Published May 21, 2024. Open access.

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Trans-Andean Vine-Snake (Oxybelis transandinus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Oxybelis transandinus

English common name: Trans-Andean Vine-Snake.

Spanish common name: Bejuquilla transandina.

Recognition: ♂♂ 124.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=73.1 cm. ♀♀ 157.8 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=99.1 cm..1 Oxybelis transandinus is easily differentiated from all other snakes in the Ecuadorian coastal region by having an extraordinarily thin and elongated body, a projected and pointed snout, no loreal scale, 17 rows of dorsal scales at mid-body, and a “dry twig” coloration.13 The dorsal pattern consists of brown and black markings on a pale brown background (Fig. 1). The belly is cream, clouded with brown pigment, and marked by a dark mid-ventral stripe on the first quarter.1 This species differs from O. brevirostris by having a brown coloration.1 Males of O. transandinus differ from females by having a longer tail.1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Oxybelis transandinus

Figure 1: Individuals of Oxybelis transandinus from Morromico, Chocó department, Colombia.

Natural history: Oxybelis transandinus is a diurnal and arboreal snake that inhabits seasonally dry forests and dry shrublands with various degrees of human intervention, including roadsides, forest edges, and peri-urban areas.1,4 The species occurs in lower densities in more mesic habitats such as rainforests. During the day, Trans-Andean Vine-Snakes can be observed crawling at ground level or moving on vegetation, usually among twigs that match their coloration.1,4 Their movement through the foliage is slow and reminiscent of a twig swaying in the wind. At night, these snakes roost coiled on leaves and branches up to 4 m above the ground.1,4 The diet in this species is largely composed of lizards (including Basiliscus galeritus, Holcosus septemlineatus, Microlophus occipitalis, Phyllodactylus reissii, Stenocercus iridescens, and S. puyango).4,5 A salient defense mechanism of vine snakes in general consists of raising the anterior third of the body in an S-shape while inflating the neck and opening the mouth aggressively.4 They are also prone to strike with little provocation. Their bite, though toxic to small prey, is harmless to humans.

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances.. Oxybelis transandinus is a recently described species. Therefore, its conservation status has not yet undergone a formal evaluation by the IUCN Red List. Here, it is proposed to be included in the LC category because the species has presumed high population densities (even in degraded environments4) and a wide distribution spanning many protected areas (at least 11 in Ecuador and Perú). It is still possible that the Chocoan populations of “O. aeneus” in both Ecuador and Colombia correspond to this species. Therefore, O. transandinus may be more widespread than currently thought.

Distribution: Oxybelis transandinus is widely distributed throughout the Tumbesian-Chocoan transition area of Ecuador (Fig. 2) and northern Perú. Records labeled “O. aeneus” from the Colombian Pacific coast, including Gorgona Island,3 probably correspond to this species.

Distribution of Oxybelis transandinus in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Oxybelis transandinus in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Bosqueira Protected Forest, Guayas province. 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).6 The specific epithet transandinus comes from the Latin words trans (=beyond) and andinus (=Andean), referring to the distribution west of the Andes.1

See it in the wild: The Trans-Andean Vine-Snake is a rarely seen species, being recorded no more than once every few months at any given locality. This is probably a combination of naturally low population densities and the remarkably elusive behavior and cryptic appearance of the snake. Prime locations for this species include Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco and Parque Nacional Machalilla.

Authors: Amanda QuezadaaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador. and Alejandro ArteagabAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

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

How to cite? Quezada A, Arteaga A (2024) Trans-Andean Vine-Snake (Oxybelis transandinus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/YPMF8711

Literature cited:

