Published September 6, 2020. Open access.

Gallery ❯

Yellow-headed Flame-Snake (Oxyrhopus occipitalis)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Oxyrhopus | 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 the Yellow-headed Flame-Snake (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. 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 Adult Yellow-headed Flame-Snakes are similar to Drepanoides anomalus and Pseudoboa coronata, and the juveniles resembles 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: Yellow-headed Flame-Snakes (Oxyrhopus occipitalis) from Yuralpa () and Cotundo (), Napo province, Ecuador. ad=adult, j=juvenile.

Natural history: UncommonUnlikely to be seen more than once every few months.. 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 Individuals of O. occipitalis 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 Yellow-headed Flame-Snakes are calm. Although they can defend themselves by biting, their main strategy is to flee into the vegetation, shaking the body and/or vibrating the tail.14 Gravid females contain 13–17 eggs.1

Reader support helps us keep the Reptiles of Ecuador book 100% free.

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 species14,17 that is present in several protected areas throughout its range. 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, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.4,6 In Ecuador, the species occurs at elevations between 169 and 1595 m.

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, which comes from the Greek words oxys (meaning “quick”) and rhops (meaning “bush”),18 refers to the escape behavior of snakes19 of these genus; that is, fleeing into bushes. 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 with ~1–3% certainty in forested areas throughout the Amazon basin in Ecuador. Some of the best localities to find them in the wild in Ecuador are: Yasuní Scientific Station, Tiputini Biodiversity Station, and Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve. The snakes may be located by scanning the forest floor and leaf-litter 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: Laboratorio de Herpetología, Universidad del Azuay, Cuenca, Ecuador. and Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographers: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Sebastián Di DoménicodAffiliation: Keeping Nature, Bogotá, Colombia.

How to cite? Quezada A, Arteaga A (2020) Yellow-headed Flame-Snake (Oxyrhopus occipitalis). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (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.
  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 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
EcuadorMorona SantiagoGualaquizaMNHN 1906.253
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacasAMNH 28855
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMiazalJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorMorona SantiagoPuerto MoronaJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorMorona SantiagoRío UpanoAMNH 28810
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSan Juan BoscoiNaturalist
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSapapentzaJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTaishaJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTiwintzaJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorMorona SantiagoWatsakentsaJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapo20 km E JondachiNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoAnaconda LodgeThis work
EcuadorNapoArchidonaDiego Piñan, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapoEl ChacoDiego Piñán, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapoEl ReventadorMHNG 0.6144
EcuadorNapoEstación Jatún SachaVigle 2008
EcuadorNapoGuagua SumacoAndy Proaño, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapoHollín–LoretoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoJondachiGrace Reyes, pers. comm.
EcuadorNapoKiederle FarmUSNM 232981
EcuadorNapoNapo–LoretoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoPacto SumacoThis work
EcuadorNapoPuerto NapoUIMNH 61115
EcuadorNapoReserva YachanaWhitworth & Beirne 2011
EcuadorNapoSector SarayacuNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoWild SumacoThis work
EcuadorNapoYuralpaThis work
EcuadorNapoYuralpa DerechoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoZoo el ArcaThis work
EcuadorOrellanaÁvila ViejoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaComuna 24 de MayoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaPompeya Sur–Iro, km 40Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaPozo SunkaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaRío BigalThierry García, pers. comm.
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity StationThis work
EcuadorOrellanaYasuni Scientific StationThis work
EcuadorPastaza4 km N of MeraiNaturalist
EcuadorPastazaBalsauraOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaBelow Nuevos HorizontesiNaturalist
EcuadorPastazaCabeceras del BobonazaUSNM 232980
EcuadorPastazaCampamento K10Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaCampamento K4Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaCanelosThis work
EcuadorPastazaCentro FátimaAndy Proaño, pers. comm.
EcuadorPastazaComunidad TzarentzaThis work
EcuadorPastazaConamboOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaCopataza (Achuar)Peñafiel 2013
EcuadorPastazaHeimatlosThis work
EcuadorPastazaIwia (Achuar)Peñafiel 2013
EcuadorPastazaJuyuintzaOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaKawaPeñafiel 2013
EcuadorPastazaLlanganatesDarwin Núñez, pers. comm.
EcuadorPastazaMeraKU 133534
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoUSNM 232975
EcuadorPastazaPaseo de los MonosJose Manuel Falcón, pers. comm.
EcuadorPastazaPuyoMHNG 1337.033
EcuadorPastazaRío Raka YakuFreddy Velásquez, pers. comm.
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaShellUSNM 232978
EcuadorPastazaShiripuno LodgeiNaturalist
EcuadorPastazaTamandúaThis work
EcuadorPastazaTambo UniónUSNM 232976
EcuadorSucumbíosDuvunoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosSenderos CuyabenoDavid Buitrón, pers. comm.
EcuadorSucumbíoskm 10 Lago Agrio–ShushufindiNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosLago AgrioDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncochaUIMNH 54648
EcuadorSucumbíosPuerto LibreDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosRedondocochaYánez-Muñóz & Venegas 2008
EcuadorSucumbíosRío AguaricoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosRío BermejoDHMECN 8322
EcuadorSucumbíosSan Pablo de KantesiyaMHNG 2260.003
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta CeciliaDuellman 1978
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeAlto MachinazaJorge Vaca, pers. comm.
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeBombuscaroDarwin Núñez, pers. comm.
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeCampanasNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeEl PadmiArmijos 2010
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeNangaritzaDarwin Núñez, pers. comm.
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeTundaymeThis work
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeValle del QuimiBetancourt et al. 2018
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeYantzazaiNaturalist
PeruAmazonasAguaruna VillageMVZ 163303
PeruAmazonasAintamMVZ 163299
PeruAmazonasCerro de KampankisCatenazzi & Venegas 2016
PeruAmazonasLa PozaUSNM 566596
PeruLoretoAguas NegrasUSNM 521057
PeruLoretoBaltaLSUMZ 26807
PeruLoretoPaiche PlayaGBIF
PeruLoretoRío Lagarto CochaGBIF
PeruLoretoRío TigreCampbell & Lamar 2004
PeruLoretoUcayaliFMNH 45607