Published June 9, 2021. Open access.

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Ecuadorian Coralsnake (Micrurus bocourti)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Elapidae | Micrurus | Micrurus bocourti

English common names: Ecuadorian Coralsnake, False Triad Coralsnake.

Spanish common names: Coral ecuatoriana, coral de Bocourt, coral de triadas falsas pequeña.

Recognition: ♂♂ 76.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 82 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail..1 In western Ecuador, true coralsnakes (genus Micrurus) can be distinguished form most, but no all, false coralsnakes by having brightly colored rings that are evident on the belly, small eyes that are about the same size as the scales behind them, and no loreal scale.1,2 The Ecuadorian Coralsnake is one of three species of the genus occurring in the dry forests of southwestern Ecuador. From these, it is one of two having black body rings arranged in triads, although the accessory rings might be very thin; the other snake is M. tschudii, which has a tricolored (instead of bicolored) tail.2 Micrurus bocourti can be confused with M. mertensi, but this other species has black rings arranged in monads, and the red interspaces are about the same size as the black rings (red rings much wider than black rings in M. bocourti).1,2 Males of the Ecuadorian Coralsnake differ from females by having longer tails with with a greater (4–8 vs 5–6) number of black rings.3

Figure showing variation among individuals of Micrurus bocourti

Figure 1: Individuals of Micrurus bocourti from Chongón, Guayas province (); and Poetate, Azuay province (), Ecuador.

Natural history: Micrurus bocourti is a terrestrial to semi-fossorial snake that inhabits xeric ecosystems such as dry forests and shrublands.1,4 The species also occurs in rural gardens and plantations near forest border.4,5 Individuals have been seen active on soil or leaf-litter during the day or at night, especially after heavy rains.1 These snakes forage actively in search of prey, which consist of caecilians and snakes (Leptodeira ornata).1,3 Ecuadorian 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.1,4 They are also capable of striking if provoked. Individuals of M. bocourti are proteroglyphous (having fixed enlarged teeth towards the front of the maxilla) and venomous.5 Their venom is neurotoxic and is probably lethal to humans. One person bitten by this species experienced localized intense pain, vomit, blurred vision, and local paralysis.5

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Conservation: Near Threatened Not currently at risk of extinction, but requires some level of management to maintain healthy populations.. Micrurus bocourti is here proposed to be included in this category, instead of Least Concern.6,7 The rationale is that, although the species is widely distributed and tolerates moderate habitat degradation, its populations are fragmented and occur over an area where approximately 44% of the forest cover has been transformed into pastures, plantations, and human settlements.8 Furthermore, snakes of this species suffer from intense persecution.6 Therefore, M. bocourti may qualify for a threatened category in the near future if these threats are not addressed. There is no current information on the population trend of the Ecuadorian Coralsnake to determine whether its numbers are declining.6 Fortunately, the species has been registered in five protected areas in Ecuador and one in Peru.

Distribution: Micrurus bocourti is native to an area of approximately 27,408 km2 along the Tumbesian lowlands and adjacent foothills of the Andes in southwestern Ecuador and extreme northwestern Peru. There is a seemingly isolated highland population in the xeric inter-Andean valley of the Río Jubones, Azuay province (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Micrurus bocourti in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Micrurus bocourti 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 specific epithet bocourti honors Marie-Firmin Bocourt (1819–1904), a French naturalist and explorer, in recognition of his herpetological collections in Mexico and Central America.2

See it in the wild: Micrurus bocourti is considered a rare species, with Individuals being recorded no more than once every few months at any given locality. It appears that the best way to find these snakes is to slowly walk along trails through well-preserved dry forest areas during the rainy season in western Ecuador (December–May). The area having the greatest number of recent observations of M. bocourti is Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco, in Guayas province.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Jorge Luis Romero and Gonzalo Pazmiño for providing the specimens of Micrurus bocourti pictured here. 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).

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) Ecuadorian Coralsnake (Micrurus bocourti). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/XDNA7753

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. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. Kuch U, Freire-Lascano A (1998) Human envenomation from the bite of the Ecuadorian coral snake Micrurus bocourti (Jan, 1872). The Snake 28: 41–43.
  6. Cisneros-Heredia DF (2019) Micrurus bocourti. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T44581931A44581940.en
  7. 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.
  8. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.

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

EcuadorAzuaySanta IsabelThis work
EcuadorAzuay PoetateThis work
EcuadorEl OroArenillasMZUA.RE.0184
EcuadorEl OroDestacamento Militar QuirogaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEl OroHacienda Nueva PubenzaOnline multimedia
EcuadorEl OroHuaquillasMZUA.RE
EcuadorEl OroReserva Ecológica ArenillasGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorGuayasAeropuerto de GuayaquilMHNG 2511.094
EcuadorGuayasBalzarValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorGuayasBosque Protector Cerro BlancoiNaturalist
EcuadorGuayasCapeiraPhoto by Eduardo Zavala
EcuadorGuayasChongónValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorGuayasDauleMHNG 2511.095
EcuadorGuayasDuránValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquilValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorGuayasIsla PunáNavarrete 2011
EcuadorGuayasIsla SantayMAE 2011
EcuadorGuayasLomas de SargentilloGADM Sargentillo 2015
EcuadorGuayasRío Daule*Valencia et al. 2016
EcuadorGuayasUrbanización BellavistaPhoto by Eduardo Zavala
EcuadorLojaBase Aérea de CatamayoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorLojaEl TablónValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorLojaHacienda JuanesValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorLojaReserva La CeibaPhoto by Darwin Martínez
EcuadorLojaLojaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorLojaReserva El TundoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorLojaReserva JatumpambaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorLojaSan PedroValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorLojaTangulaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorLojaVía Loja–Catamayo, km 2Valencia et al. 2016
EcuadorLojaVía Loja–Catamayo, km 8Valencia et al. 2016
EcuadorLos RíosVincesKuch & Freire-Lascano 1998
EcuadorManabíCantalapiedraValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíEl AromoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíGualeValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíOlmedoCampbell & Lamar 2004
EcuadorManabíSan SebastiánValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorSanta ElenaAncónValencia et al. 2016
PeruTumbesEl CauchoCampbell & Lamar 2004