Published September 6, 2020. Updated May 22, 2024. Open access.

Gallery ❯

Yellow-headed Flame-Snake (Oxyrhopus occipitalis)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Oxyrhopus occipitalis

English common names: Yellow-headed Flame-Snake, Brown-capped False Coral Snake, Northern Calico Snake, Yellow-headed Calico-Snake.

Spanish common name: Falsa coral cabeciamarilla.

Recognition: ♂♂ 92.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 102.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail.. Adults of Oxyrhopus occipitalis can be identified from other snakes in the Ecuadorian Amazon by a having yellow snout and a blackish patch on the dorsal surface of the head, which separates the head from the rest of the body (Fig. 1). The body is uniformly red or orange-red dorsally and whitish ventrally.13 Snakes of this species change in coloration throughout the organism’s lifespan: juveniles present dorsal bands that extend to the belly,1 which become faint as adults.4,5 Adults of this species resemble Drepanoides anomalus and Pseudoboa coronata, and the juveniles resemble those of other Oxyrhopus and those of Siphlopis ayauma, but these other snakes have a dark or black snout (yellow or pale in O. occipitalis).1

Variation among individuals of Oxyrhopus occipitalis

Figure 1: Individuals of Oxyrhopus occipitalis from Ecuador: Huella Verde, Pastaza province (); Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve, Napo province (); Archidona, Napo province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Oxyrhopus occipitalis is a snake that inhabits lowland and foothill evergreen forests.8,9 It occurs in plantations, disturbed areas, and roads,10 but it usually dwells in well-preserved forests.1,911 Yellow-headed Flame-Snakes are mostly nocturnal,1,5,12 but may as well be active during daylight hours.14 They are primarily terrestrial,13,14 moving among leaf-litter on the forest floor or on low (0–50 cm above the ground)15 vegetation,9,12,14 usually near watercourses.1,5,16 Flame snakes are mildly venomous, which means they are dangerous to small prey, but not to humans.12 Their diet consists of small mammals,12 lizards (Arthrosaura reticulata),1 and amphisbaenians.14 Although they can bite, the typical defense strategy in these snakes is to flee into the vegetation.14 Clutches consist of 13–17 eggs.1

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..5 Oxyrhopus occipitalis is listed in this category because it is a widely-distributed species that is present in several protected areas throughout its range.14,17 In Ecuador, it is found in Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve, Llanganates National Park, Sangay National Park, Sumaco National Park, Yasuní National Park, and Yachana Reserve. Ongoing human-related causes of mortality for members of this species are habitat loss, traffic, and direct killing. Yellow-headed Flame-Snakes are often mistaken with venomous snakes and therefore killed on sight. However, these causes will likely not lead the species to extinction in the near-term future.17

Distribution: Oxyrhopus occipitalis is widely-distributed throughout the Amazon basin and adjacent foothills of the Andes in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), French Guiana, Guyana, Perú, Suriname, and Venezuela.4,6

Distribution of Oxyrhopus occipitalis in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Oxyrhopus occipitalis 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),18 and probably refers to the escape behavior of these snakes. The specific epithet occipitalis is derived from the Latin word occiput, meaning “back of the head”.18 It probably refers to the dark patch on the dorsal part of the head.

See it in the wild: Yellow-headed Flame-Snakes can be seen at a rate of about once a week in forested areas throughout the Amazon basin in Ecuador. Prime locations for this species include Yasuní Scientific Station, Tiputini Biodiversity Station, and Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve, where the snakes are typically spotted on the forest floor along trails at night.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Andy Proaño, David Buitrón, Darwin Núñez, Diego Piñán, Freddy Velásquez, Grace Reyes, Jorge Vaca, Jose Manuel Falcón, and Thierry García for providing locality data for Oxyrhopus occipitalis.

