Published September 27, 2021. Open access.

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Ornate Coralsnake (Micrurus ornatissimus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Elapidae | Micrurus | Micrurus ornatissimus

English common name: Ornate Coralsnake.

Spanish common name: Coral ornamentada.

Recognition: ♂♂ 87.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 93 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail..1 In Ecuador, the majority of true coralsnakes 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 In the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador, Micrurus ornatissimus is one of three species in the genus having the black rings arranged in monads, rather than in triads (Fig. 1).1 The other two snakes are M. langsdorffi, which has yellow rings with black scale tips instead of black rings, and M. steindachneri, a cloud forest species that has red rings wider than the black rings.1,3 Some individuals of the false coralsnake Erythrolamprus guentheri look extremely similar to M. ornatissimus, but the false coralsnake has eyes considerably (6.4–6.6 times) larger than the adjacent preocular scales.

Figure showing variation among individuals of Micrurus ornatissimus

Figure 1: Individuals of Micrurus ornatissimus from Amazonian Ecuador: Limoncocha, Sucumbíos province (); Yarina Lodge, Orellana province ().

Natural history: Micrurus ornatissimus is a rarely seen semi-fossorial snake that inhabits pristine rainforests as well as clearings and rural gardens near the forest edge.1,4 These snakes have been seen active on soil or in leaf-litter during the day or at night, especially after heavy rains.1,4 They forage actively in search of prey, which consist primarily of snakes (Atractus orcesi and other unidentified ground snakes).1,5 Ornate 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 The venom in M. ornatissimus is neurotoxic and is probably lethal to humans, but no published records of envenomation exist.1 A female from Morona Santiago province, Ecuador, laid a clutch of nine eggs that hatched after an incubation period of 73 days (slightly over two months).1 The neonates measured 17.6–22.6 cm in total length upon hatching.1 There is a record of another coralsnake species (M. steindachneri) preying upon an individual of M. ornatissimus.1

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..68 Micrurus ornatissimus is included in this category because the species is widely distributed, occurs in major protected areas, has presumed stable populations, and is currently facing no major widespread extinction threats.6 The most important threat to the long-term survival of some populations is habitat destruction mostly due to mining, oil extraction, and the expansion of the agricultural frontier.1

Distribution: Micrurus ornatissimus is native to the western Amazon basin and the adjacent foothills of the Andes in Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), and Perú.

Distribution of Micrurus ornatissimus in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Micrurus ornatissimus 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 mikros (=small) and oura (=tail), referring to the short tail in members of this group.2 The species epithet ornatissimus is derived from the Latin ornatus (=decoration) and the suffix -issimus (=very), referring to the decorated dorsal pattern.2

See it in the wild: The localities having the greatest number of recent observations of Micrurus ornatissimus are Tiputini Biodiversity Station and Yasuní Scientific Station, where these snakes are typically found along forest trails at night, especially after a warm and rainy 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 Tim Paine for symbolically adopting the Ornate Coralsnake and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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

Photographers: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador. and Frank PichardoaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2021) Ornate Coralsnake (Micrurus ornatissimus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/TABD5404

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. Photo by Dominik Hofer.
  6. Gagliardi G, Gonzales L, Valencia J (2017) Micrurus ornatissimus. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T44582007A44582012.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. Carrillo E, Aldás A, Altamirano M, Ayala F, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Endara A, Márquez C, Morales M, Nogales F, Salvador P, Torres ML, Valencia J, Villamarín F, Yánez-Muñoz M, Zárate P (2005) Lista roja de los reptiles del Ecuador. Fundación Novum Millenium, Quito, 46 pp.

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

ColombiaPutumayoLa HormigaFeitosa et al. 2015
ColombiaPutumayoPuerto AsísSchmidt 1955
ColombiaPutumayoRío PutumayoSchmidt 1955
ColombiaPutumayoVereda San JoséCampbell & Lamar 2004
EcuadorMorona SantiagoAchuentzValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoAmazonasValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoBosque Protector AbanicoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCentro Shuar KiimValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoChiguazaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacasValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMakumaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMamayakValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMashumarentsaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMéndezValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoPaantimValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoPatuca, 1.5 km SW ofValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSinaíValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSucúaFeitosa et al. 2015
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTumpaimValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoUwiValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorNapoBosque Protector Colonso ChalupasValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorNapoJatun Sacha Biological StationiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoPuerto MisahuallíFeitosa et al. 2015
EcuadorNapoQuehueirionoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorNapoSanta Rosa de OtasValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorNapoSuchipakari LodgeThis work
EcuadorNapoTenaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorNapoUniversidad Regional Amazónica IkiamiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoWild Sumaco Wildlife SanctuaryPhoto by Jeff Camper
EcuadorNapoYachana ReserveWhitworth & Beirne 2011
EcuadorOrellanaEstación Científica Onkone GareValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorOrellanaLoretoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorOrellanaRío CotapinoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorOrellanaRío HuataracoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de PayaminoPhoto by Ross Maynard
EcuadorOrellanaShiripuno LodgeShiripuno Lodge staff
EcuadorOrellanaTiputiniValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity StationThis work
EcuadorOrellanaVía Pompeya Sur–Iro, km 105Valencia et al. 2016
EcuadorOrellanaWatiValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorOrellanaYarina LodgeThis work
EcuadorOrellanaYasuni Scientific StationValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaAbitaguaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaAlto BobonazaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaAndoasFeitosa et al. 2015
EcuadorPastazaArajunoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaCanelosValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaKallanaMZUTI 5040
EcuadorPastazaKurintzaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoFeitosa et al. 2015
EcuadorPastazaPukuanValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaPuyoPhoto by Jorge Flores
EcuadorPastazaRío ArajunoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaRío BobonazaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaRío BufeoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaRío CopatazaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaRío HuiyoyacuValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaRío Pastaza Valencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaRío RutunoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaRío TigreValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaRío VillanoUSNM 232435
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaShellValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaSumak Kawsay In SituiNaturalist
EcuadorSucumbíosLago AgrioDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncochaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncocha, 2.6 km E ofThis work
EcuadorSucumbíosPozo DiamanteValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorSucumbíosSan Pablo de KantesiyaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorSucumbíosSani LodgeThis work
EcuadorSucumbíosSansahuariPhoto by Martin Carrera
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta CeciliaDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta Rosa de SucumbíosFeitosa et al. 2015
EcuadorSucumbíosYamanuncaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeLos EncuentrosValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeNamacuntzaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeShaimeCampbell & Lamar 2004
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeZumbaValencia et al. 2016
PeruLoretoIntuto, 60 km upstream fromCampbell & Lamar 2004
PeruLoretoNuevo AndoasCampbell & Lamar 2004
PeruLoretoNuevo Andoas, 120 km downstream fromCampbell & Lamar 2004