Published May 15, 2024. Open access.

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Black-skinned Parrot-Snake (Leptophis nigromarginatus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Leptophis nigromarginatus

English common name: Black-skinned Parrot-Snake.

Spanish common name: Serpiente loro amazónica.

Recognition: ♂♂ 152.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=91.5 cm. ♀♀ 127.8 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=82.2 cm..1 Leptophis nigromarginatus can be identified by having the following combination of features: body long and slender, dorsal scales arranged in 15 rows at mid-body with low keels only on the paravertebral scales, and a uniquely ornate coloration (Fig. 1).14 The dorsum is a vibrant bluish green, with black margins highlighting each scale on the body and head. The lower flanks exhibit a golden-yellow hue, becoming pale green or pale blue towards the neck and the upper labials.14 The ventral surfaces are rosy white with a greenish hue on the anterior edge of each ventral scale.14 This species differs from whipsnakes of the genus Chironius by having more than 12 rows of dorsal scales as well as by having black edges on the head shields.14 From Chlorosoma viridissimum, it differs by having a whitish, instead of bright green, belly.3 From Oxybelis fulgidus, it differs by having a rounded, instead of sharp and pointed, snout.14

Figure showing an adult female of Leptophis nigromarginatus

Figure 1: Adult female of Leptophis nigromarginatus from Napo Wildlife Center, Orellana province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Leptophis nigromarginatus is an agile and fast-moving semi-arboreal snake that inhabits old-growth rainforests both in terra-firme as well as in seasonally flooded areas, occurring in higher densities in forest-edge situations and along riparian vegetation.15 The species has also been recorded in rural gardens and in pastures with scattered trees.5 Black-skinned Parrot-Snakes are diurnal. Their activity occurs at ground level on leaf-litter as well as on terrestrial or aquatic vegetation up to 8 m above the ground.4,5 Individuals have also been seen crossing large Amazonian rivers.5 At night, they roost coiled on branches, shrubs, palm fronds, and bromeliads 1.5–2.3 m above the ground.4,5 The diet in L. nigromarginatus is primarily based on frogs (notably on the highly toxic spinyback treefrogs of the genus Osteocephalus),1,25 but also includes anoles and the turniptail gecko Thecadactylus rapicauda.4,6 A salient defense mechanism of the Black-skinned Parrot-Snake consists of inflating the neck and opening the mouth aggressively while striking repeatedly.5 Snakes of the genus Leptophis in general have an opistoglyphous dentition and their venom has hemorrhagic activities. In humans, it causes intense local pain and profuse bleeding from the bite site. The clutch size in this species consists of 1–6 eggs.24 One nest was found in a cavity of bamboo 12 m above the ground.2

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances.. Leptophis nigromarginatus is a recently revalidated species.7 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 presumed large and stable populations as well as a wide distribution spanning many protected areas. However, this snake, a strict forest dweller, is under constant threat due to large-scale deforestation driven by agricultural and urban expansion. Given the degree of diet specialization in this species, the decline in the the number of anuran prey due to pollution could have a negative localized impact on some populations, particularly those near oil fields and along large Amazonian cities.

Distribution: Leptophis nigromarginatus is widely distributed throughout the Amazon lowlands of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), Guyana, and Perú.

Distribution of Leptophis nigromarginatus in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Leptophis nigromarginatus 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 nigromarginatus comes from the Latin words niger (=black), margin (=margin), and the suffix -atus (=provided with).8 This refers to the dorsal aspect of the body and head, in which each scale is outlined in black.

See it in the wild: Black-skinned Parrot-Snakes are found at a rate of about once every few weeks in well-preserved rainforests throughoutht their area of distribution in Ecuador. Prime locations for the species include Cuyabeno Reserve and Yasuní National Park, especially in areas that are seasonally flooded by black-water rivers. The species seems to occur in higher densities on emergent aquatic vegetation where breeding congregations of treefrogs are taking place.

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) Black-skinned Parrot-Snake (Leptophis nigromarginatus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/ZBLQ7256

Literature cited:

  1. Albuquerque NR, Fernandes DS (2022) Taxonomic revision of the parrot snake Leptophis ahaetulla (Serpentes, Colubridae). Zootaxa 5153: 001–069. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.5153.1.1
  2. 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.
  3. Dixon JR, Soini P (1986) The reptiles of the upper Amazon Basin, Iquitos region, Peru. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 154 pp.
  4. Martins M, Oliveira ME (1998) Natural history of snakes in forests of the Manaus region, Central Amazonia, Brazil. Herpetological Natural History 6: 78–150.
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. 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.
  7. Torres-Carvajal O, Terán C (2021) Molecular phylogeny of Neotropical Parrot Snakes (Serpentes: Colubrinae: Leptophis) supports underestimated species richness. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 164: 107267. DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2021.107267
  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 nigromarginatus in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaPutumayoSan Antonio del GuamuésAlbuquerque & Fernandes 2022
EcuadorCaquetáFinca El TriunfoRuiz Valderrama 2023
EcuadorCaquetáFlorenciaCárdenas Hincapié & Lozano Bernal 2023
EcuadorMorona SantiagoEl TiinkPhoto by Ernesto Arbeláez
EcuadorNapoAhuanoPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorNapoFinca FischerAlbuquerque & Fernandes 2022
EcuadorNapoHalfway between Puerto Napo and MisahuallíAlbuquerque & Fernandes 2022
EcuadorNapoJohanna FarmAlbuquerque & Fernandes 2022
EcuadorNapoSacha LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoSanta BárbaraiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaDestacamento Militar YasuníiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaEl CocaMHNG 2249.097; collection database
EcuadorOrellanaJambelíNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaJoya de los SachasNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaOso 3Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaPozo AmoTorres-Carvajal & Terán 2021
EcuadorOrellanaRío YasuníTorres-Carvajal & Terán 2021
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity Station Cisneros-Heredia 2003
EcuadorOrellanaVía Pompeya Sur–IroNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaYasuni Scientific StationReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaAlto Río BobonazaAlbuquerque & Fernandes 2022
EcuadorPastazaArajuno Albuquerque & Fernandes 2022
EcuadorPastazaBalsauraOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaJuyuintzaOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaMacumaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaRío BufeoOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaShiripuno LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosBoca del Río CuyabenoAlbuquerque & Fernandes 2022
EcuadorSucumbíosCaiman LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosGreen Forest EcolodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosLago AgrioiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosLaguna GrandeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncocha Biological ReserveAlbuquerque & Fernandes 2022
EcuadorSucumbíosNapo Wildlife CenterReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosRío BermejoTorres-Carvajal & Terán 2021
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta Cecilia Albuquerque & Fernandes 2022
EcuadorSucumbíosWaita Amazon LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeValle del QuimiBetancourt et al. 2018
PerúAmazonasAguaruna VillageAlbuquerque & Fernandes 2022
PerúLoretoMishanaAlbuquerque & Fernandes 2022
PerúLoretoMoroponAlbuquerque & Fernandes 2022
PerúLoretoNautaAlbuquerque & Fernandes 2022
PerúLoretoRío TigreAlbuquerque & Fernandes 2022