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) Yellow-headed Flame-Snake (Oxyrhopus occipitalis). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/QVFL2829

Literature cited:

  1. Duellman WE (1978) The biology of an equatorial herpetofauna in Amazonian Ecuador. Publications of the Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas 65: 1–352.
  2. Cole CJ, Townsend CR, Reynolds RP, MacCulloch RD, Lathrop A (2013) Amphibians and reptiles of Guyana, South America: illustrated keys, annotated species accounts, and a biogeographic synopsis. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 125: 317–578. DOI: 10.2988/0006-324X-125.4.317
  3. Hoge AR, Santos NP, Heitor C, Lopes LA, Souza ID (1972) Serpentes coletadas pelo projeto Rondon VII em Iauareté, Brasil. Memórias do Instituto Butantan 36: 221–232.
  4. MacCulloch RD, Lathrop A, Kok PJ, Ernst R, Kalamandeen M (2009) The genus Oxyrhopus (Serpentes: Dipsadidae: Xenodontinae) in Guyana: Morphology, distributions and comments on taxonomy. Papéis Avulsos Zoologia 49: 487–495. DOI: 10.1590/s0031-10492009003600001
  5. Martins M, Oliveira ME (1998) Natural history of snakes in forests of the Manaus region, Central Amazonia, Brazil. Herpetological Natural History 6: 78–150.
  6. 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
  7. 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 America Journal of Herpetology 9: 30–45. DOI: 10.2994/sajh-d-12-00031.1
  8. 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. DOI: 10.2994/sajh-d-12-00031.1
  9. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  10. Whitworth A, Beirne C (2011) Reptiles of the Yachana Reserve. Global Vision International, Exeter, 127 pp. 10.13140/RG.2.1.4130.6968
  11. Ortega HM (2010) Diversidad de la herpetofauna en la centro Amazonía del Ecuador. MSc thesis, Instituto de Ecología A.C., 150 pp.
  12. Starace F (1998) Guide des serpents et amphisbènes de Guyanne francaise. Ibis Rouge Editions, Matoury Cedex, 448 pp.
  13. Yánez-Muñoz MH, Venegas PJ (2008) Anfibios y reptiles/Amphibians and reptiles. In: Alverson WS, Vriesendorp C, del Campo Á, Moskovits DK, Stotz DF, García Donayre M, Borbor LA (Eds) Ecuador, Perú: Cuyabeno-Güeppí. Rapid Biological and Social Inventories Report 20. The Field Museum, Chicago, 90–96.
  14. de Fraga R, Lima AP, da Costa Prudente AL, Magnusson WE (2013) Guide to the snakes of the Manaus region - Central Amazonia. Editopa Inpa, Manaus, 303 pp.
  15. Duellman WE (2005) Cusco amazónico: the lives of amphibians and reptiles in an Amazonian rainforest. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 433 pp.
  16. Rojas-Morales J, Marín-Martínez M, Zuluaga-Isaza J (2018) Aspectos taxonómicos y ecogeográficos de algunas serpientes (Reptilia: Colubridae) del área de influencia de la Central Hidroeléctrica Miel I, Caldas, Colombia. Biota Colombiana 19: 73–91. DOI: 10.21068/c2018.v19n02a07
  17. Ouboter P, Martins MRC, Schargel W, Rivas G (2019) Oxyrhopus occipitalis. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T177433A44950913.en
  18. Brown R (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.

