Published March 28, 2022. Updated May 16, 2024. Open access.

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Tidy Tropical-Racer (Mastigodryas pulchriceps)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Mastigodryas pulchriceps

English common names: Tidy Tropical-Racer, Cope’s Tropical Racer.

Spanish common names: Serpiente látigo adornada, serpiente látigo de cabeza linda, corredora tropical pulcra.

Recognition: ♂♂ 153.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=113.0 cm. ♀♀ 150 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=114.0 cm..1 Tropical Racers (genus Mastigodryas) can be identified from other medium-sized diurnal snakes in Ecuador by having a loreal scale, more than one anterior temporal scale, and smooth dorsal scales arranged in 17 rows at mid-body.2,3 Juveniles of M. pulchriceps are easily identified based on their ornate dorsal coloration, which consists of 30–68 dark-brown blotches on a lighter background shade.3,4 This pattern becomes fainter on larger individuals and is usually accompanied by two thin light dorsolateral stripes (Fig. 1).3 Mastigodryas pulchriceps approaches the distribution of, and may even co-occur with, M. heathii and M. reticulatus. While juveniles of the three species are difficult to tell apart from each other, adults are easily distinguishable. Those of M. heathii have broader (3 vs 1 dorsal scales wide) dorsolateral stripes than adults of M. pulchriceps.5 Adults of M. reticulatus lack a striped pattern; instead, they have a uniform grayish dorsum in which each scale is edged in black.5 Other snakes similar in size and coloration that may be found living alongside M. pulchriceps in Ecuador are Erythrolamprus albiventris, which has one anterior temporal scale (instead of two), and species in the genus Dendrophidion, which have keeled (instead of smooth) dorsal scales.2

Figure showing variation among individuals of Mastigodryas pulchriceps

Figure 1: Individuals of Mastigodryas pulchriceps from Ecuador: FCAT Reserve, Esmeraldas province (); Mindo, Pichincha province (); Cerro de Hayas, Guayas province (); Itapoa Reserve, Esmeraldas province (); Cahuasquí, Imbabura province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Mastigodryas pulchriceps is a diurnal and primarily terrestrial snake that inhabits evergreen to semi-deciduous forests, cloud forests, and dry to humid montane shrublands.3,6,7 The species also occurs in areas having a matrix of pastures, plantations, and remnants of native vegetation, as well as in gardens of heavily-populated urban areas.1,3 These snakes have been seen active during sunny hours in the morning, crossing roads and trails, basking in open areas or foraging on leaf-litter, soil, or among grass or shrubs.1,8 When not active, they sleep under rocks or coiled on vegetation up to 5 m above the ground.1,9 Racer snakes in general are opistoglyphous (having enlarged teeth towards the rear of the maxilla) and mildly venomous, which means they are dangerous to small prey, but not to humans.10,11 Tidy Tropical-Racers are active hunters and their diet is based primarily on lizards (including Andinosaura oculata,3 Holcosus bridgesii,1 Stenocercus guentheri,12 and S. chota12) and frogs (Gastrotheca riobambae13). Individuals rely mostly on crypsis as a primary defense mechanism; when threatened, they usually try to flee. However, if grabbed or cornered, these agile snakes will not hesitate to strike.1,3 Snakes in the genus Mastigodryas are oviparous,11 but there is no information about the clutch size in M. pulchriceps.

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..14,15 Mastigodryas pulchriceps is included in this category on the basis of the species’ wide distribution, presence in over a dozen protected areas (Appendix 1), and presumed stable populations.3,14 This is one of the few snakes able to survive in Quito and adjacent inter-Andean valleys despite the fact that virtually no native vegetation is left in these highly populated areas.3 The main threat to the long-term survival of populations of M. pulchriceps is the continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat, mostly due to encroaching human activities such as agriculture, cattle grazing, wild fires, and the replacement of native vegetation with eucalyptus and pine trees. It is estimated that in Ecuador, ~57% of the potential habitat of the species has already been destroyed.16 Tidy Tropical-Racers also suffer from human persecution and traffic-related mortality.1,14

Distribution: Mastigodryas pulchriceps occurs in the Chocoan lowlands and adjacent slopes of the Andes of Colombia and Ecuador (Fig. 2). The species also occurs in several inter-Andean valleys, including Quito, El Chota, and Jubones.

