Published December 7, 2021. Open access.

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Red-necked Centipede-Snake (Tantilla alticola)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Tantilla | Tantilla alticola

English common names: Red-necked Centipede-Snake, Short-tailed Crowned Snake, Boulenger’s Centipede Snake.

Spanish common names: Culebra ciempiés collareja (Ecuador), cabeza plana café (Costa Rica).

Recognition: ♂♂ 27.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=21.1 cm. ♀♀ 22.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=19.9 cm..13 The Red-necked Centipede-Snake (Tantilla alticola) may be recognized from other snakes in its area of distribution by having the following combination of features: smooth scales arranged in 15 rows at mid-body, a round head similar in width to the neck, small eyes, no loreal scale, an essentially uniform brown dorsum, immaculate red or yellow ventral surfaces,3 and a cream to reddish neck band.47 In Ecuador, T. alticola co-occurs with Tantilla equatoriana, a snake having longitudinal black dorsal lines.6

Figure showing an adult individual of Tantilla alticola

Figure 1: Adult individual of Tantilla alticola from Morromico Reserve, Chocó department, Colombia.

Natural history: Extremely rareTotal average number of reported observations per locality less than three.. Tantilla alticola is a semi-fossorial (living underground and at ground level) snake that inhabits evergreen lowland and foothill forests,8 gallery forests,5 and pastures9 adjacent to these forests. Red-necked Centipede-Snakes have been seen moving on leaf-litter10 or soil3 during the daytime, usually late in the afternoon.10 Inactive individuals have been found hidden under logs, rocks, debris, or other surface objects.3,5,9,10 In some areas, snakes of this species may switch to a nocturnal activity pattern during periods of hot, dry weather.10 Although there is no information about the diet of this Tantilla, other members of the genus are active hunters of centipedes.5,11 Individuals rely on their cryptic coloration as a primary defense mechanism. When threatened, these calm but jittery snakes try to flee by digging into the soil; if captured, they may try to poke with their sharp tail tip.3 Red-necked Centipede-Snakes are opistoglyphous (having enlarged teeth towards the rear of the maxilla) and mildly venomous, which means they are dangerous to small prey, but not to humans.12 Tantilla alticola is oviparous, but the clutch size and nesting sites are not known.12

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..13 Tantilla alticola is listed in this category because the species is widely distributed, especially in areas that have not been heavily affected by deforestation, like the Colombian Pacific coast, and it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for a more threatened category.13 The most important threat for the long-term survival of some populations is the loss of habitat due to large-scale deforestation. The fear of snakes is also a source of mortality to individuals of this species. People in rural regions tend to kill any snake, even those not dangerous to them. There is published information2 that suggests that this snake species suffers from traffic mortality.

Distribution: Tantilla alticola is distributed throughout the Mesoamerican lowlands of Central America, the Chocó region of northwestern South America, and the valleys of the rivers Magadalena and Cauca in Colombia.2,14 It occurs from southern Nicaragua to western Ecuador, where the species has been reported at elevations between 223 and 634 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Tantilla alticola in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Tantilla alticola in Ecuador. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Tantilla, which is derived from the Latin word tantillus (meaning “so little”),15 is probably a reference to the small body size of snakes of this genus. The specific epithet alticola, which comes from the Latin words altus (meaning “high”) and colere (meaning “to dwell”),7 refers to the high elevations where the species occurs in Colombia and Central America.

See it in the wild: Red-necked Centipede-Snakes are rarely encountered. Individuals are found no more than once every few months and usually only by chance. In Ecuador, the area having the greatest number of observations is Bilsa Biological Reserve, Esmeraldas province. It appears the best way to find individuals is to flip surface objects in clearing besides remnants of rainforest during the daytime.

Author: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

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

How to cite? Arteaga A (2021) Red-necked Centipede-Snake (Tantilla alticola). 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/QHLS8146

Literature cited:

  1. Vera-Pérez LE, Zúñiga-Baos JA, Montingelli GG (2015) First record of Tantilla alticola (Boulenger, 1903) (Serpentes: Colubridae) in Cauca state, Colombia, filling distribution gap and notes on natural history. Check List 11: 1578. DOI: 10.15560/11.2.1578
  2. Parra-Hernández RM, Zambrano DF, Hernando Bernal M (2019) New record of Tantilla alticola (Boulenger, 1903) (Serpentes, Colubridae) for the Central Cordillera in the department of Tolima, Colombia. Check List 15: 485–488. DOI: 10.15560/15.3.485
  3. Rojas-Morales JA, Marín-Martínez M, Zuluaga-Isaza JC (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.
  4. Wilson LD (1982) A review of the colubrid snakes of the genus Tantilla of Central America. Milwaukee Public Museum Contributions in Biology and Geology 52: 1–77.
  5. Savage JM (2002) The amphibians and reptiles of Costa Rica, a herpetofauna between two continents, between two seas. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 934 pp.
  6. Wilson LD (1987) A résumé of the Colubrid snakes of the genus Tantilla of South America. Milwaukee Public Museum Contributions in Biology and Geology 68: 1–35.
  7. Wilson LD (1986) Tantilla alticola. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles 400: 1.
  8. Cisneros-Heredia DF (2005) Reptilia, Serpentes, Colubridae, Tantilla supracincta: filling gap, first provincial record, geographic distribution map, and natural history. Check List: 23–26. DOI: 10.15560/1.1.23
  9. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  10. Leenders T (2019) Reptiles of Costa Rica: a field guide. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 625 pp.
  11. Peters WCH (1863) Über einige neue oder weniger bekannte Schlangenarten des zoologischen Museums zu Berlin. Monatsberichte der Königlichen Preussische Akademie des Wissenschaften zu Berlin 1863: 272–289.
  12. Solórzano A (2004) Serpientes de Costa Rica. Distribución, taxonomía e historia natural. Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, 792 pp.
  13. Vanegas-Guerrero J, Batista A, Medina I, Vargas-Salinas F (2015) Tantilla alticola (Boulenger, 1903) (Squamata: Colubridae): filling a geographical distribution gap in western Colombia. Check List 11: 1555. DOI: 10.15560/11.1.1555
  14. Wilson LD, Mata-Silva V (2015) A checklist and key to the snakes of the Tantilla clade (Squamata: Colubridae), with comments on distribution and conservation. Mesoamerican Herpetology 2: 418–498.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Tantilla alticola in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

ColombiaNariñoReserva Natural Biotopo Selva HúmedaVera-Pérez et al. 2015
ColombiaNariñoVereda El PailónICN
EcuadorCarchiTobar DonosoiNaturalist
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque Privado El Jardín de los SueñosPellet 2017
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Tesoro EscondidoPhoto by Simon Maddock