Published April 20, 2021. Updated May 18, 2024. Open access.

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Teresita’s Coffee-Snake (Ninia teresitae)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Ninia teresitae

English common names: Teresita’s Coffee-Snake, Chocoan Coffee-Snake.

Spanish common names: Culebra cafetera de Teresita, culebra viejita del Chocó.

Recognition: ♂♂ 49.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=38.2 cm. ♀♀ 43.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=34.6 cm..1,2 Ninia teresitae can be distinguished from other snakes by having strongly keeled scales arranged in 19 rows at mid-body, two prefrontal scales, dark grayish brown dorsum (Fig. 1), and ventral surfaces of head and body dingy white with various degrees of brown dusting.1,2 This species differs from snakes in the genera Diaphorolepis, Emmochliophis, and Synophis by having paired, instead of fused, prefrontal scales.3,4 Juveniles of N. teresitae have a withish nuchal band that becomes fainter with age.

Figure showing variation among individuals of Ninia teresitae

Figure 1: Individuals of Ninia teresitae: Morromico, Chocó department, Colombia (); Canandé Reserve, Esmeraldas province, Ecuador (). sa=subadult, j=juvenile.

Natural history: Ninia teresitae is a terrestrial, semi-fossorial, nocturnal, and crepuscular snake that inhabits old-growth evergreen forests. The species appears to be more common in human-modified environments such as cattle pastures, plantations,5 rural gardens, and peri-urban areas.13 Teresita’s Coffee-Snakes are typically seen foraging on the forest floor at night, but they also have been seen on vegetation 25 cm above the ground.6 During the daytime, individuals hide under bricks, logs, or fallen bromeliads.6 They are harmless and docile snakes; however, during handling, individuals can exhibit anti-predator displays such as hiding the head under body coils, crouching, and cloacal discharges. There are records of Teresita’s Coffee-Snakes being preyed upon by coral snakes (Micrurus transandinus).6 It is expected that, like its congeners, N. teresitae probably feeds on snails, slugs, earthworms, and leeches.3,7

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances.. Given the recent description of Ninia teresitae,1 this snake has not been formally evaluated by the IUCN Red List. Notwithstanding, the species meets the criteria8 for being included in the Least Concern category. Ninia teresitae is widely distributed throughout the Chocoan lowlands, especially in areas that have not been heavily affected by deforestation, like the Colombian Pacific coast. The species thrives in human-modified habitats and occurs in protected areas. Therefore, it is considered to be facing no major immediate extinction threats.

Distribution: Ninia teresitae has a broad distribution range across the Chocó-Magdalena biogeographic region, from northwestern Ecuador (Fig. 2) through the Pacific coast of Colombia, to the basins of the Cauca and Magdalena rivers in northern Colombia.

Distribution of Ninia teresitae in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Ninia was coined by Baird and Girard in 1853 without any reference regarding its Greek or Latin root. However, Ninia was one of the many names in Greek mythology used to refer to Eurydice, wife of Orpheus, a legendary musician, poet, and prophet. According to the myth, Eurydice dies after her wedding by stepping on a viper. Orpheus goes mad by losing his only love and travels to the underworld to retrieve her. He plays his softened music so extraordinarily that Hades (God of death) and Persephone (Queen of death) allow him to take Eurydice back to the world of the living.9 As far as is known, Ninia does not have Latin roots. The specific epithet teresitae is the Latin translation of the Spanish nickname “Teresita,” given in honor of the grandmother of the first author who described the species.1

See it in the wild: Individuals of Ninia teresitae can be seen active at night in forested or agricultural areas throughout the species’ area of distribution. They are also likely to be found during the daytime by actively removing leaf-litter, piles of leaves, or fallen objects in agricultural areas, especially in African palm plantations. In Ecuador, the area having the greatest number of observations of Teresita’s Coffee-Snake is Mindo, a valley and town in Pichincha province.

