Published October 19, 2021. Open access.

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Anchor Coralsnake (Micrurus ancoralis)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Elapidae | Micrurus | Micrurus ancoralis

English common names: Anchor Coralsnake, Regal Coralsnake.

Spanish common names: Coral ancla, coral rey.

Recognition: ♂♂ 114.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 148.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail..1 In western Ecuador, true coralsnakes (genus Micrurus) can be distinguished from most, but no all, false coralsnakes by having brightly colored rings that encircle the body (rings evident on the belly), small eyes that are about the same size as the post-ocular scales, and no loreal scale.1,2 Micrurus ancoralis is one of four species of the genus occurring in the rainforests of western Ecuador. From these, it is the only one having black body rings arranged in triads (Fig. 1).1,2 Although M. bocourti also has triads of black rings, this species occurs in dry forest areas and has a black head (red head in M. ancoralis).3 The small eyes and the presence of a red head cap separate this species from the Ecuadorian Milksnake (Lampropeltis micropholis).

Figure showing variation among individuals of Micrurus ancoralis

Figure 1: Individuals of Micrurus ancoralis from Canandé Reserve () and Durango (), Esmeraldas province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Micrurus ancoralis is an uncommon terrestrial to semi-fossorial snake that inhabits pristine to heavily disturbed rainforests and evergreen foothill forests.1,4 This species also occurs in clearings, plantations, and rural gardens nearby forest border.1,5 Individuals have been seen active on soil, leaf-litter, or crossing roads during day or at night.1,5 These snakes forage actively in search of prey, which includes snakes (members of its own species4 and those in the genera Atractus and Ninia),1,3 amphisbaenians (Amphisbaena varia),6 and caecilians (Caecilia nigricans and C. leucocephala).3,5 Anchor Coralsnakes rely on their warning coloration as a primary defense mechanism. Individuals are usually calm and try to flee when threatened. If disturbed, they engage in complex and seemingly erratic behavior: they hide the head beneath body coils, crawl spasmodically forward and then backward, and display their bright tails as a decoy.1,5 They are also capable of striking if provoked. Individuals of M. ancoralis are proteroglyphous (having fixed enlarged teeth towards the front of the maxilla) and venomous. Their venom is neurotoxic and is probably lethal to humans, but no published records of envenomation exist.

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..7,8 Micrurus ancoralis is listed in this category because the species is widely distributed throughout the lowlands of the Chocó and Río Magdalena valley regions, especially in areas that have not been heavily affected by deforestation, such as the Colombian Pacific coast. As a result, the species is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for a more threatened category.7 In Ecuador, nine localities of occurrence are in privately protected areas, but populations elsewhere may disappear due to large-scale deforestation. Vehicular traffic and the fear of snakes are also sources of mortality to individuals of this species. People in rural regions tend to kill any snake, particularly coralsnakes.

Distribution: Micrurus ancoralis is native to the lowlands and adjacent mountain foothills of the Chocó and Río Magdalena valley regions, from eastern Panamá, through Colombia, to western Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Micrurus ancoralis in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The name Micrurus is derived from the Greek words mikros (=small) and oura (=tail).2 The name ancoralis is derived from the Latin words ancora (=anchor) and the suffix -alis (=having the nature of), referring to the distinctive anchor-shaped nuchal band.2

See it in the wild: Anchor Coralsnakes are usually found no more than once every few weeks at any given area. In Ecuador, the localities having the greatest number of recent observations are Canandé Reserve, Bilsa Biological Reserve, and the immediate environs of the town Mindo. It appears that the best way to find Anchor Coralsnakes is to walk along forest trails right after sunset, especially after a warm day.

Acknowledgments: This account was published with the support of Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior Ciencia y Tecnología (programa INEDITA; project: Respuestas a la crisis de biodiversidad: la descripción de especies como herramienta de conservación; No 00110378), Programa de las Naciones Unidas (PNUD), and Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ).

Special thanks to Eric Osterman for symbolically adopting the Anchor Coralsnake and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

Click here to adopt a species.

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

Photographer: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2021) Anchor Coralsnake (Micrurus ancoralis). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/ROYJ3686

Literature cited:

  1. 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.
  2. Campbell JA, Lamar WW (2004) The venomous reptiles of the western hemisphere. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 774 pp.
  3. Roze JA (1996) Coral snakes of the Americas: biology, indentification, and venoms. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, 328 pp.
  4. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. Cisneros-Heredia DF (2005) Predation upon Amphisbaena fuliginosa LINNAEUS, 1758 by Micrurus ancoralis (JAN, 1872). Herpetozoa 18: 93–94.
  7. Ibáñez R, Jaramillo C, Renjifo J, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Bolívar W, Velasco J (2017) Micrurus ancoralis. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T203623A2769193.en
  8. 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.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Micrurus ancoralis in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaNariñoMallamaPhoto by Darwin Martínez
ColombiaNariñoRicaurte, 9 km SE ofKU 169965
EcuadorAzuayPuente de ChauchaPhoto by Fausto Siavichay
EcuadorAzuayRío PatulThis work
EcuadorAzuayTansarayThis work
EcuadorBolívarBalzapambaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorCarchiCasa Grande Eco LodgeiNaturalist
EcuadorCarchiGualtalValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorCarchiPeñas BlancasValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorCarchiTobar DonosoSamec & Samec 1988
EcuadorChimborazoBucay, 31 km E ofUF 45668
EcuadorChimborazoPuente sobre el Río ChimboBoulenger 1898
EcuadorCotopaxiGalápagosValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorCotopaxiLas DamasMHNG 2458.045
EcuadorCotopaxiPalo QuemadoMHNG 2307.042
EcuadorCotopaxiSan Francisco de Las PampasArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEl OroBalsasMHNG 2398.100
EcuadorEl OroSanta RosaUSNM 286113
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasBorbónValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasBulim (=Pulún)Valencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé ReserveThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasCarondeletMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasCarondelet, 7.5 km NW ofiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasDurangoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda el CieloCisneros-Heredia 2005
EcuadorEsmeraldasMatajeValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasPlaya de OroValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasQuinindéValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasQuinindé, 10 km SE ofValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva PambilarValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío SoberanoUSNM 232407
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan JavierValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan LorenzoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan Miguel de CayapasArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquilUSNM 12267
EcuadorImbaburaFinca La CascadaiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaHacienda RocafuerteValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorImbaburaParambaBoulenger 1898
EcuadorLos RíosPambilarMNHN 1901.468
EcuadorLos RíosVentanasThis work
EcuadorManabíJamaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíSanta AnaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaAlambiThis work
EcuadorPichinchaAlluriquínValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaCalacali–Nanegalito roadValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaFinca ElenitaThis work
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda La HesperiaBrouwer 2018
EcuadorPichinchaHostería Yellow HouseThis work
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi ReserveThis work
EcuadorPichinchaMilpe Bird SanctuaryThis work
EcuadorPichinchaMindo GardenThis work
EcuadorPichinchaNanegalValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaPachijalValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaPampas ArgentinasValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaPedro Vicente MaldonadoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto QuitoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaRío BlancoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaSan Miguel de los BancosMHNG 2220.028
EcuadorPichinchaSéptimo Paraíso LodgeThis work
EcuadorPichinchaTandapiValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLa FloridaMHNG 2307.037
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasPalmar del PimbeArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto DomingoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 26 km S ofValencia et al. 2016