Distribution of Mastigodryas pulchriceps in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Mastigodryas pulchriceps in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Valley of Quito, Pichincha province. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The name Mastigodryas, which comes from the Greek words mastigos (=whip) and dryas (a tree-nymph),17 refers to the long whip-like tail in snakes of this genus. The specific epithet pulchriceps, which comes from the Latin words pulcher (=beautiful) and ceps (=head), refers to the ornate pattern of blotches and stripes on the head of juveniles of this species.3

See it in the wild: Individuals of Mastigodryas pulchriceps may be encountered at rate of about once every week in some areas throughout the species’ distribution. Tidy Tropical-Racers are particularly abundant in the general area of Mindo, Mashpi, Canandé Reserve, and Otongachi Reserve. They are also frequently reported in the valleys surrounding the cities Quito and Ibarra, in northern Ecuador. The snakes may be spotted as they cross trails and roads in areas having adequate vegetation cover, especially during sunny mornings.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Diego Piñán for providing locality and natural history data for Mastigodryas pulchriceps as well as for finding three of the specimens 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 (2022) Tidy Tropical-Racer (Mastigodryas pulchriceps). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/LCQQ1911

Literature cited:

  1. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  2. Peters JA, Orejas-Miranda B (1970) Catalogue of Neotropical Squamata: part I, snakes. Bulletin of the United States National Museum, Washington, D.C., 347 pp.
  3. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  4. Montingelli GG (2009) Revisão taxonômica do gênero Mastigodryas Amaral, 1934 (Serpentes: Colubridae). PhD thesis, Universidade de São Paulo, 338 pp.
  5. Montingelli GG, Valencia JH, Benavides MA, Zaher H (2011) Revalidation of Herpetodryas reticulata (Peters, 1863) (Serpentes: Colubridae) from Ecuador. South American Journal of Herpetology 6: 189–197. DOI: 10.2994/057.006.0304
  6. Castro-Herrera F, Valencia-Aguilar A, Villaquirán-Martínez DF (2012) Diversidad de anfibios y reptiles del Parque Nacional Natural Isla Gorgona. Universidad del Valle, Cali, 112 pp.
  7. Valencia JH, Garzón-Tello K, Tipantiza-Tuguminago L, Pulluquitín F, Barragán-Paladines ME, Noboa G (2017) Serpientes del Distrito Metropolitano Quito (DMQ), Ecuador, con comentarios sobre su rango geográfico y altitudinal y conservación. Avances en Ciencias e Ingeniería 9: 17–60. DOI: 10.18272/aci.v9i15.305
  8. Savit AZ (2006) Reptiles of the Santa Lucía Cloud Forest, Ecuador. Iguana 13: 94–103.
  9. Photo by Ryan Lynch.
  10. Natera-Mumaw M, Esqueda-González LF, Castelaín-Fernández M (2015) Atlas serpientes de Venezuela. Dimacofi Negocios Avanzados S.A., Santiago de Chile, 456 pp.
  11. 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.
  12. Field notes of Diego Piñán.
  13. Video by Diego Piñán.
  14. Castañeda MR, Bolívar W, Velasco J, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Yánez-Muñoz M (2017) Mastigodryas pulchriceps. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T203303A2763534.en
  15. Reyes-Puig C (2015) Un método integrativo para evaluar el estado de conservación de las especies y su aplicación a los reptiles del Ecuador. MSc thesis, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, 73 pp.
  16. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  17. 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 Mastigodryas pulchriceps in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

