Published October 19, 2021. Open access.

Gallery ❯

Trans-Andean Coralsnake (Micrurus transandinus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Elapidae | Micrurus | Micrurus transandinus

English common names: Trans-Andean Coralsnake, Trans-Andean Capuchin Coralsnake, Duméril’s Coralsnake.

Spanish common names: Coral transandina, coral capuchina.

Recognition: ♂♂ 81.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 106.5 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 not all, false coralsnakes by having brightly colored rings that encircle the body, small eyes that are about the same size as the post-ocular scales, and no loreal scale.1,2 Micrurus transandinus is one of four species of the genus occurring in the rainforests of western Ecuador. From these, it is the only one having a tricolored pattern and black body rings arranged in monads (Fig. 1).1,2 There is another species, M. bocourti, in which some individuals have thin accessory black rings, giving the appearance of a monadal pattern, but this snake occurs in dry forest areas and has red rings that are 2–3 (instead of 4) times as broad as the black rings.1 The combination of small eyes and the complete rings on the dorsum as well as on the belly separates M. transandinus from the Mimetic False-Coralsnake (Erythrolamprus mimus).3

Figure showing variation among individuals of Micrurus transandinus

Figure 1: Individuals of Micrurus transandinus: Canandé Biological Reserve, Esmeraldas province, Ecuador (); Morromico Reserve, Chocó department, Colombia ().

Natural history: Micrurus transandinus is an uncommon terrestrial to semi-fossorial snake that inhabits pristine to heavily disturbed rainforests and evergreen foothill forests.1 This species also occurs in clearings, plantations (palm hearts and banana), and rural gardens near the forest border.1,4 Individuals have been seen active on soil, leaf-litter, or crossing roads during the day or at night, particularly after heavy rains.1,46 These snakes actively forage in search of prey, which includes snakes (Tantilla supracincta),7 but probably also lizards and caecilians.1 Trans-Andean 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. The venom of M. transandinus is neurotoxic and, in humans, causes persistent excruciating pain, headache, ptosis (drooping eyelids), paralysis of the cranial nerve,8 and presumably also death. In Ecuador, one gravid female contained 10 eggs,1 but the real clutch size is not known. Hatchlings measure 21.2–29.5 cm in total length.1

Reader support helps us keep the Reptiles of Ecuador book 100% free.

Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances.. Micrurus transandinus has not been evaluated by the IUCN Red List. Here, the species is proposed to be included in the Least Concern category because it is widely distributed throughout the lowlands of the Chocó biome, 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 threatened category. In Ecuador, 16 localities of occurrence are in privately protected areas (Appendix 1) and the species’ potential area of distribution overlaps with three national parks. However, 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.4 People in rural regions tend to kill any snake, particularly coralsnakes.

Distribution: Micrurus transandinus is native to the lowlands and adjacent mountain foothills of the Chocó biome from eastern Panamá, through Colombia, to western Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Micrurus transandinus in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Micrurus transandinus 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), referring to the short tail in members of this group.2 The species’ epithet transandinus refers to the distribution of the species: west of the Andes.9

See it in the wild: Trans-Andean 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, Jama Coaque Reserve, and the immediate environs of the town Puerto Quito. It appears that the best way to find Trans-Andean Coralsnakes is to walk along forest trails right after sunset, especially after heavy rains.

Notes: This account follows Schmidt (1936),10 but not his subsequent works, in recognizing Micrurus transandinus as a species distinct from M. dumerilii.

