Impostor Flame-Snake

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Oxyrhopus | Oxyrhopus vanidicus

English common names: Impostor Flame-Snake, Leticia Calico Snake.

Spanish common names: Falsa coral embustera, falsa coral.

Recognition: ♂♂ 86.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 101.8 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail.. The Impostor Flame-Snake (Oxyrhopus vanidicus) can be identified by having a red, orange, or yellowish band on the neck, and a dorsal body pattern consisting of wide black bands separated from each other by slim white bands and delimited by wider orange bands or patches.13 In some individuals, the light-colored bands may not be visible and the dorsum appears almost completely black.1,2 Oxyrhopus vanidicus mimics the coloration of two coralsnakes: Micrurus hemprichii and M. ortoni (a case of Batesian mimicryA harmless species imitates the warning coloration of a venomous one.).2,4 These coralsnakes have rings encircling the entire body, whereas O. vanidicus has a whitish belly without defined rings.3 The melanic (completely black) individuals of O. vanidicus can be confused with adults of Clelia clelia, yet individuals of O. vanidicus have a more elongate head as well as a noticeably longer loreal scale.

Natural history: UncommonUnlikely to be seen more than once every few months.. Oxyrhopus vanidicus is a snake that inhabits old-growth5,6 to heavily disturbed evergreen forests, forest edges,1 plantations, open areas,4,7 and even buildings. It is mostly nocturnal,6,8 but it can also be found active during the day.3 Although primarily terrestrial,3,8,9 dwelling mostly on leaf-litter or on the forest floor,6 these snakes can also climb on vegetation up to 3.1 meters above ground level.4 Impostor Flame-Snakes are generalist foragers9,10; their diet includes small rodents,1,3 lizards9 (such as Arthrosaura reticulata, Loxopholis parietalis, and Iphisa elegans),3 amphisbaenians,8 and birds.11 Members of this species are preyed upon by owls.4 These snakes are not aggressive; when disturbed, they flee into vegetation or vibrate the tail against the leaf-litter.6,8 Females lay 12 eggs per clutch.3

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances.. Oxyrhopus vanidicus is here proposed to belong in this category following IUCN criteria12 because it is a widely-distributed species present in several protected areas throughout its range. In Ecuador, it is found in Yasuní National Park, Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, Sumaco National Park, and Podocarpus National Park. Ongoing human-related causes of mortality for members of this species are habitat loss, traffic, and direct killing (Impostor Flame-Snakes are often mistaken with venomous snakes and therefore killed on sight).4 However, these causes will likely not lead the species to extinction in the near-term future.

Distribution: Oxyrhopus vanidicus is native to an estimated ~183,385.87 km2 area throughout the Amazon basin and adjacent foothills of the Andes in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Venezuela.10,13 In Ecuador, it occurs at elevations between 191 and 1485 m.

Distribution of Oxyrhopus vanidicus in Ecuador

Etymology: The name Oxyrhopus, which comes from the Greek words oxys (meaning “quick”) and rhops (meaning “bush”),14 refers to the escape behavior of snakes of these genus; that is, fleeing into bushes.15 The specific epithet vanidicus is a Latin word meaning “liar.” It refers to the fact that this species mimics the coloration of coralsnakes.2

See it in the wild: Impostor Flame-Snakes can be seen with ~2–5% certainty in forested areas throughout the Amazon basin in Ecuador. Some of the best localities to find snakes of this species are: Yasuní Scientific Station, Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve, Tamandúa Ecological Reserve, and Yarina Lodge. The snakes may be located by scanning the forest floor and leaf-litter along trails at night.

Author: Amanda QuezadaaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: Laboratorio de Herpetología, Universidad del Azuay, Cuenca, Ecuador.

Editors: Alejandro Arteaga,aAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador. Lucas Bustamante,aAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: International League of Conservation Photographers, Arlington, United States. Jose Vieira,aAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. Juan M GuayasamineAffiliation: Laboratorio de Biología Evolutiva, Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), Quito, Ecuador.,fAffiliation: Galapagos Science Center, Galápagos, Ecuador.,gAffiliation: Centro de Investigación de la Biodiversidad y Cambio Climático, Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, Ecuador.

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

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

Literature cited:

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  3. 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.
  4. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
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  12. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  13. Nogueira CC, Argôlo AJS, Arzamendia V, Azevedo JA, Barbo FE, Bérnils RS, Bolochio BE, Borges-Martins M, Brasil-Godinho M, Braz H, Buononato MA, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Colli GR, Costa HC, Franco FL, Giraudo A, Gonzalez RC, Guedes T, Hoogmoed MS, Marques OAV, Montingelli GG, Passos P, Prudente ALC, Rivas GA, Sanchez PM, Serrano FC, Silva NJ, Strüssmann C, Vieira-Alencar JPS, Zaher H, Sawaya RJ, Martins M (2019) Atlas of Brazilian snakes: verified point-locality maps to mitigate the Wallacean shortfall in a megadiverse snake fauna. South American Journal of Herpetology 14: 1–274. DOI: 10.2994/SAJH-D-19-00120.1
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  15. 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.