Published December 29, 2023. Open access.

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Blunt Vine-Snake (Oxybelis brevirostris)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Oxybelis brevirostris

English common names: Blunt Vine-Snake, Short-nosed Vinesnake, Cope’s Vine Snake.

Spanish common names: Bejuquilla hocicorta, serpiente liana de hocico corto.

Recognition: ♂♂ 93.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=54.2 cm. ♀♀ 107.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=64.5 cm..14 Oxybelis brevirostris differs from other co-occurring green snakes by having an extraordinarily thin body, an acuminate snout, no loreal scale, and smooth or weakly keeled dorsal scales arranged in 15 rows at mid-body.3,5 The dorsal surfaces are uniformly leaf green with brown marks and a black stripe that runs from the nostril to the neck (Fig. 1).6 This species is often confused with snakes of the genus Leptophis, which can be identified by having a round snout and strongly keeled dorsal scales.5 Males of O. brevirostris differ from females by having a longer tail.1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Oxybelis brevirostris

Figure 1: Individuals of Oxybelis brevirostris from Ecuador: Buenaventura Reserve, El Oro province (); Cerro de Hayas, Guayas province (); Gualpi, Esmeraldas province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Oxybelis brevirostris is a strictly arboreal snake that inhabits lowland and foothill rainforests, where it can occur in densities of 20 individuals/km, particularly along streams and pristine forest trails.4 The species also occupies secondary forests, roadsides, and plantations.3,7,8 Blunt Vine-Snakes actively forage during the day,9 either on vegetation or on the forest floor.4 At night, they usually roost on understory vegetation within 2 m from the ground,3,10 with larger individuals selecting higher perches up to 10 m above the ground.1,4 Oxybelis brevirostris is an opisthoglyphous snake, meaning it has enlarged grooved teeth towards the rear of the maxilla, and is considered mildly venomous.11 In other Oxybelis, enzymatic and neurotoxic properties were found in the venom, which is or may be acutely toxic to Anolis lizards (their usual prey).12 In O. brevirostris, the diet includes mainly frogs and lizards.1113 This species is oviparous, with clutches consisting of 3–6 eggs.11,15 A salient defense mechanism of these snakes consists of adopting a stiff position in which the tongue extended, remaining immobile but alert.4 If handled, they can strike repeatedly, but usually prefer just to flee into vegetation.4

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..16 Oxybelis brevirostris is listed in this category because it is a widely distributed species with presumed large populations that have not experienced rapid declines. In a studied snake community in western Panama, the rate of occurrence of O. brevirostris remained stable between 1997 and 2012.17 In other locations, such as in southwestern Ecuador, these snakes occur in higher densities than any other co-occurring snake.4 The most important threat to this arboreal species is the loss of rainforest due to agricultural expansion.

Distribution: Oxybelis brevirostris is widely distributed in the Chocó and Mesoamerica biomes, from the Atlantic slopes of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama to the Pacific lowlands of Colombia and Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Oxybelis brevirostris in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Oxybelis comes from the Greek words oxys (=acute) and belos (=arrow).18 The specific epithet brevirostris comes from the Latin words brevis (=short) and rostrum (=snout),18 and refers to the snout, which is truncated at the tip.

See it in the wild: In Ecuador, Blunt Vine-Snakes can be seen with almost complete certainly at Canandé, Buenaventura, and Bilsa biological reserves. Although diurnal, these snakes are easier to find at night, as they tend to roost on exposed surfaces of leaves and ferns.

Author: Amanda QuezadaaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: Laboratorio de Herpetología, Universidad del Azuay, Cuenca, Ecuador.

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

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

How to cite? Quezada A (2023) Blunt Vine-Snake (Oxybelis brevirostris). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/XZYQ9216

Literature cited:

