Published February 28, 2022. Open access.

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Hooded Centipede-Snake (Tantilla capistrata)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Tantilla | Tantilla capistrata

English common name: Hooded Centipede-Snake.

Spanish common names: Culebra ciempiés encapuchada, culebra ciempiés del río Marañón, culebrita de collar encabestrada.

Recognition: ♂♂ 27.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 42.8 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail..1,2 The Hooded Centipede-Snake (Tantilla capistrata) 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, and an essentially uniform reddish dorsum with a black head cap, whitish nuchal collar, and a whitish patch on the snout.1,3 In Ecuador, the only other member of the genus that co-occurs with T. capistrata is T. miyatai, a snake having a brownish dorsum with longitudinal black lines.4

Figure showing an adult individual of Tantilla capistrata

Figure 1: Adult male of Tantilla capistrata from Capeira, Guayas province, Ecuador.

Natural history: RareTotal average number of reported observations per locality less than ten.. Tantilla capistrata is a semi-fossorial (living underground and at ground level) snake that inhabits seasonally dry forests and dry shrublands, but also occurs in cattle pastures, crops,5 gardens,6 and rural houses.2,7 Hooded Centipede-Snakes have been seen moving on leaf-litter or soil during the daytime or at night.2,8 Inactive individuals have been found hidden under logs, timber,2 and other surface objects.8 Snakes of this species feed on centipedes8 and millipedes.9 They rely on their secretive habits 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.2 Centipede snakes in general 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. Tantilla capistrata is an oviparous species, but the clutch size and nesting sites are not known.

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..9 Tantilla capistrata is listed in this category because the species persists in human-modified environments, is distributed over an area greater than 10,000 km2, and is currently facing no major immediate extinction threats.9 However, in Ecuador, the species qualifies for a threatened conservation category.10 Based on maps of Ecuador’s vegetation cover published in 2012,11 an estimated ~51% of the native dry forest habitat of T. capistrata has already been destroyed in this country, mostly due to cattle ranching. Fortunately, Peruvian populations appear to be in better shape, and an important part of the species’ range is in the Cerros Amotape National Park and Tumbes Reserved Zone. 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 information12 that suggests that this snake species suffers from traffic mortality.

Distribution: Tantilla capistrata is native to the Tumbesian lowlands of western Ecuador and northwestern Peru. The species has been recorded at elevations between 8 m and 1784 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Tantilla capistrata in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Tantilla capistrata 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”),13 is probably a reference to the small body size of snakes of this genus. The specific epithet capistrata, which comes from the Latin words cappa (meaning “hood”) and stratus (meaning “stretched out”),13 refers the broad black head cap.

See it in the wild: Hooded Centipede-Snakes are rarely encountered. Individuals are found no more than once every few months at any given locality and usually only by chance. In Ecuador, the localities having the greatest number of observations are Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco and Jorupe Reserve. It appears the best way to find individuals is to slowly walk along trails through areas of well-preserved dry forest at dusk. Another option is to flip surface objects in clearing besides these areas during the daytime.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Eduardo Zavala for finding the specimens of Tantilla capistrata photographed in this account.

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

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

How to cite? Arteaga A (2022) Hooded Centipede-Snake (Tantilla capistrata). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/XQGF9178

Literature cited:

  1. Wilson LD, Mena CE (1980) Systematics of the melanocephala group of the colubrid snake genus Tantilla. Memoirs of the San Diego Society of Natural History 11: 5–58.
  2. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  3. Koch C (2013) The Herpetofauna of the Peruvian dry forest along the Andean valley of the Marañón River and its tributaries, with a focus on endemic iguanians, geckos and tegus. PhD thesis, Bonn, Rheinischen Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, 264 pp.
  4. 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.
  5. Aguilar C, Lundberg M, Siu-Ting K, Jiménez ME (2007) New records for the herpetofauna of Lima, description of Telmatobius rimac Schmidt, 1954 tadpole (Anura: Ceratophrydae) and a key to the amphibians. Revista Peruana de Biología 14: 209–216.
  6. Photo by Rogger Valencia.
  7. Photo by Jhon Romero.
  8. Acosta Vásconez AN (2014) Diversidad y composición de la comunidad de reptiles del Bosque Protector Puyango. BSc thesis, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, 157 pp.
  9. Cisneros-Heredia D, Yánez-Muñoz M (2016) Tantilla capistrata. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T203313A2763834.en
  10. Reyes-Puig C (2015) Un método integrativo para evaluar el estado de conservación de las especies y su aplicación a los reptiles del Ecuador. MSc thesis, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, 73 pp.
  11. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  12. Hurtado Ordinola LJ (2021) Especies de fauna silvestre muertas por atropellamiento en la carretera Sullana–Lancones, Piura, Perú. BSc thesis, Piura, Universidad Nacional de Piura, 112 pp.
  13. 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 Tantilla capistrata in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

EcuadorEl OroBosque Petrificado de PuyangoAcosta 2014
EcuadorEl OroReserva Ecológica Arenillas IGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroReserva Ecológica Arenillas IIGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEsmeraldasQuinguePhoto by George Fletcher
EcuadorGuayasBosque Protector Cerro BlancoPhoto by Jean Thomas Bujard
EcuadorGuayasCapeiraThis work
EcuadorGuayasChongónThis work
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquil, Mirador BellavistaiNaturalist
EcuadorLojaLarama, 3.5 km NE ofThis work
EcuadorLojaReserva JorupeThis work
EcuadorLojaReserva La CeibaPhoto by Darwin Martínez
EcuadorManabíJipijapaPhoto by Edison Araguillin
EcuadorManabíPacocheThis work
EcuadorSanta ElenaMontañitaiNaturalist
PeruCajamarcaChamaya, 3 km NE ofWilson & Mena 1980
PeruCajamarcaJaén, 5 km S ofWilson & Mena 1980
PeruCajamarcaPericoWilson & Mena 1980
PeruPiuraCarretera Sullana–LanconesHurtado Ordinola 2021
PeruPiuraComunidad Campesina San Juan de GuayaquilesMore Cahuapaza 2017
PeruPiuraPalo BlancoVásquez Calle 2018
PeruPiuraSullanaWilson & Mena 1980