Published June 3, 2020. Updated May 22, 2024. Open access.

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Fitzinger’s False Coral Snake (Oxyrhopus fitzingeri)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Oxyrhopus fitzingeri

English common name: Fitzinger’s False Coral Snake.

Spanish common name: Culebra arenosa costera.

Recognition: ♂♂ 64.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 100 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail.. Oxyrhopus fitzingeri can be recognized by having a cream to light reddish-brown dorsum speckled with dark-brown to black pigment (Fig. 1),1,2 and a whitish nuchal collar in juveniles.3 This species differs from the spotbelly-snakes Coniophanes dromiciformis and C. longinquus by lacking a dorsal pattern of longitudinal lines.4 Unlike Leptodeira ornata and Stenorrhina degenhardtii, this species does not have dark transverse dorsal bands or patches.58

Figure showing an adult female of Oxyrhopus fitzingeri

Figure 1: Adult female of Oxyrhopus fitzingeri from Reserva La Ceiba, Loja province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Oxyrhopus fitzingeri is a terrestrial and nocturnal9 snake that inhabits dry shrublands, dry forests, and grasslands near the shoreline.10,11 Fitzinger’s False Coral Snakes are occasionally seen active among shrubs during overcast days12 or crossing roads during torrential rains.13 Their diet includes lizards and rodents,2,14 which are presumably asphyxiated by constriction.1 Their dentition is opistoglyphous, meaning they have enlarged teeth towards the rear of the maxilla and are venomous to small prey.15 This species is oviparous,16 with clutches consisting of four eggs.2

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..17 Oxyrhopus fitzingeri is listed in this category because the species is widely distributed, has presumed large population densities, and occurs in protected areas in Ecuador (La Ceiba Natural Reserve and Arenillas Ecological Reserve) and Perú. Although these snakes suffer from human persecution and traffic mortality,13 neither these threats nor the expansion of the agricultural and urban frontier are considered to be serious enough to drive the species to extinction, at least not in the near-term future.17

Distribution: Oxyrhopus fitzingeri is native to the Tumbesian lowlands of southwestern Ecuador (Fig. 2) and western Perú.

Distribution of Oxyrhopus fitzingeri in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Oxyrhopus fitzingeri in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Negritos, Piura department, Perú. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The name Oxyrhopus comes from the Greek words oxys (=quick) and rhops (=bush),18 and probably refers to the escape behavior of these snakes.19 The specific epithet of fitzingeri honors Leopold Josef Fitzinger (1802–1884), an Austrian naturalist who played a major role in advancing the knowledge about reptiles of the world.16

See it in the wild: In Ecuador, Fitzinger’s False Coral Snakes can be seen at a rate of about once every few weeks at Reserva La Ceiba and Reserva Militar Arenillas. They are typically spotted as they cross trails and roads in areas of dry forest, especially around sunset.

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) Fitzinger’s False Coral Snake (Oxyrhopus fitzingeri). 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. Schmidt KP, Walker WF (1943) Snakes of the Peruvian coastal region. Zoological Series of the Field Museum of Natural History 24: 297–327.
  2. Guzmán R, Flores E, Flores J, Vásquez R (2013) Herpetofauna del departamento de Lima. Allpa Wasi, Lima, 95 pp.
  3. Peters JA, Orejas-Miranda B (1970) Catalogue of the Neotropical Squamata: Part l. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC, 347 pp.
  4. Cadle J (1989) A new species of Coniophanes (Serpentes: Colubridae) from northwestern Peru. Herpetologica 45: 411–424.
  5. Duellman W (1958) A monographic study of the colubrid snake genus Leptodeira. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 114: 1–152.
  6. Costa JC (2014) Análise filogenética de Leptodeira FITZINGER, 1843 e taxonomia das espécies do clado do sul do complexo Leptodeira annulata/septentrionalis (Serpentes, Dipsadidae). PhD thesis, Universidade Federal do Pará, Belém, 240 pp.
  7. Pérez-Santos C, Moreno AG (1988) Ofidios de Colombia. Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali, Torino, 517 pp.
  8. Berthold AA (1846). Über verschiedene neue oder seltene Reptilien aus Neu-Granada und Crustaceen aus China. Königliche Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen 3: 3–32.
  9. Venegas PJ (2005) Herpetofauna del bosque seco ecuatorial de Perú: taxonomía, ecología y biogeografía. Zonas Áridas 9: 9–24.
  10. Torres-Carvajal O, Pazmiño-Otamendi G, Salazar-Valenzuela D (2019) Reptiles of Ecuador: a resource-rich online portal, with dynamic checklists and photographic guides. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation 13: 209–229.
  11. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  12. Wong I (2017) Reptiles asociados a las unidades de vegetación de la Zona Reservada Illescas, Sechura – Piura. BSc thesis, Universidad Nacional de Piura, 79 pp.
  13. Pablo Loaiza, pers. comm.
  14. Muñoz J, Armijos-Ojeda D, Erazo S (2019) Flora y fauna del bosque seco de la provincia de Loja, Ecuador. Ediloja, Loja, 105 pp.
  15. Calero K, Barrionuevo R, Ugaz A, Calero M, Peña R (2018) Taxonomía de serpientes en el noroeste del Perú. Manglar 15: 135–139.
  16. Uetz P, Freed P, Hošek J (2021) The reptile database. Available from:
  17. Perez J, Quiroz Rodriguez A (2016) Oxyrhopus fitzingeri. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T15179459A15179467.en
  18. Brown R (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  19. Wagler JG (1830) Natürliches System der Amphibien: mit vorangehender Classification der Säugetiere und Vögel: ein Beitrag zur vergleichenden Zoologie. J.G. Cotta'scchen, München, 354 pp.

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

EcuadorEl OroArenillas, 5 km SW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroCosta Rica, JambelíPhoto by Raúl Vigara
EcuadorEl OroGuabilloTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroReserva Ecologica ArenillasLoaiza-Lange 2023
EcuadorEl OroSan Gerardo, JambelíGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroVía a ChacrasPhoto by Pablo Loaiza
EcuadorGuayasData, 1 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasPlaya el PeladoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasVía Engabao–PlayasCuadrado et al. 2020
EcuadorLojaCabeza de ToroLoaiza-Lange 2023
EcuadorLojaCarrizal Loaiza-Lange 2023
EcuadorLojaCeiba ChicaLoaiza-Lange 2023
EcuadorLojaCorregidorPhoto by Pablo Loaiza
EcuadorLojaMacará, 1 km N ofReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaMangahurcoLoaiza-Lange 2023
EcuadorLojaProgresoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaReserva La CeibaThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorLojaValle HermosoLoaiza-Lange 2023
EcuadorLojaValle Río CatamayoParker 1938
EcuadorSanta ElenaAncónGBIF
EcuadorSanta ElenaChanduyPazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorSanta ElenaEl TamboPazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorSanta ElenaLa PuntillaPeracca 1904
PerúLambayequeMorrope, 3 km SE ofMVZ 82454; VertNet
PerúPiuraBayovarFMNH 11014; VertNet
PerúPiuraLágrimas de CurumuyiNaturalist; photo examined
PerúPiuraLaguna Los CocosTCWC 28917; VertNet
PerúPiuraLos ÓrganosMCZ 160802; VertNet
PerúPiuraNegritos*Tschudi 1845
PerúPiuraPalo BlancoVásquez Calle 2018
PerúPiuraTalara AltaMCZ 160792; VertNet
PerúTumbesTumbesCAS 14557; VertNet