Published May 18, 2024. Open access.

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Green Vine-Snake (Oxybelis fulgidus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Oxybelis fulgidus

English common names: Green Vine-Snake, Flatbread Snake.

Spanish common names: Bejuquilla verde, serpiente liana verde.

Recognition: ♂♂ 161 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=130.5 cm. ♀♀ 206.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=142.0 cm..1,2 Oxybelis fulgidus is one of the most readily recognizable snakes in the Neotropics. Its distinctive features include an elongated head with a projected and pointed snout, no loreal scale, keeled dorsals arranged in 17 rows at mid-body, and an unmistakable coloration. The dorsum is bright green and the belly is pale yellowish green with a pair of brigh yellow ventrolateral stripes (Fig. 1).3 There is a poorly defined, thin dark line at the upper edge of the supralabials. The iris is pale golden yellow with dark markings and the pupil is round. Females have a relatively larger head and a shorter tail than males.2 This species differs from all other green snakes in the Ecuadorian Amazon by having the head shaped like an arrow.

Figure an adult female of Oxybelis fulgidus

Figure 1: Adult female of Oxybelis fulgidus from Yasuní National Park, Orellana province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Oxybelis fulgidus is a diurnal and arboreal snake that, in Ecuador, inhabits lowland rainforests in both terra-firme and seasonally flooded areas. The species also occurs in secondary growth forests, palm swamps, and forest-edge situations.47 Green Vine-Snake typically forage during the day on low vegetation and small trees at heights ranging from 2 to 20 m above the forest floor.3,7,8 However, individuals may also be seen crawling at ground level on leaf-litter or crossing forest trails and dirt roads.9 At night, they roost coiled on vegetation.7,9 This species uses both active hunting and sit-and-wait ambush strategies, typically remaining motionless for long periods of time.811 The prey is usually immobilized without constriction12 and is consumed head-first.2,4,6,13 The diet consists primarily of birds1,1319 and lizards (including Ameiva ameiva,20 Gonatodes humeralis,21 and Thecadactylus solimoensis9),1,2,6,11 but may occasionally include small rodents.10 The dentition in O. fulgidus is opistoglyphous, meaning these snakes have enlarged teeth towards the rear of the maxilla and are venomous to small prey. The venom primarily comprises fulgimotoxin, a taxon-specific neurotoxin22 that is particularly toxic to birds and reptiles (lethal to Anolis; LD50=0.28 µg/g23,24) but not to mammals.24 In humans, it produces mild-local effects such as itching, redness, swelling, and slight numbness, but no long-term consequences.2426 There are recorded instances of predation on this species by the hawk Buteogallus urubitinga.3 Egg-laying typically occurs during the low-water season and births during the high-water season,2 although there are indications that reproduction occurs year-round.6 Clutch sizes range from 7 to 14 eggs, with an incubation period of 78–149 days.10,27,28 The typical defense behavior in the Green Vine-Snake consists of inflating the body, opening the mouth aggressively, and biting.

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..5 Oxybelis fulgidus is listed in this category on the basis of the species’ wide distribution, occurrence in numerous protected areas, and presumed large populations that have not undergone noticeable declines.5 Despite the ongoing loss and destruction of forests within its range, this species is not deemed to be under major immediate extinction threat, especially given its adaptive nature to secondary growth.5 Even in human-modified habitats, population densities of O. fulgidus seem to remain relatively stable.5

Distribution: Oxybelis fulgidus is widely distributed throughout Central America and northern South America. West of the Andes, the species occurs on both the Atlantic and Pacific slopes of Mesoamerica, from southern Mexico to the isthmus of Darién, with isolated records along the valley of the Río Magdalena in Colombia. East of the Andes, the species is widespread throughout Amazonia and the Guianan savannas, with marginal records in the Cerrado and Chiquitano Dry Forest, mostly at low elevations. In Ecuador, the species has only been recorded on the Amazon lowlands and eastern foothills of the Andes (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Oxybelis fulgidus in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Oxybelis fulgidus 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).29 The specific epithet fulgidus is a Latin word meaning “shining,” surely referring to the bright green dorsal coloration.29

See it in the wild: The Green Vine-Snake is a difficult species to observe in wild, not necessarily due to its rarity, but rather owing to its remarkably elusive behavior and cryptic appearance, allowing it to seamlessly blend into its environment. Prime locations for this species include Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve and Yasuní Scientific Station.

