Published November 10, 2020. Updated May 22, 2024. Open access.

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Andean Flame-Snake (Oxyrhopus leucomelas)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Oxyrhopus leucomelas

English common names: Andean Flame-Snake, Werner’s False Coral Snake.

Spanish common name: Falsa coral andina.

Recognition: ♂♂ 72.2 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 70.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail.. Oxyrhopus leucomelas can be identified by having a black snout and an orange neck band. The rest of the body has black bands alternating with cream bands that have a reddish orange tint towards the top (Fig. 1).1,2 Andean Flame-Snakes differ from other co-occurring false coral snakes (such as O. petolarius and O. vanidicus) by having a shorter snout and dark bands that meet in the belly, whereas the bands in the other species barely reach the edge of the ventral scales.1 This species differs from Siphlophis ayauma by having more subcaudals in both males and females and a short loreal scale.3

Figure showing variation among individuals of of Oxyrhopus leucomelas

Figure 1: Individuals of Oxyrhopus leucomelas: Garagoa, Boyacá department, Colombia (); Sumaco, Napo province, Ecuador ().

Natural history: Oxyrhopus leucomelas is a terrestrial and semi-arboreal snake found in old-growth to moderately disturbed evergreen montane forests and cloudforests. The species also occurs in areas containing a matrix of pastures and remnants of native vegetation.4 Andean Flame-Snakes are nocturnal. Most individuals have been seen at night, foraging on the forest floor5 or on vegetation less than 50 cm above the ground,6 but others have been spotted as they cross roads around sunset.4 Individuals of O. leucomelas are mildly venomous,2 which means they are dangerous to small prey, but not to humans. One individual of O. leucomelas was seen preying on a stream lizard (Potamites ecpleopus).6

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..5 Oxyrhopus leucomelas is included in this category mainly on the basis of its wide range of distribution, occurrence in protected areas, and presumed stable populations.5 The main threat to the long-term survival of the species is the loss and degradation of its habitat in some parts of its range. Individuals of O. leucomelas also suffer from traffic mortality and direct killing. Andean Flame-Snakes are often mistaken with venomous snakes and therefore killed on sight.6

Distribution: Oxyrhopus leucomelas is widely-distributed in the northern Andes, from extreme western Venezuela,7 throughout the three Andean cordilleras in Colombia,1 to the Amazonian slopes of the Andes in northeastern Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Oxyrhopus leucomelas in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Oxyrhopus leucomelas in Ecuador. 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),8 and probably refers to the escape behavior of these snakes. The specific epithet leucomelas comes from the Greek leukos (=white) and melas (=black),8 referring to the pattern of light and dark body bands.

See it in the wild: Andean Flame-Snakes can be seen at a rate of about once every few months in forested areas throughout the northeastern montane forests of Ecuador. Prime locations for this species include Narupa Reserve and WildSumaco Wildlife Sanctuary, where these snakes are typically spotted on the forest floor and leaf-litter along trails at night.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Diego Piñán for providing natural history and locality data for Oxyrhopus leucomelas.

Special thanks to David Manning for symbolically adopting the Andean Flame-Snake and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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

Photographers: Jose VieiracAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Sebastián Di DoménicocAffiliation: Keeping Nature, Bogotá, Colombia.

How to cite? Quezada A, Arteaga A (2024) Andean Flame-Snake (Oxyrhopus leucomelas). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/XBPG4799

Literature cited:

  1. Lynch JD (2009) Snakes of the genus Oxyrhopus (Colubridae: Squamata) in Colombia: taxonomy and geographic variation. Papéis Avulsos Zoologia 49: 319–337. DOI: 10.1590/s0031-10492009002500001
  2. Downs FL (1961) Generic reallocation of Tropidodipsas leucomelas Werner. Copeia 4: 383–387. DOI: 10.2307/1439577
  3. Sheehy CM, Yánez-Muñoz MH, Valencia JH, Smith EN (2014) A new species of Siphlophis (Serpentes: Dipsadidae: Xenodontinae) from the eastern Andean slopes of Ecuador. South American Journal of Herpetology 9: 30–45. DOI: 10.2994/sajh-d-12-00031.1
  4. Diego Piñán, pers. comm.
  5. Schargel W, Rivas G, Cisneros-Heredia DF (2016) Oxyrhopus leucomelas. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T177431A44950515.en
  6. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  7. Natera-Mumaw M, Esqueda-González LF, Castelaín-Fernández M (2015) Atlas serpientes de Venezuela. Dimacofi Negocios Avanzados S.A., Santiago de Chile, 456 pp.
  8. 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 Oxyrhopus leucomelas in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaCaquetáLas Verdes, campamento 1BCaicedo Portilla et al. 2023
ColombiaPutumayoAlto RumiyacoLynch 2009
ColombiaPutumayoOritoBorja-Acosta & Galeano Muñoz 2023
ColombiaPutumayoVereda Villa RicaLynch 2009
EcuadorNapoBorjaPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorNapoCascada San RafaelMHNG 2398.028; collection database
EcuadorNapoEl ChacoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoFinca de Angel QuilumbaSheehy et al. 2014
EcuadorNapoHostería El ReventadorPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorNapoReserva NarupaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoRío ReventadorKU 164220; VertNet
EcuadorNapoSendero abajo CocodrilosReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoWild Sumaco Wildlife SanctuaryThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorNapoYanayacu Biological StationReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosEl ReventadorMHNG 2221.009; collection database
EcuadorSucumbíosLa BonitaCampos et al. 2001
EcuadorSucumbíosLumbaquiMCZ 164671; VertNet