats of extinction.7 In addition, it is presumed that the scarcity of records of L. cupreus is a consequence of the elusive nature and semi-arboreal habits of the species rather than to actual low population densities.1 However, this snake, a strict forest dweller, is under constant threat due to large-scale deforestation driven by agricultural and urban expansion.

Distribution: Leptophis cupreus is native to the Chocoan lowlands and adjacent foothills of the Andes in Ecuador (Fig. 2), Colombia, and Panamá. It also occurs east of the Andes, both in Amazonia and the Llanos plains in Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, and Perú.

Distribution of Leptophis cupreus in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Leptophis comes from the Greek words leptos (=thin) and ophis (=serpent)8 and probably refers to the body shape of parrot snakes in general. The specific epithet cupreus is a Latin adjective meaning “of copper.”8 It refers to the dorsal coloration.

See it in the wild: Copper Parrot-Snakes are found at a rate of about once every few years. Prime locations for the species include Mindo and Buenaventura Reserve, where these snakes have been oportunistically recorded in forest-edge situations or crossing dirt roads during the day.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Eric Osterman for one of the specimens of Leptophis cupreus photographed in this account.

Author: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographers: Jose VieirabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Copper Parrot-Snake (Leptophis cupreus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/VGKV8472

Literature cited:

  1. Albuquerque NR, McDiarmid RW (2010) Redescription of Leptophis cupreus (Cope) (Serpentes, Colubridae), a rare south American colubrine snake. Papéis Avulsos de Zoologia 50: 375–384. DOI: 10.1590/S0031-10492010002300001
  2. Peters JA, Orcés‐V G (1960) Leptophis cupreus Cope: a valid South American colubrid species. Beiträge zur neotropischen Fauna 2: 139–141. DOI: 10.1080/01650526009380625
  3. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  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. Batista A, Wilson LD (2017) A new record for Leptophis cupreus (Cope, 1868) (Squamata: Colubridae) for Panama and Mesoamerica. Mesoamerican Herpetology 4: 671–673.
  7. Ortega A, Castañeda MR, Gutiérrez-Cárdenas P, Catenazzi A, Gagliardi G, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Schargel W, Rivas G (2016) Leptophis cupreus. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T203291A2763197.en
  8. 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 Leptophis cupreus in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaCasanareHato La AuroraReptiles of Ecuador book database
ColombiaCaucaIsla GorgonaReptiles of Ecuador book database
ColombiaChocóSaleroRengifo Mosquera et al. 2023
ColombiaChocóSamurindóRengifo Mosquera et al. 2023
ColombiaVaupésQueramikiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorAzuayFinca Los TucanesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorAzuayRoad Tendales-San Rafael de SharugTorres-Carvajal & Terán 2021
EcuadorBolívarBalzapambaAMNH 24203; examined
EcuadorBolívarRío ChimboReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEl OroBuenaventura ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEl OroSalatíiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroVía a ChillaTorres-Carvajal & Terán 2021
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological StationTorres-Carvajal & Terán 2021
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan LorenzoAlbuquerque & McDiarmid 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasTundaloma LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaAlamorAMNH 22234; VertNet
EcuadorMorona SantiagoComunidad Shuar KukunkTorres-Carvajal & Terán 2021
EcuadorMorona SantiagoGualaquizaDespax 1910
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMakumaPhoto by Dwain Holmes
EcuadorOrellanaEl CocaAlbuquerque & McDiarmid 2010
EcuadorOrellanaLoretoAlbuquerque & McDiarmid 2010
EcuadorOrellanaNapo Wildlife CenterReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity StationiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaYasuní Scientific StationReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaBobonazaAlbuquerque & McDiarmid 2010
EcuadorPastazaCanelosAlbuquerque & McDiarmid 2010
EcuadorPastazaFinca HeimatlosiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaRío CurarayAlbuquerque & McDiarmid 2010
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda La HesperiaBrouwer 2018
EcuadorPichinchaKapari LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaMindo, Casa de PiedraThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorPichinchaNanegaliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaRoad to Mashpi LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaYellow HouseArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLa FloridaMHNG 2410.023; collection database
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncochaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosShushufindiArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorTungurahuaRío AnzuiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeCabañas YankuamReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeMirador ECSATorres-Carvajal & Terán 2021
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeValle del QuimiBetancourt et al. 2018
PerúLoretoYanamonoTCWC 42808; VertNet