Published June 12, 2021. Open access.

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Ribonned Brittle-Snake (Urotheca lateristriga)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Urotheca | Urotheca lateristriga

English common names: Ribboned Brittle-Snake, Ribboned Glasstail.

Spanish common names: Culebra quebradiza listada, culebra de labios manchados.

Recognition: ♂♂ 51.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=33.4 cm. ♀♀ 62.2 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=42.1 cm..1,2 The Ribboned Brittle-Snake (Urotheca lateristriga) is a small-sized snake with a cylindrical body, smooth scales arranged in 17 rows at mid-body, and a long (~32–33% of the total length), thick, fragile, and often incomplete, tail.1,3 The head is uniformly brown, with a black-edged cream/white line in the upper labial scales.1,4 The body is brown, with one or two dark-edged white lines on each side extending from the neck to the tail.1 In Ecuador, U. lateristriga is most easily confused with Coniophanes fissidens, Rhadinaea decorata, and Saphenophis boursieri. However, C. fissidens has 19–21 rows of dorsal scales at mid-body and the ventral surfaces in this species, as well as in S. boursieri, are cream with fine black speckling. In U. lateristriga the belly is bright orange-red without speckles.3,5 Rhadinaea decorata presents a white behind the eyes, which is absent in U. lateristriga.5

Figure showing an adult individual of Urotheca lateristriga

Figure 1: Adult of the Ribonned Brittle-Snake (Urotheca lateristriga) from Bosque Integral Otonga, Cotopaxi province, Ecuador.

Natural history: UncommonUnlikely to be seen more than once every few months.. Urotheca lateristriga inhabits the leaf-litter of evergreen forests in lowland and foothill areas.1,3 Ribboned Brittle-Snakes are terrestrial and are active during the daytime under forest cover or in open areas such as rural gardens, plantations, forest border, and roads.6 Their diet and habits are largely unknown, but there is a record of an individual feeding on a small snake (Tantilla fraseri).6 Ribboned Brittle-Snakes are calm, jittery, and rely mostly on their camouflage and swift movements to avoid predators.3 They have a long, fragile tail that breaks off easily when grabbed by a predator, enabling the escape and survival of the snake.1,7 There is a record of a viper (Bothrocophias campbelli) preying upon an individual of this species.8 Urotheca lateristriga has well developed Duvernoy’s venom glands, which have been shown to produce toxic, protein-rich serous secretions that can translate as painful, but not life-threatening, bites to humans.1,3,9

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..1012 Urotheca lateristriga 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.10 The most important threat for the long-term survival of some populations is the loss of habitat due to large-scale deforestation. In western of Ecuador, an estimated ~58% of the suitable habitat of the species has already been destroyed.13 Furthermore, 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.14

Distribution: Urotheca lateristriga is distributed in northwestern South America, in Colombia and western Ecuador. It inhabits the Chocó and Río Magdalena valley regions at elevations between 0 and 2094 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Urotheca lateristriga in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Urotheca, which comes from the Greek words oura (meaning “tail”) and theke (meaning “box”),15,16 refers to the thick tail. The specific epithet lateristriga, which comes from the Latin words latus (meaning “flank”) and striga (meaning “stripe”),15, refers to the stripes on the sides of the snake.17

See it in the wild: Ribboned Brittle-Snakes cannot be expected to be encountered reliably in Ecuador, as individuals are spotted no more than once every few weeks. Although individuals may be found throughout the Chocoan lowlands of Ecuador, the area having the greatest number of observations is Mindo, a valley and town in Pichincha province. The snakes are most easily located by walking along forest trails during the daytime.

Special thanks to Roy and Laurie Averill-Murray for symbolically adopting the Ribboned Brittle-Snake and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

Click here to adopt a species.