Special thanks to Philippe Monthemont for symbolically adopting the Green Vine-Snake and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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Author: Amanda QuezadaaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

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

Photographer: Matthijs HollandersdAffiliation: Southern Cross University, East Lismore, Australia.

How to cite? Quezada A (2024) Green Vine-Snake (Oxybelis fulgidus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/OTCO6833

Literature cited:

  1. Beebe W (1946) Field notes on the snakes of Kartabo, British Guiana, and Caripito, Venezuela. Zoologica 31: 11–52.
  2. Scartozzoni R, Da Graça Salomão R, de Almeida-Santos SM (2009) Natural history of the vine snake Oxybelis fulgidus (Serpentes, Colubridae) from Brazil. South American Journal of Herpetology 4: 81–89.
  3. 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.
  4. Pineda Lizano W (2010) Oxybelis fulgidus (green vinesnake): foraging behavior. Herpetological Review 41: 369–370.
  5. Gutiérrez-Cárdenas P, Rivas G, Nogueira C (2019) Oxybelis fulgidus. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T198389A2523790.en
  6. Norris J, Burtt E (1998) Oxybelis fulgidus (Green Vine-Snake): feeding. Herpetological Review 29: 243.
  7. Whittaker A (2023) Observations of a group of red necked aracaris (Pteroglossus bitorquatus) attacking a vine snake (Oxybelis fulgidus) in Rondônia, Brazil. Ornitología Neotropical 7: 67–68.
  8. Campbell JA (1998) Amphibians and reptiles of northern Guatemala, the Yucatán, and Belize. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 380 pp.
  9. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  10. Martins M, Oliveira ME (1998) Natural history of snakes in forests of the Manaus region, Central Amazonia, Brazil. Herpetological Natural History 6: 78–150.
  11. Endo W, Amend M, Fleck LC (2007) Oxybelis fulgidus: prey. Herpetological Review 38: 209.
  12. Díaz-Gamboa L, Rodríguez-Lima M, Salinas-Peba L (2017) Oxybelis fulgidus (Daudin, 1803). Predation on an Ivory-billed Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus flavigaster). Mesoamerican Herpetology 4: 437–438.
  13. Figueroa A, Rojas-Valerio E (2011) Oxybelis fulgidus (Green Vine Snake): diet. Herpetological Bulletin 118: 41–42.
  14. Rodríguez-Pérez C, Mata-Silva V (2019) Oxybelis fulgidus (Green Vine Snake): diet and habitat. Herpetological Review 50: 166.
  15. de Fraga R, de Carvalho VT, Vogt RC (2012) Oxybelis fulgidus (Green Vinesnake): diet. Herpetological Review 43: 495–496.
  16. Capurucho J, Caldeira H (2012) Oxybelis fulgidus (Green Vinesnake): diet. Herpetological Review 43: 495.
  17. Cherry D, Sunyer J, Martínez-Fonseca J (2017) Oxybelis fulgidus (Daudin, 1803): diet. Mesoamerican Herpetology 4: 650–652.
  18. Rodrigues DJ, Lima MM, Pinto VAB, Martins CS (2005) Oxybelis fulgidus: diet. Herpetological Review 36: 325–326.
  19. Henderson RW, Binder MH (1980) The ecology and behavior of vine snakes (Ahaetulla, Oxybelis, Thelotornis, Uromacer): a review. Milwaukee Public Museum Press, 41 pp.
  20. Fischer WA, Gascon C (1996) Oxybelis fulgidus (Green Vine Snake): feeding behavior. Herpetological Review 27: 204.
  21. Días-Flórez R, Alarcón-Naforo DJ (2021) Predation by a Green Vinesnake, Oxybelis fulgidus (Squamata: Colubridae), on a Bridled Forest Gecko, Gonatodes humeralis (Squamata: Sphaerodactylidae), in Colombia. Reptiles & Amphibians 28: 435–436.
