Published August 20, 2021. Open access.

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Cauca Coralsnake (Micrurus multiscutatus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Elapidae | Micrurus | Micrurus multiscutatus

English common names: Cauca Coralsnake, Many-scaled Coralsnake.

Spanish common names: Coral del Cauca, coral caucana, coral de dos colores, coral del Chocó, gargantilla del Chocó.

Recognition: ♂♂ 23 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=21.7 cm. ♀♀ 84.2 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=80 cm..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 The Cauca Coralsnake (M. multiscutatus) is one of four members of the genus found in the Chocó rainforests of western Ecuador. It can be distinguished from the other three co-occurring coralsnakes by its unique bicolor (red-orange and black rings) body pattern. The pattern is tricolor in M. ancoralis, M. mipartitus, and M. transandinus.

Figure showing variation among individuals of Micrurus multiscutatus

Figure 1: Individuals of Micrurus multiscutatus from Itapoa Reserve, Esmeraldas province, Ecuador. ad=adult, j=juvenile.

Natural history: Extremely rareTotal average number of reported observations per locality less than three., but slightly more frequent in Colombia. There are only four records of this species in Ecuador. Micrurus multiscutatus is a semi-fossorial (living underground and at ground level) snake that inhabits evergreen lowland forests and, in Colombia, also foothill and montane forests.3 Active individuals have been observed on soil or on leaf-litter3,4 during morning hours5 or at night.3,4 In Ecuador, Cauca Coralsnakes prefers undisturbed habitats,4 although in Munchique National Park, Colombia, individuals were found to be abundant in pastures and human constructions.5,6 Cauca 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 Micrurus multiscutatus is proteroglyphous, which means individuals have fixed enlarged teeth towards the front of the maxilla with a groove for venom inoculation. The venom is neurotoxic and probably lethal to humans.1 Possibly due to its rarity, no bites to humans have been attributed to this species. There is an unpublished record of an individual of M. multiscutatus preying upon a caecilian (Caecilia leucocephala).4

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Conservation: Near Threatened Not currently at risk of extinction, but requires some level of management to maintain healthy populations..7 Micrurus multiscutatus is included in this category because its distribution, though relatively small, is larger than the 10,000 km2 threshold for qualifying in a threatened category.8 However, the habitat of the species, the Chocó rainforest, is declining in extent and quality due to logging, agriculture, cattle grazing, mining, and the contamination of water bodies. Furthermore, coralsnakes including M. multiscutatus, suffer from persecution by locals.4 Therefore, the species could qualify for a threatened category in the near future if measures are not taken to protect the biogeographic Chocó. More research efforts are needed to know the ecology, distribution, and population status of M. multiscutatus. The Cauca Coralsnake is found in two protected areas: Munchique National Park in Colombia5 and Itapoa reserve Ecuador.4

Distribution: Micrurus multiscutatus is native to the Chocoan lowlands of Colombia and Ecuador. Throughout its range, the species has been recorded at elevations between 100 and 1800 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Micrurus multiscutatus in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Micrurus, which is derived from the Greek words mikros (meaning “small”) and oura (meaning “tail”), refers to the short tail in members of this group.2 The specific epithet multiscutatus, which comes from the Latin multi (=“many”) and scutum (=“scales”), refers to the high number of ventral scales in this species.3

See it in the wild: Cauca Coralsnakes are extremely rare in Ecuador; they have been reported only four times in the country. The locality having the greatest number of observations is Itapoa, a rainforest reserve where these snakes can be found by walking along trails at night or by removing leaf-litter and searching under logs or rocks during the daytime.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Luis Vera for providing information on the natural history of this species. Thanks to Raúl Nieto, Jhael Ortega, Julio Carreón, and the local guides of the Itapoa Reserve, Isidro y García, for providing field assistance during the expedition that resulted in the finding of the specimen photographed in this account.

Author and photographer: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

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

How to cite? Vieira J (2021) Cauca Coralsnake (Micrurus multiscutatus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/NRVR4173

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. Vera-Pérez LE, Zúñiga-Baos JA, Ayerbe González S (2018) Reptiles del Parque Nacional Natural Munchique, Colombia. Revista Novedades Colombianas 13: 97–131.
  6. Luis Vera-Pérez, pers. comm.
  7. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Bolívar W, Lamar W, Velasco J (2015) Micrurus multiscutatus. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T174106A44947559.en
  8. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  9. 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 Micrurus multiscutatus in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorEsmeraldasItapoa ReserveThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío TulubíYánez-Muñoz & Altamirano 2006