Authors: Felipe A. Toro-CardonaaAffiliation: Red de Biología Evolutiva, Instituto de Ecología A. C. Xalapa, Veracruz, México. and Alejandro ArteagabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

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

How to cite? Toro-Cardona FA, Arteaga A (2021) Ribonned Brittle-Snake (Urotheca lateristriga). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/VMCL9352

Literature cited:

  1. Myers CW (1974) The systematics of Rhadinaea (Colubridae), a genus of New World snakes. Bulletin of American Museum of Natural History 153: 1–262.
  2. Averill-Murray RC, Averill-Murray A (2017) Urotheca lateristriga (Ribboned Brittle-Snake). Maximum size. Herpetological Review 48: 687.
  3. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  4. Boulenger GA (1894) Catalogue of the snakes in the British Museum (Natural History). British Museum of Natural History, London, 382 pp.
  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. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  7. 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.
  8. Rojas-Rivera A, Castillo K, Gutiérrez-Cárdenas PDA (2013) Bothrocophias campbelli (Campbell's Toad-headed Pit-viper, Víbora Boca de Sapo de Campbell). Diet/Ophiophagy. Herpetological Review 44: 518.
  9. Hill RE, Mackessy SP (2000) Characterization of venom (Duvernoy’s secretion) from twelve species of colubrid snakes and partial sequence proteins. Toxicon 38: 1663–1687. DOI: 10.1016/s0041-0101(00)00091-x
  10. Caicedo J, Gutiérrez-Cárdenas P, Rivas G, Cisneros-Heredia DF (2015) Urotheca lateristriga. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T203617A2769151.en
  11. Morales-Betancourt MA, Lasso CA, Páez VP, Bock BC (2005) Libro rojo de reptiles de Colombia. Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt, Bogotá, 257 pp.
  12. 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.
  13. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  14. Lynch JD (2012) El contexto de las serpientes de Colombia con un análisis de las amenazas contra su conservación. Revista de la Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales 36: 435–449.
  15. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  16. Quattrocchi U (1999) CRC world dictionary of plant names: common names, scientific names, eponyms, synonyms, and etymology. CRC Press, Boca Raton, 640 pp.
  17. Berthold AA (1859) Einige neue Reptilien des Akademie Zoologisches Museums zu Göttingen. Königliche Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen 3: 3–32.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Urotheca lateristriga in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaNariñoReserva Natural Río ÑambíPhoto by July López
EcuadorCarchiTobar DonosoSamec & Samec 1988
EcuadorCotopaxiCutzualoArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCotopaxiFinca de Don TomásArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorCotopaxiFinca YakusinchiPhoto by Jane Sloan
EcuadorCotopaxiSan Francisco de Las PampasArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEl OroReserva BuenaventuraPhoto by Juan Carlos Sánchez
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasCachabiMyers 1974
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReserveThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasCentro de Fauna Silvestre James BrownPhoto by Salvador Palacios
EcuadorEsmeraldasLas MareasiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasPichiyacuArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorEsmeraldasPlaya TongorachiiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Tesoro EscondidoPhoto by Diego Quirola
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan JavierUIMN 55724
EcuadorEsmeraldasTundaloma LodgeMZUTI 3333
EcuadorImbaburaIntagMyers 1974
EcuadorImbaburaLos YumbosiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaManduriacu ReservePhoto by Paul Maier
EcuadorImbaburaReserva Cotacachi-CayapasiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaReserva Los CedrosArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueMCZ 156957
EcuadorLos RíosPuerto de IláUSNM 204205
EcuadorPichinchaBellavista Cloud Forest ReserveiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaKapari LodgeThis work
EcuadorPichinchaLa Quinta PintaiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaLas TolasYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi LodgeiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaPachijalArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto QuitoPhoto by David Guizado
EcuadorPichinchaQuevedoUIMNH 92248
EcuadorPichinchaRancho SuamoxPhoto by Rafael Ferro
EcuadorPichinchaReserva Las GralariasArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaRío BlancoUSNM 204210
EcuadorPichinchaRío MulauleUSNM 204208
EcuadorPichinchaSan Miguel de los BancosArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorPichinchaSan Vicente de AquepiUIMNH 92247
EcuadorPichinchaSéptimo ParaísoThis work
EcuadorPichinchaTandapiMCZ 164533
EcuadorPichinchaUSFQ Mindo stationThis work
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasBosque Protector Río GuajalitoReyes 2008
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasDos Ríos, 15 km NE ofKU 164222
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasDos Ríos, 4 km NE ofArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasEl EsfuerzoUIMNH 92246
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca la EsperanzaUSNM 204209
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLa FloridaThis work
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLas BrasasiNaturalist
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasMemeUSNM 204204
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasPizzería El HorneroiNaturalist
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío MulauteUSNM 204208
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los ColoradosUSNM 204207