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

Photographers: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Sebastián Di DoménicocAffiliation: Keeping Nature, Bogotá, Colombia.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2021) Trans-Andean Coralsnake (Micrurus transandinus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/RQOF3597

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. Curcio FF, Scali S, Rodrigues MT (2015) Taxonomic status of Erythrolamprus bizona Jan (1863 (Serpentes, Xenodontinae): assembling a puzzle with many missing pieces. Herpetological Monographs 29: 40–64. DOI: 10.1655/HERPMONOGRAPHS-D-15-00002
  4. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. MECN (2010) Serie herpetofauna del Ecuador: El Chocó esmeraldeño. Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales, Quito, 232 pp.
  6. Prairie A, Chandler K, Ruback P, Ray JM (2015) Dumeril’s Coralsnake (Micrurus dumerilii Jan, 1858) in Panama. Mesoamerican Herpetology 2: 253–259.
  7. Photo by Amado Chávez.
  8. Otero R, Tobón GS, Gómez LF, Osorio R, Valderrama R, Hoyos D, Urreta JE, Molina S, Arboleda JJ (1992) Accidente ofídico en Antioquia y Chocó. Acta Médica Colombiana 17: 229–249.
  9. Roze JA (1996) Coral snakes of the Americas: biology, indentification, and venoms. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, 328 pp.
  10. Schmidt KP (1936) Preliminary account of coral snakes of South America. Zoological Series of the Field Museum of Natural History 20: 189–203.

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

ColombiaNariñoEl PalmichalPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoSalahondaOnline multimedia
ColombiaNariñoVereda El PailónCampbell & Lamar 2004
EcuadorAzuayRío BalaoGADM Ponce Enríquez 2015
EcuadorAzuayRío GalaGADM Ponce Enríquez 2015
EcuadorAzuayRío SieteGADM Ponce Enríquez 2015
EcuadorAzuayRío TenguelGADM Ponce Enríquez 2015
EcuadorBolívarBalzapambaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorCarchiTobar DonosoiNaturalist
EcuadorCotopaxiBelow SigchosUSNM 232420
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque Privado El Jardín de los SueñosPhoto by Christophe Pellet
EcuadorEl OroReserva Biológica BuenaventuraINABIO 2019
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological StationOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé ReserveValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasCentro de Fauna Silvestre James BrownPhoto by Salvador Palacios
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro MutilesiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasCharco VicenteMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasEl PanValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasFinca de Carlos VásquezPhoto by Carlos Vásquez
EcuadorEsmeraldasGualpiThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda CacaoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa TablaMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasLaguna de CubeiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasMayronga, LagartoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasPajonalMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasPartidero-Poza HondaVázquez et al. 2005
EcuadorEsmeraldasPlaya de OroToral & Ortiz 1997
EcuadorEsmeraldasPoteMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasQuinindéValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva ItapoaPhoto by Rául Nieto
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Tesoro EscondidoPhoto by Simon Maddock
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío CayapasValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío MiraValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío San FranciscoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío SantiagoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasTangarealMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasTundaloma LodgeMZUTI 3337
EcuadorEsmeraldasVicheValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorGuayasHacienda Bola de OroMHNG 2458.043
EcuadorImbaburaParambaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorLos RíosPuerto de IláUSNM 232418
EcuadorLos RíosQuevedoUSNM 142598
EcuadorLos RíosRío CongoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorLos RíosRío VincesValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíBosque Seco Lalo LoorHamilton et al. 2005
EcuadorManabíLa CrespaiNaturalist
EcuadorManabíMaicitoMHNG 1327.087
EcuadorManabíPedernales, 16.8 km SE ofPhoto by David Salazar
EcuadorManabíReserva Jama CoaqueLynch et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíReserva Tito SantosHamilton et al. 2005
EcuadorManabíThree Forests TrailPhoto by Paul Maier
EcuadorPichinchaGuayabillas de PactoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaHostería Selva VirgenThis work
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi ReserveThis work
EcuadorPichinchaPedro Vicente MaldonadoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaPedro Vicente Maldonado, 20 km W ofValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaPedro Vicente Maldonado, 4 km W ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto QuitoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaRancho SuamoxPhoto by Rafael Ferro
EcuadorPichinchaRío Silanche Bird SanctuaryThis work
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLa PerlaPhoto by Plácido Palacios
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasPlan PilotoUIMNH 92336
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío BabaUIMNH 92335
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío ToachiUIMNH 92340
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSan Luis de Canoas, Santo DomingoValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 11 km S ofValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 3 km N ofValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 7 km S ofMHNG 1069.084