  1. Montgomery CE, Lips KR, Ray JM (2011) Ontogenetic shift in height of sleeping perches of Cope’s Vine Snake, Oxybelis brevirostris. The Southwestern Naturalist 56: 358-362.
  2. Sexton OJ, Heatwole H (1965) Life history notes on some Panamanian snakes. Caribbean Journal of Science 5: 39-43.
  3. Lotzkat S (2014) Diversity, taxonomy, and biogeography of the reptiles inhabiting the highlands of the Cordillera Central (Serranía de Talamanca and Serranía de Tabasará) in western Panama. PhD thesis, Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main, 931 pp.
  4. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. Savage JM (2002) The amphibians and reptiles of Costa Rica, a herpetofauna between two continents, between two seas. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 934 pp.
  6. Taylor EH (1951) A brief review ot the snakes of Costa Rica. The University of Kansas Science Bulletin 34: 3-188.
  7. Yánez-Muñoz MH, Bejarano-Muñoz P, Sánchez-Nivicela JC (2019) Anfibios y reptiles del páramo al manglar. Capítulo II. In: Garzón-Santomaro C, Sánchez-Nivicela JC, Mena-Valenzuela P, González-Romero D, Mena-Jaén JL (Eds) Anfibios, reptiles y aves de la provincia de El Oro. GADPEO–INABIO, Quito, 45–86.
  8. Ortega-Andrade HM, Bermingham J, Aulestia C, Paucar C (2010) Herpetofauna of the Bilsa Biological Station, province of Esmeraldas, Ecuador. Check List 6: 119–154. DOI: 10.15560/6.1.119
  9. Henderson RW (1982) Trophic relationships and foraging strategies of some New World tree snakes (Leptophis, Oxybelis, Uromacer). Amphibia-Reptilia 3: 71–80.
  10. Nicholson KE, McCranie JR, Köhler G (2000) Herpetofaunal expedition to Parque Nacional Patuca: a newly established park in Honduras. Herpetological Bulletin 72: 26–31.
  11. Solórzano A (2004) Serpientes de Costa Rica. Distribución, taxonomía e historia natural. Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, 792 pp.
  12. Heyborne WH, Mackessy SP (2021) Venoms of New World vinesnakes (Oxybelis aeneus and O. fulgidus). Toxicon 190: 22-30. DOI: 10.1016/j.toxicon.2020.12.002
  13. Henderson RW, Binder MH (1980) The ecology and behavior of vine snakes (Ahaetulla, Oxybelis, Thelotornis, Uromacer): a review. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 38 pp.
  14. MECN (2010) Serie herpetofauna del Ecuador: El Chocó esmeraldeño. Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales, Quito, 232 pp.
  15. Guyer C, Donnelly MA (2005) Amphibians and reptiles of La Selva, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean slope. University of California Press, Berkeley, 367 pp.
  16. Lamar W, Townsend JH, Wilson LD, Cisneros-Heredia DF (2012) Oxybelis brevirostris. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T203304A2763541.en
  17. Zipkin EF, DiRenzo GD, Ray JM, Rossman S, Lips KR (2020) Tropical snake diversity collapses after widespread amphibian loss. Science 367: 814–816. DOI: 10.1126/science.aay5733
  18. 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 Oxybelis brevirostris in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaNariñoBarbacoasiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaNariñoBarbacoas, 3 km SW ofMHUA-R 14085; Daza Rojas 2023
ColombiaNariñoDiviso, 5.5 km SE ofKU 169962; VertNet
ColombiaNariñoEl DivisoUNC 2640
ColombiaNariñoVicinity of La GuayacanaLACM 36773; VertNet
EcuadorAzuayLas BrisasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorBolívarBalzapambaAMNH 35947; examined
EcuadorCañarEl ChorroReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorCañarManta Real, 2 km E ofCisneros-Heredia & Touzet 2007
EcuadorCarchiSan MarcosPazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorChimborazoCumandáiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorChimborazoPallatangaBoulenger 1896
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque Protegido JDLSiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCotopaxiLa Maná, 6 km NW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCotopaxiLa Maná, 8.9 km N ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroBuenaventura Biological ReserveiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroBuenaventura–Platanillo roadCisneros-Heredia & Touzet 2007
EcuadorEl OroCascadas de ManuelGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroMoromoroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroZaracay, 7 km NW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasAlto Tambo, 8 km N ofPhoto by Charlie Vogt
EcuadorEsmeraldasAngosturaMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological StationOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque Protector La PerlaPlácido Palacios
EcuadorEsmeraldasCabeceras de BilsaAlmendáriz and Carr 2012
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReseveiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasCarondeletMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasCentro de Fauna Silvestre James BrownPhoto by Salvador Palacios
EcuadorEsmeraldasEstero ChipaVázquez et al. 2005
EcuadorEsmeraldasFCAT ReserveiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasGualpiThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda EquinoxUSNM 204154; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasHoja Blanca, 3.5 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasItapoa ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasJeyambiMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa Concepción, 1 km E ofUSNM 20617; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa Concordia, 6 km N ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasLagartoPazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasLita–Alto Tambo roadCisneros-Heredia & Touzet 2007
EcuadorEsmeraldasLita, 5.5 km NW ofRMNH.RENA.51043
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote RoseroReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote SalvadoresReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote VentanasYánez-Muñoz 2005
EcuadorEsmeraldasMajúa, Río CayapasMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasNaranjal de los ChachisiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasPadre SantoMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasPajonalMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasPlaya de OroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasRicaurteMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan Javier de CachabíUSNM 192275; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan MiguelMCZ R-153145; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasSanta RitaJadin et al. 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasTangarealMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasTesoro Escondido ReserveiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasZapalloiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasCentro Shuar Tsuer EntsaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorGuayasCerro de HayasCruz García 2017
EcuadorGuayasPuerto Inca, 5 km E ofCisneros-Heredia & Touzet 2007
EcuadorGuayasRío Congo, headwaters ofUSNM 192273; VertNet
EcuadorImbaburaCielo Verde, 2 km NW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaCielo Verde, 3 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorImbaburaParambaMNHN 1898.301; collection database
EcuadorLos RíosJaunecheAlmendáriz & Carr 2012
EcuadorLos RíosRío BabaAMNH 110589; examined
EcuadorLos RíosSanta María del Toachi, 6.7 km S ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosValencia, 3 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosValencia, 3.5 km N ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíCerro Pata de PájaroHamilton et al. 2014
EcuadorManabíEl Mirador, 6 km SE ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíJama-Coaque Ecological ReserveiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíMaicitoMHNG 1368.015; collection database
EcuadorManabíPedernales, 6 km SE ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaCascada TataláiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaKapari LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaMangalomaPhoto by Andreas Kay
EcuadorPichinchaMashi ReserveMZUTI 5820; examined
EcuadorPichinchaPedro Vicente Maldonado, 11 km NW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto QuitoMCZ R-152594; VertNet
EcuadorPichinchaUnión Bolivarense, 4.3 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaYaku Forest LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasAlluriquín, 1 km S ofUSNM 192272; VertNet
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasAlluriquín, 7 km W ofMCZ R-145265; VertNet
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca La EsperanzaUSNM 192265; VertNet
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca VictoriaMHNG 1069.081; VertNet
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLa Unión del Toachi iNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasPatricia Pilar, 14.1 km SE ofMCZ R-156893; VertNet
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío Palenque Research StationUSNM 285491; VertNet
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasMCZ R-154610; VertNet