  22. Heyborne WH, Mackessy SP (2013) Identification andcharacterization of a taxon-specific three-finger toxin from the venom of the Green Vinesnake (Oxybelis fulgidus; family Colubridae). Biochimie 95: 1923–1932. DOI: 10.1016/j.biochi.2013.06.025
  23. Mackessy SP, Saviola AJ (2016) Understanding biological roles of venoms among the Caenophidia: the Importance of rear-fanged snakes. Integrative and Comparative Biology 56: 1004–1021. DOI: 10.1093/icb/icw110
  24. 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
  25. Weinstein SA, Warrell DA, White J, Keyler DE (2011) “Venomous” bites from non-venomous snakes. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 364 pp. DOI: 10.1016/C2010-0-68461-6
  26. Huang YK, Chen YC, Liu CC, Cheng HC, Tu AT, Chang KC (2022) Cerebral complications of snakebite envenoming: case studies. Toxins 14: 436. DOI: 10.3390/toxins14070436
  27. Figueroa A, Lewis TR, Mooney P (2013) Notes on reproduction in Oxybelis fulgidus from Costa Rica. Herpetology Notes 6: 29–31.
  28. Scartozzoni RR, Salomâo MG, Almeida-Santos SM (2005) Aspectos da reprodução da cobra bicuda Oxybelis fulgidus (Serpentes, Colubridae). Publicações Avulsas do Instituto Pau Brasil 89: 85–90.
  29. 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 fulgidus in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaAmazonasComunidad de Santa RosaCaicedo Portilla et al. 2023
ColombiaCaquetáFlorenciaCárdenas Hincapié & Lozano Bernal 2023
ColombiaCaquetáLa CarbonaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaPutumayoMocoaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaPutumayoPaway Natural ReserveiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCentro Shuar KiimValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMakumaCisnerso-Heredia & Touzet 2007
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTiwintzaJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapoAhuanoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoCedro YakuiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoJatun Sacha Biological StationVigle 2008
EcuadorNapoRío Arajuno, near Jatun Sacha Cisnerso-Heredia & Touzet 2007
EcuadorNapoSinchi SachaPhoto by Ernesto Arbeláez
EcuadorOrellanaComunidad BamenoPhoto by Axel Marchelie
EcuadorOrellanaECY, 20 km S ofNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaEl CocaMHNG 2250.071; collection database
EcuadorOrellanaParroquia TaracoaTipantiza-Tuguminago et al. 2023
EcuadorOrellanaYasuní Scientific StationReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaYucaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaBloque 10 Agip OilNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaComunidad KapawiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaFinca HeimatlosPhoto by Ferhat Gundogdu
EcuadorPastazaRío Copataza, mouth ofUSNM 192262; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaSharamentsaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaShelliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosComunidad Cofán ZábaloiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosGarzacochaYánez-Muñoz & Venegas 2008
EcuadorSucumbíosLaguna Grande CuyabenoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosLaguna PañacochaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosSani LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosSimon Bolívar, 4 km S ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosZancudocochaPhoto by Axel Marchelie
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeMiasiiNaturalist; photo examined
PerúAmazonasHuambisa villageMVZ 175336; VertNet
PerúAmazonasHuampamiMVZ 163321; VertNet
PerúLoretoMishanaMPM 10444; VertNet
PerúLoretoMoroponTCWC 42080; VertNet