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

ColombiaCaquetáFlorenciaNogueira et al. 2019
ColombiaCaquetáMandalayNogueira et al. 2019
ColombiaCaquetáPuerto AbejaNogueira et al. 2019
ColombiaCaquetáSan José del FragüaLynch 2009
ColombiaCaquetáTres EsquinasNogueira et al. 2019
ColombiaPutumayoVereda El LíbanoLynch 2009
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCentro Shuar KiimSheehy et al. 2014
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCentro Shuar MakumaSheehy et al. 2014
EcuadorMorona SantiagoEl TiinkMZUA.RE.0107; examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoGualaquizaMNHN 1906.253; collection database
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacasAMNH 28855; VertNet
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMiazalJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorMorona SantiagoPuerto MoronaJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorMorona SantiagoReserva Ecológica El ParaísoPazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorMorona SantiagoRío UpanoAMNH 28810; VertNet
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSan Juan BoscoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSapapentzaJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTaishaJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTiwintzaJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorMorona SantiagoWatsakentsaJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapoAnaconda LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoArchidonaDiego Piñan, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapoEl ChacoDiego Piñán, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapoEl ReventadorMHNG 0.6144; collection database
EcuadorNapoGuagua SumacoAndy Proaño, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapoHollín–LoretoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoHuella Verde LodgeThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorNapoJatun Sacha Biological ReserveVigle 2008
EcuadorNapoJondachiGrace Reyes, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapoJondachi, 20 km E ofNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoKiederle FarmUSNM 232981; VertNet
EcuadorNapoNapo–LoretoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoPacto SumacoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoPuerto NapoUIMNH 61115; VertNet
EcuadorNapoReserva YachanaWhitworth & Beirne 2011
EcuadorNapoSector SarayacuNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoWild SumacoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoYuralpaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoYuralpa DerechoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoZoo el ArcaThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorOrellanaAguaricoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaÁvila ViejoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaCampamento 4Pazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorOrellanaComuna 24 de MayoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaPlataforma Tiputini CNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaPompeya Sur–Iro, km 40Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaPozo SunkaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaRío BigalThierry García, pers. comm.
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity StationReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaYasuní Scientific StationReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaBalsauraOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaBelow Nuevos HorizontesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaCabeceras del BobonazaUSNM 232980; collection database
EcuadorPastazaCampamento K10Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaCampamento K4Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaCentro FátimaAndy Proaño, pers. comm.
EcuadorPastazaConamboOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaCopataza (Achuar)Peñafiel 2013
EcuadorPastazaFinca HeimatlosReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaIwia (Achuar)Peñafiel 2013
EcuadorPastazaJuyuintzaOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaKawaPeñafiel 2013
EcuadorPastazaLlanganatesDarwin Núñez, pers. comm.
EcuadorPastazaMeraKU 133534; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaMera, 4 km N ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoUSNM 232975; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaPaseo de los MonosJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorPastazaPuyoMHNG 1337.033; collection database
EcuadorPastazaRío Raka YakuFreddy Velásquez, pers. comm.
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaShellUSNM 232978; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaShiripuno LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaTamandúa ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaTambo UniónUSNM 232976; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaTzarentzaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosDuvunoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosGarita Casa de MáquinasPazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorSucumbíosGarzacochaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíoskm 10 Lago Agrio–ShushufindiNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosLago AgrioDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncochaUIMNH 54648; VertNet
EcuadorSucumbíosPuerto LibreDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosRedondocochaYánez-Muñóz & Venegas 2008
EcuadorSucumbíosRío AguaricoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosRío BermejoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosSan Pablo de KantesiyaMHNG 2260.003; collection database
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta CeciliaDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosSenderos CuyabenoDavid Buitrón, pers. comm.
EcuadorSucumbíosShushufindiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosVía a La BonitaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeAlto MachinazaJorge Vaca, pers. comm.
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeBombuscaroDarwin Núñez, pers. comm.
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeCampanasNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeColibríNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeConcesión minera El ZarzaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeEl PadmiArmijos 2010
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeMiaziDarwin Núñez, pers. comm.
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeMicrocuenca del Río WawaimePazmiño-Otamendi 2020
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeNangaritzaDarwin Núñez, pers. comm.
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeTundaymeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeValle del QuimiBetancourt et al. 2018
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeYantzazaReptiles of Ecuador book database
PerúAmazonasAguaruna VillageMVZ 163303; VertNet
PerúAmazonasAintamMVZ 163299; VertNet
PerúAmazonasCerro de KampankisCatenazzi & Venegas 2016
PerúAmazonasLa PozaUSNM 566596; VertNet
PerúAmazonasYambrasbambaiNaturalist; photo examined
PerúLoretoAguas NegrasUSNM 521057; VertNet
PerúLoretoBaltaLSUMZ 26807
PerúLoretoPaiche PlayaGBIF
PerúLoretoRío Lagarto CochaGBIF
PerúLoretoRío TigreCampbell & Lamar 2004
PerúLoretoUcayaliFMNH 45607; VertNet