Authors: Teddy Angarita-SierraaAffiliation: Yoluka ONG, Fundación de Investigación en Biodiversidad y Conservación, Bogotá, Colombia.,bAffiliation: Vicerrectoría de Investigación, Universidad Manuela Beltrán, Bogotá, Colombia. and Alejandro ArteagacAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

Photographer: Jose VieiracAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Angarita-Sierra T, Arteaga A (2021) Teresita’s Coffee-Snake (Ninia teresitae). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/PUID3000

Literature cited:

  1. Angarita-Sierra T, Lynch JD (2017) A new species of Ninia (Serpentes: Dipsadidae) from Chocó-Magdalena biogeographical province, western Colombia. Zootaxa 4244: 478–492. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.4244.4.2
  2. Angarita-Sierra T (2018) Range expansion in the geographic distribution of Ninia teresitae (Serpentes: Dipsadidae): new localities from northwestern Ecuador. Herpetology Notes 11: 357–360.
  3. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  4. Pyron RA, Guayasamin JM, Peñafiel N, Bustamante L, Arteaga A (2015) Systematics of Nothopsini (Serpentes, Dipsadidae), with a new species of Synophis from the Pacific Andean slopes of southwestern Ecuador. ZooKeys 541: 109–147. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.541.6058
  5. Lynch JD (2015) The role of plantations of the African palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) in the conservation of snakes in Colombia. Caldasia 37: 169–182.
  6. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  7. Angarita-Sierra T, Lozano-Daza SA (2019) Life is uncertain, eat dessert first: feeding ecology and prey-predator interactions of the coffee snake Ninia atrata. Journal of Natural History 53: 1401–1420. DOI: 10.1080/00222933.2019.1655105
  8. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  9. Bowra CM (1952) Orpheus and Eurydice. Dancing Times 2: 113–126.

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

ColombiaNariñoCORPOICAPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoEstación Mar AgrícolaPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoPlantación Santa FeAngarita-Sierra & Lynch 2017
ColombiaNariñoPlantación Santa Helena*Angarita-Sierra & Lynch 2017
ColombiaNariñoUniversidad Nacional de Colombia, Sede NariñoPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
EcuadorCarchiChicalArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorCarchiRancho San MarcosArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorCarchiRío San JuanArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorCarchiTobar DonosoArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque Privado El Jardín de los SueñosArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorCotopaxiCorazónAngarita-Sierra 2018
EcuadorCotopaxiLas PampasAngarita-Sierra 2018
EcuadorEsmeraldasAlto TamboArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque Protector La PerlaArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasCalle MansaMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReserveArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasCentro de Fauna Silvestre James BrownArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro CeiboArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasCresta San FranciscoArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasCupaArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasFinca de Carlos VásquezArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda EquinoxArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasJevon Forest Biological StationMaynard et al. 2021
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa EsperanzaArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasLas MareasArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasQuinindéAngarita-Sierra 2018
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva ItapoaArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Tesoro EscondidoArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorEsmeraldasTundaloma LodgeAngarita-Sierra 2018
EcuadorEsmeraldasVicheArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorImbaburaEl TigreArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorImbaburaLitaArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorManabíEl CarmenArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorManabíEl Carmen, 3.6 km N ofAngarita-Sierra 2018
EcuadorManabíQuinta Los HelechosAngarita-Sierra 2018
EcuadorManabíRío CoaqueAngarita-Sierra & Lynch 2017
EcuadorPichinchaFinca ElenitaArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda San VicenteArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorPichinchaLa CelicaArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi LodgeArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorPichinchaMindoArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorPichinchaMindo Garden LodgeArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorPichinchaMindo–El CintoArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorPichinchaPachijalArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorPichinchaPampas ArgentinasArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaRancho SuamoxArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorPichinchaReserva Las TangarasArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorPichinchaSéptimo Paraíso LodgeArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca la EsperanzaArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca VictoriaArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasPuerto LimónArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío BabaArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío ToachiArteaga & Harris 2023
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto DomingoArteaga & Harris 2023