Published December 23, 2020. Open access.

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Resplendent Ground Snake (Atractus resplendens)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Atractus | Atractus resplendens

English common name: Resplendent Ground Snake.

Spanish common name: Tierrera resplandeciente.

Recognition: ♂♂ 37.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=33.7 cm. ♀♀ 39.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=37.2 cm..1 In its area of distribution, the Resplendent Ground Snake (Atractus resplendens) can be recognized by having a round head similar in width to the neck, small eyes, uniformly dark brown dorsum with fine yellow speckling, cream belly with various degrees of dark pigmentation, and an irregular light nape band.1 In the eastern slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes, the two species that most resemble A. resplendens in external appearance are A. occipitoalbus and A. orcesi, but these snakes have different ventral patterns (entirely black in the former and yellow with a well-defined black longitudinal stripe in the latter) and inhabit lower elevations.2 They also have the dorsal scales arranged in 15 rows at mid-body instead of 17 as in A. resplendens. The Amazon Coffee-Snake (Ninia hudsoni) also has uniformly-colored dorsum and a light collar on the neck, but it has keeled, instead of smooth, dorsal scales.3

Figure showing variation among adult individuals of Atractus resplendens

Figure 1: Adults of the Resplendent Ground Snake (Atractus resplendens) from San Antonio Mountains, Tungurahua province, Ecuador.

Natural history: RareTotal average number of reported observations per locality less than ten.. Atractus resplendens is a semi-fossorial (living underground and at ground level) snake that inhabits in old-growth to moderately-disturbed cloudforests, but may as well occur in agricultural areas.4 Resplendent Ground Snakes have been found inactive under rocks, logs, or in crevices, but their period of activity is not clear.4 Based on what is know about other ground snakes, the diet of A. resplendens probably includes earthworms and slugs.5,6 The defensive behavior in this species consists in trying to flee in the presence of a potential predator.4

Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..7 Atractus resplendens is proposed to be included in this category, instead of Data Deficient,8 because there is now an adequate number of recent observations to make an assessment of the species’ extinction risk. Six of the eleven records available for A. resplendens (listed under Appendix 1) were made between 2013 and 2020 and two of them were in private reserves (Cerro Candelaria Reserve and Chamana Reserve). The majority (~73%)9 of the species’ potential distribution holds continuous areas of pristine forest and ~59% of it is inside two of Ecuador’s major protected areas: Llanganates National Park and Sangay National Park.

Distribution: Atractus resplendens is endemic to an estimated 3,667 km2 area in the Amazonian slopes of the Andes of central Ecuador. The species occurs at elevations between 1750 and 2734 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Atractus resplendens in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The name Atractus, which is a latinization of the Greek word άτρακτος (meaning “spindle”),1012 probably refers to the fact that snakes of this genus have a uniform width throughout the body and a narrow tail, resembling an antique spindle used to spin fibers. The specific epithet resplendens, which is a Latin word meaning “glittering” or “resplendent,” refers to the shimmering lively blue-green iridescence on the dorsal scales of this species.13

See it in the wild: Resplendent Ground Snakes are rarely seen throughout most of their distribution. The area having the greatest number of records is the northeastern slope of Tungurahua volcano, near the town Baños. The snakes may be detected by scanning the forest floor and leaf-litter along trails at night.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to María José Quiroz for finding the specimens of Atractus resplendens photographed in this account. 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).

Authors: Duvan ZambranoaAffiliation: Universidad del Tolima, Ibagué, Colombia. and Alejandro ArteagabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

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

How to cite? Zambrano D, Arteaga A (2020) Resplendent Ground Snake (Atractus resplendens). 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/GLSR7598

Literature cited:

  1. Savage JM (1960) A revision of the Ecuadorian snakes of the Colubrid genus Atractus. Miscellaneous Publications, Museum of Zoology, Univesity of Michigan 112: 1–184.
  2. Passos P, Chiesse A, Torres-Carvajal O, Savage JM (2009) Testing species boundaries within the Atractus occipitoalbus complex (Serpentes: Dipsadidae). Herpetologica 65: 384–403. DOI: 10.1655/08-024.1
  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.
  5. Cisneros-Heredia DF (2005) Report of molluscivory in Atractus carrioni Parker, 1930. Herpetozoa 18: 185–186.
  6. Balestrin RL, Di-Bernardo M, Moreno AG (2007) Feeding ecology of the neotropical worm snake Atractus reticulatus in southern Brazil. The Herpetological Journal 17: 62–64.
  7. 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.
  8. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Passos P (2017) Atractus resplendens. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T50951149A50951158.en
  9. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  10. Woodward SP, Tate R (1830) A manual of the Mollusca: being a treatise on recent and fossil shells. C. Lockwood and Company, London, 750 pp.
  11. Beekes R (2010) Etymological dictionary of Greek. Brill, Boston, 1808 pp.
  12. Duponchel P, Chevrolat L (1849) Atractus. In: d’Orbigny CD (Ed) Dictionnaire universel d'histoire naturelle. MM. Renard, Martinet et Cie., Paris, 312.
  13. Werner F (1901) Ueber Reptilien und Batrachier aus Ecuador und Neu-Guinea. Verhandlungen der Kaiserlich-Königlichen Zoologisch-Botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien 51: 593–614. DOI: 10.5962/bhl.part.4586

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

EcuadorChimborazoChimborazo, eastern portionSavage1960
EcuadorMorona SantiagoNormandíaSavage1960
EcuadorMorona SantiagoRiobamba–NormandíaSavage1960
EcuadorTungurahuaBaños de Agua SantaiNaturalist
EcuadorTungurahuaBaños–PuntzanThis work
EcuadorTungurahuaBosque Protectro Cerro CandelariaMECN 2013
EcuadorTungurahuaChamana ReserveiNaturalist
EcuadorTungurahuaMontañas de San AntonioThis work
EcuadorTungurahuaPuntzanArteaga et al. 2017
EcuadorTungurahuaUlba, Barrio La CiénagaMECN 5104
EcuadorTungurahuaYunguillaSavage 1960