Published July 4, 2021. Open access.

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Banded Centipede-Snake (Tantilla supracincta)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Tantilla | Tantilla supracincta

English common names: Banded Centipede-Snake, Coral Crowned Snake.

Spanish common names: Culebra ciempiés bandeada (Ecuador), culebra ciempiés anillada (Colombia), cabeza plana anillada (Costa Rica).

Recognition: ♀♀ 59 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=59.9 cm..1 The Banded Centipede-Snake (Tantilla supracincta) 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 a coral snake coloration consisting of 11–16 black-bordered pale crossbars (some of which are interrupted medially) on a bright red background.2,3 There is a black head cap fused with the first black crossbar, a pale nuchal collar, and cream blotches; one on the snout and another below and posterior to the orbit.2,4 The venter is bright red but without markings, except the lateral flanks, which are invaded by the dorsal coloration.2,5 The Banded Centipede-Snake can be distinguished from the true coral snakes (genus Micrurus) that inhabit Ecuador by lacking rings that encircle the entire body. This characteristic also separates this species form false coral snakes such as Lampropeltis micropholis and Erythrolamprus mimus.

Figure showing variation among individuals of Tantilla supracincta

Figure 1: Individuals of Tantilla supracincta from Canandé Reserve, Esmeraldas province, Ecuador. ad=adult, j=juvenile.

Natural history: Extremely rareTotal average number of reported observations per locality less than three..6 Tantilla supracincta is a semi-fossorial (living underground and at ground level) snake that inhabits low elevation seasonally dry forests and evergreen forests.7 The species also occurs in gallery forests6 and pastures.8 Banded Centipede-Snakes have been seen actively moving on leaf-litter or soil during the daytime, sunset, or at night,6,9,10 or hidden under logs and debris.5 These snakes are active hunters specialized on centipedes; no other prey items have been recorded.5,11 Individuals are calm, jittery, and rely on their warning coral snake coloration as a primary defense mechanism. When threatened, they try to flee by digging into the soil.6 There are records of snakes (Clelia clelia,5 Bothrops asper,12 Erythrolamprus bizona,5 and Micrurus transandinus)13 preying upon individuals of this species. These 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. In Costa Rica, the clutch size of this species is 1–3 eggs.14,15

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..16,17 Tantilla supracincta 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.16 The most important threat for the long-term survival of some populations is the loss of habitat due to large-scale deforestation. Based on maps of Ecuador’s vegetation cover published in 2012,18 an estimated ~58% of the native forest habitat of T. supracincta has already been destroyed in this country. 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 information19 that suggests that this snake species suffer from traffic mortality.

Distribution: Tantilla supracincta is native to the Mesoamerican and Chocoan lowlands, from southern Nicaragua to western of Ecuador, where the species has been reported at elevations between 5 and 463 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Tantilla supracincta in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Tantilla supracincta 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”),20 is probably a reference to the small body size of snakes of this genus. The specific epithet supracincta, which comes from the Latin words supra (meaning “above”) and cinctum (meaning “belt”),20 refers to the dorsal crossbars.11

See it in the wild: Banded 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 the forested coastal foothills nearby Jama, Manabí province. It appears the best way to find individuals is to slowly cruise through dirt roads along areas of well-preserved forest at dusk, during the rainy season. Another option is to flip surface objects in clearing besides these areas during the daytime.

Acknowledgments: This account was published with the support of Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior Ciencia y Tecnología (programa INEDITA; project: Respuestas a la crisis de biodiversidad: la descripción de especies como herramienta de conservación; No 00110378), Programa de las Naciones Unidas (PNUD), and Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ).

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

Photographer: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2021) Banded Centipede-Snake (Tantilla supracincta). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/GYPH7930

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. 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.
  3. Solórzano A (2004) Serpientes de Costa Rica. Distribución, taxonomía e historia natural. Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, 792 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. 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. Gómez-Rincón MT, Vásquez-Restrepo JD (2020) Tantilla supracincta (Banded Centipede Snake). Habitat. Herpetological Review 51: 157.
  7. 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
  8. Regdy Vera, pers. comm.
  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. Gabrysova B, Aznar González de Rueda J, Barrio-Amorós CL (2020) Bothrops asper (Terciopelo). Diet/ophiophagy. Herpetological Review 51: 859–860.
  13. Photo by Amado Chávez.
  14. Goldberg SR (2015) Tantilla supracincta (Banded Centipede Snake). Reproduction. Herpetological Review 46: 454–455.
  15. Ryan MJ, Latella IM, Willink B, García-Rodríguez A, Gilman CA (2015) Notes on the breeding habits and new distribution records of seven species of snakes from southwest Costa Rica. Herpetology Notes 8: 669–671.
  16. Acosta Chaves V, Batista A, García Rodríguez A, Vargas Álvarez J, Valencia J, Cisneros-Heredia DF (2017) Tantilla supracincta. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T203328A2764032.en
  17. 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.
  18. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  19. Hurtado-Gómez JP, Grisales-Martínez FA, Rendón-Valencia BE (2015) Starting to fill the gap: first record of Tantilla supracincta (Peters, 1863) (Serpentes: Colubridae) from Colombia. Check List 11: 1–4. DOI: 10.15560/11.4.1713
  20. 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 supracincta in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological StationOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasCabeceras de BilsaAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReserveThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan LorenzoWilson et al. 1977
EcuadorEsmeraldasTerminal Marítimo OCPValencia & Garzón 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasZapallo GrandeMHNG 2452.090
EcuadorGuayasChongón hills, near Guayaquil*Cisneros-Heredia 2005
EcuadorGuayasMapasingueMHNG 2248.094
EcuadorManabíBosque Seco Lalo LoorHamilton et al. 2007
EcuadorManabíCabo PasadoCisneros-Heredia 2005
EcuadorManabíCerro Pata de PájaroHamilton et al. 2007
EcuadorManabíChonePhoto by Redgy Vera
EcuadorManabíJama, 3 km S ofDHMECN 5664
EcuadorManabíLa CrespaiNaturalist
EcuadorManabíReserva Biológica Tito SantosHamilton et al. 2007
EcuadorManabíReserva Jama CoaqueLynch et al. 2016
EcuadorSanta ElenaReserva Ecológica Comunal Loma AltaYanez-Muñoz et al. 2009