ColombiaNariñoEl PalmichalPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoNo specific localityFMNH 165338; VertNet
ColombiaNariñoReserva Natural Río ÑambiBacca Cortes et al. 2019
EcuadorAzuayAbove PoetateReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorAzuayEl TejadoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorAzuayLa UniónMZUA.RE.0106; examined
EcuadorAzuayLuz MaríaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorAzuayPuente de ChauchaPhoto by Ernesto Arbeláez
EcuadorAzuayReserva Biológica YunguillaMZUA.RE.0073; examined
EcuadorAzuaySanta IsabelMZUA.RE.0036; examined
EcuadorAzuaySusudelPhoto by Ernesto Arbeláez
EcuadorBolívarBalzapambaMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorCañarEl ChorroReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorCañarHuatacónReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorCarchiChical, 6 km S ofArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCarchiChinambíReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorCarchiDracula ReserveOnline multimedia
EcuadorCarchiTobar DonosoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorChimborazoChaguarapataMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorChimborazoGonzol, 2.5 km NW ofReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorChimborazoSacramentoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorChimborazoTixán, 2.5 km SW ofReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorChimborazoTixán, 2.6 km NE ofReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorChimborazoValle del ChanchánArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque Integral OtongaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque Privado El Jardín de los SueñosPhoto by Christophe Pellet
EcuadorCotopaxiLas JuntasArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCotopaxiLas PampasArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCotopaxiRecinto GalápagosArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCotopaxiYakusinchiPhoto by Jane Sloan
EcuadorEl OroBuenaventura Biological ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEl OroCaliforniaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEl OroCascadas de ManuelArteaga et al. (unpublished)
EcuadorEl OroEl GuayaboiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroPortoveloMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasAlto TamboReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque El EdénArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque Protector La PerlaPhoto by Plácido Palacios
EcuadorEsmeraldasBulúnMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasCaimitoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasCamino al Río MiraEPN-H 2556; examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasCentro de Fauna Silvestre James BrownPhoto by Salvador Palacios
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro GatazoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro ZapalloiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasEstero Agua VivaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasEstero MolinaEPN-H 4455; examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasFCAT ReserveThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorEsmeraldasGualpiReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasItapoa ReserveThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorEsmeraldasMonte SaínoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasPlaya de OroArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío BlancoMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío San FranciscoMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío SantiagoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan JavierMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasTrail between Rivers San Miguel and GrandeMCZ 153154; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasTundaloma LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasVerdecanandéReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasBalaoMZLU l892/3135; examined
EcuadorGuayasCerro de HayasThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorImbaburaAntonio AnteArteaga et al. (unpublished)
EcuadorImbaburaCahuasquíThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorImbaburaChachimbiroPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorImbaburaEl OlivoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaEl Refugio de IntagPhoto by Peter Joost
EcuadorImbaburaHostería Tunas y CabrasArteaga et al. (unpublished)
EcuadorImbaburaIbarra, El CopalPhoto by Ernesto Arbeláez
EcuadorImbaburaIntagPhoto by John Castillo
EcuadorImbaburaNear TumbabiroReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorImbaburaPablo ArenasEPN-H 12724; examined
EcuadorImbaburaParambaMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorImbaburaPimampiroMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorImbaburaQuirogaEPN-H 13076; examined
EcuadorImbaburaReserva ManduriacuArteaga et al. (unpublished)
EcuadorImbaburaUrcuquíArteaga et al. (unpublished)
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorLos RíosPlayas de MontalvoMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorLos RíosPuerto de IláArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorManabíAyampeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíBosque La EsperanzaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorManabíCerro Pata de PájaroEPN-H 13074; examined
EcuadorManabíEl GuayacánPhoto by Regdy Vera
EcuadorManabíMaicitoEPN-H 9065; examined
EcuadorManabíReserva AyampeArteaga et al. (unpublished)
EcuadorManabíReserva Ecológica Mache-ChinduliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíReserva Jama CoaquePhoto by Javier Aznar
EcuadorPichinchaBarrio ChiviquíValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaBarrio la BorregaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaCalderónValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaCarapungoValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaCascadas VerdesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaCerro CatequillaValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaChaupicruzValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaClub Campestre IlalóYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorPichinchaClub PucaráiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaColinas del NorteValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaCollaquíValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaCountry Club FAEValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaCumbayáArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaEntrada de NayónValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaEstación ChiquilpeValencia & Garzón 2011
EcuadorPichinchaGranda CentenoValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaGuangopoloValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaGuayllabambaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaHayulimaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaIñaquito AltoValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaLa MarínValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaLa PampaValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaLas Tolas, 4 km S ofArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaLlano GrandeValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaMaquipucunaMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorPichinchaMarianitasValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaMasphi (town), 2 km S ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaMindoPhoto by Viviana Morales
EcuadorPichinchaMindo GardensReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaMonjasValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaNanegal, 3 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaNanegalitoValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaPactoMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorPichinchaParque JerusalémArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaParque Lineal de QuitumbeArteaga et al. (unpublished)
EcuadorPichinchaParque Metropolitano GuangüiltaguaValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaPintagValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaPircaValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaPomasquiArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaPonceano AltoValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaPuéllaroEPN-H 9154; examined
EcuadorPichinchaPuemboPhoto by Ernesto Arbeláez
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto Quito, 2 km S ofPazmiño-Otamendi 2022
EcuadorPichinchaPusuquíArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaQuebrada PumachoPhoto by Ernesto Arbeláez
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Av. 12 de OctubreValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaQuito*Cope 1868
EcuadorPichinchaRancho SuamoxPhoto by Rafael Ferro
EcuadorPichinchaRío MachángaraValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaRío PisqueValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaRío San PedroValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaRuinas de MarietaValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaSan AntonioValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaSan RoqueValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaSanta Lucía Cloud Forest ReserveSavit 2006
EcuadorPichinchaSanta TeresaValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaTababelaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaTandaValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaTandapiArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaTandayapa Bird LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaTerreno de Eric Osterman en MindoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaTrigolomaValencia et al. 2017
EcuadorPichinchaTumbacoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorSanta ElenaReserva Ecológica Loma AltaLuis Amador, pers. comm.
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca la EsperanzaEPN-H 9558; examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasOtongachi ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío BabaMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío MulauleEPN-H 9142; examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSan Miguel de los ColoradosMontingelli et al. 2011
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los ColoradosArteaga et al. 2013