Coastal Sand-Snakes

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Oxyrhopus | Oxyrhopus fitzingeri

English common names: Coastal Sand-Snakes.

Spanish common names: Culebra arenosa costera (Ecuador); culebra de costa, macanchillo (Peru).

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.. In its area of distribution, the Coastal Sand Snake (Oxyrhopus fitzingeri) can be recognized based on its cream to light reddish-brown dorsum speckled with dark-brown to black pigment,1,2 and (in juveniles) a whitish nuchal collar.3 The spotbelly-snakes Coniophanes dromiciformis and C. longinquus are similar in coloration, but differ from O. fitzingeri by having a dorsal pattern of longitudinal lines.4 Adults of Leptodeira larcorum,5 and juveniles of Stenorrhina degenhardtii have dark transverse dorsal bands or patches,68 and adults of S. degenhardtii have a uniform dorsal coloration,3 whereas all these characteristics are absent in O. fitzingeri.

Natural history: Frequent. Oxyrhopus fitzingeri is a terrestrial and nocturnal9 snake that inhabits dry shrublands, deciduous forests, and pastures near the shoreline.10,11 Coastal Sand-Snakes can also be active among shrubs during overcast days12 or cross roads during torrential rains.13 Their diet includes lizards and rodents,2,14 which are presumably asphyxiated by constriction.1 Coastal Sand-Snakes are mildly venomous, which means they are dangerous to small prey, but only moderately to humans,15 yet individuals are regarded as a calm when handled. Oxyrhopus fitzingeri is oviparous16; females lay four eggs per clutch.2

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Conservation: Least Concern.17 Oxyrhopus fitzingeri is listed in this category because the species is widely distributed, has presumed large population densities, and is present in protected areas in Ecuador (La Ceiba Natural Reserve and Arenillas Ecological Reserve) and Peru. Although Coastal Sand-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 and western Peru.

Distribution of Oxyrhopus fitzingeri in Ecuador

Etymology: The name Oxyrhopus, which comes from the Greek words oxys (meaning “quick”) and rhops (meaning “bush”),18 refers to the escape behavior of snakes of these genus; that is, fleeing into bushes.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 world16

See it in the wild: Coastal Sand-Snakes can be seen with ~5–10% certainty at La Ceiba Natural Reserve in southern Ecuador. The snakes may be spotted as they cross trails and roads in areas of dry forest, especially around sunset.

Authors: Amanda QuezadaaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: Laboratorio de Herpetología, Universidad del Azuay, Cuenca, Ecuador. and Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

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

How to cite? Quezada A, Arteaga A (2020) Oxyrhopus fitzingeri. In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from:

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. Arteaga A, Salazar-Valenzuela D, Mebert K, Peñafiel N, Aguiar G, Sánchez-Nivicela J, Pyron R, Colston T, Cisneros-Heredia D, Yánez-Muñoz M, Venegas P, Guayasamin J, Torres-Carvajal O (2018) Systematics of South American snail-eating snakes (Serpentes, Dipsadini), with the description of five new species from Ecuador and Peru. ZooKeys 766: 79–147.
  7. Cadle J (2005) Systematics of snakes of the D. oreas complex (Colubridae: Dipsadinae in Western Ecuador and Peru, with revalidation of D. elegans (Boulenger) and D. ellipsifera (Boulenger). Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University 158: 67–136.
  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, Hošek J (2020) The Reptile Database. Available from:
  17. Perez J, Quiroz Rodriguez A (2016) Oxyrhopus fitzingeri. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from:
  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.