  1. Torres-Carvajal O, Mejía-Guerrero M, Terán C (2021) Adding missing vines to the tree: multilocus phylogeny of New World vine snakes (Serpentes: Colubridae: Oxybelis), with description of a new species. Journal of Natural History 55: 2027-2046. DOI: 10.1080/00222933.2021.1986164
  2. Cruz-García K, Barreno M, Cuadrado S, Moretta-Urdiales MDM, Molina-Moreira N, Salas JA, Torres-Domínguez A, Narváez AE (2023) Amphibians and reptiles of Isla Santay (Durán, Ecuador). Check List 19: 347–369. DOI: 10.15560/19.3.347
  3. Castro-Herrera F, Valencia-Aguilar A, Villaquirán-Martínez DF (2012) Diversidad de anfibios y reptiles del Parque Nacional Natural Isla Gorgona. Universidad del Valle, Cali, 112 pp.
  4. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. Photographic records by Julio Narváez, Gabriel Stephen, Diego Torres, and Jorge Castillo.
  6. 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 transandinus in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

ColombiaNariñoMar AgrícolaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaNariñoTumaco, 2 km S ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorAzuayAbove PoetateReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorAzuayPoetateReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorAzuaySan JuanTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorAzuaySulupaliTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorAzuayYunguilla Biological ReserveYánez-Muñoz 2010
EcuadorAzuayYunguilla-SusudelReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorCarchiChinambíReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEl OroIsla Costa RicaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEl OroLas BalsasMHNG 2397.068; collection database
EcuadorEl OroReserva Militar ArenillasTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorEl OroRío JubonesTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorEl OroSanta Isabel, 15 km W ofUSNM 204146; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasEsmeraldasAMNH 20408; examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasPlaya EscondidaOnline multimedia
EcuadorEsmeraldasSameTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorEsmeraldasTundaloma LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasVicinities of San MateoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasBosque Protector Cerro BlancoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorGuayasBosque Protector Cerro el ParaísoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasBosqueira Protected Forest*Torres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorGuayasCapeiraPhoto by Eduardo Zavala
EcuadorGuayasChongónReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasComuna San MiguelPhoto by Luis Oyagata
EcuadorGuayasIsla PunáNavarrete 2011
EcuadorGuayasIsla SantayCruz-García et al. 2023
EcuadorGuayasLago de ChongónTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorGuayasManglaraltoCM S9925; VertNet
EcuadorGuayasPalmar del RíoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasPlayasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasPosorja, 2 km W ofReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasQuebrada Las CañasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasReserva Manglares ChuruteTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorGuayasRío DauleTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorImbaburaParambaAMNH 13437; examined
EcuadorLojaBosque Petrificado PuyangoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorLojaJorupe Biological ReserveYánez-Muñoz et al. 2008
EcuadorLojaLa CeibaPhoto by Darwin Martínez
EcuadorLojaLa GuataraiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaMacará, 5.8 km NW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaPuyangoYánez-Muñoz et al. 2019
EcuadorManabíAgua BlancaZSFQ-010; GBIF
EcuadorManabíBocana de BúaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíBosque Protector Cerro SecoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíCerro MontecristiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíEloy AlfaroPhoto by Regdy Vera
EcuadorManabíEloy Alfaro, 6 km S ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíEloy Alfaro, 8.2 km S ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíIsla de la PlataTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorManabíJipijapaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorManabíLa Plata IslandTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorManabíLalo LoorPhoto by Rhianna Banana
EcuadorManabíLos FrailesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíParque Nacional MachalillaCisneros-Heredia et al. 2021
EcuadorManabíPichincha, 10 km NW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíRío MantaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorManabíSan VicentePhoto by Noemi Cevallos
EcuadorManabíSanta AnaMHNG 2529.04; collection database
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaNanegaliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanta ElenaAncónTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorSanta ElenaChanduyTorres-Carvajal et al. 2021
EcuadorSanta ElenaDos MangasGuncay 2022
EcuadorSanta ElenaLa LibertadiNaturalist; photo examined
PerúLambayequeFundo Vera, 4 km NW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
PerúLambayequeHacienda San MartíniNaturalist; photo examined
PerúTumbesCabo IngaTello 1998
PerúTumbesParque Nacional Cerros de AmotapeiNaturalist; photo examined
PerúTumbesQuebrada FaicalLSUMZ 39406; VertNet