Published March 6, 2021. Updated March 4, 2024. Open access.

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Uku Pacha Ground Snake (Atractus ukupacha)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Atractus ukupacha

English common name: Uku Pacha Ground Snake.

Spanish common name: Tierrera Uku Pacha.

Recognition: ♂♂ 46.5 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=39 cm. ♀♀ 51 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=46.4 cm..1 Atractus ukupacha differs from other snakes in its area of distribution by having a round head similar in width to the neck, small eyes, and a banded dorsum. The dorsal pattern consists of broad (4–5 dorsal scales wide) blackish bands separated by narrow (1–2 dorsal scales wide) brick-red to ochre bands (Fig. 1).1 In juveniles, there is a broad white nape band.2 This species differs from A. pachacamac and A. touzeti by being smaller (under 60 cm in total length), less robust, and by having solid black bands instead of brownish bands that are lighter in the middle.3 Additionally, A. touzeti has seven (instead of eight) supralabial scales and occurs at elevations higher than those where A. ukupacha occurs.

Figure showing variation among individuals of Atractus ukupacha

Figure 1: Individuals of Atractus ukupacha from El Chaco, Napo province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Atractus ukupacha is a semi-fossorial snake that occurs in comparatively high densities in old-growth to heavily disturbed evergreen montane forests as well as in crops and pastures adjacent to these forests.4,5 Uku Pacha Ground Snakes have been found hidden under rocks, logs, in soil, or among herbaceous vegetation during the day.5 During warm nights, they have been seen crossing dirt roads and trails or foraging under leaf-litter in the forest floor.4,5 In captivity, individuals of A. ukupacha consume earthworms,5 as is the case in the wild for other ground snakes.69 These harmless and shy snakes avoid predation by virtue of their coralsnake coloration. If disturbed, they may flatten their body dorsoventrally or curl and display their tail underside as a decoy in a way similar to the behavior of true coralsnakes.4,5

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances.. Since it has only been recently described,1 Atractus ukupacha has not been formally evaluated by the IUCN Red List. Here, it is provisionally assigned to the Least Concern category because the species occurs in three major protected areas (Antisana Ecological Reserve, Cayambe Coca National Park, and Sumaco National Park) and it is distributed over an area that retains the majority (~90%) of its original forest cover.10 Although the species as a whole is not facing major immediate extinction threats, populations along the Río Quijos valley are presumed to be declining due to the expansion of the agricultural frontier coupled with traffic mortality.1113

Distribution: Atractus ukupacha is endemic to an area of approximately 3,340 km2 along the Amazonian slopes of the Andes of northern Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Atractus ukupacha in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Atractus ukupacha in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: El Chaco, Napo province, 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 (=spindle),1416 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 ukupacha refers to Uka Pacha, which, in Inca mythology, represents the underworld. The name is used in allusion to the semi-fossorial habits of the species.1

See it in the wild: Uku Pacha Ground Snakes can be seen with almost complete certainty around the towns El Chaco and Borja, especially if the search includes turning over rocks and logs in pastures near forest border. These snakes can also be located by scanning the forest floor and leaf-litter along trails and dirt roads at night.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Diego Piñán for providing information on the natural history of Atractus ukupacha.

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

Photographer: Jose VieiracAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Zambrano D, Arteaga A (2024) Uku Pacha Ground Snake (Atractus ukupacha). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/ACXN6701

Literature cited:

  1. Melo-Sampaio PR, Passos P, Prudente ALC, Venegas PJ, Torres-Carvajal O (2021) Systematic review of the polychromatic ground snakes Atractus snethlageae complex reveals four new species from threatened environments. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 00: 1–30. DOI: 10.1111/jzs.12453
  2. Torres-Carvajal O, Pazmiño-Otamendi G, Salazar-Valenzuela D (2019) Reptiles of Ecuador: a resource-rich online portal, with dynamic checklists and photographic guides. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation 13: 209–229.
  3. Schargel WE, Lamar WW, Passos P, Valencia JH, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Campbell JA (2013) A new giant Atractus (Serpentes: Dipsadidae) from Ecuador, with notes on some other large Amazonian congeners. Zootaxa 3721: 455–474. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3721.5.2
  4. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. Diego Piñán, pers. comm.
  6. Silva Haad J (2004) Las serpientes del género Atractus Wagler, 1828 (Colubridae, Xenodontinae) en la Amazonia colombiana. Revista de la Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales 28: 409–446.
  7. Passos P, Scanferla A, Melo-Sampaio PR, Brito J, Almendariz A (2018) A giant on the ground: another large-bodied Atractus (Serpentes: Dipsadinae) from Ecuadorian Andes, with comments on the dietary specializations of the goo-eaters snakes. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências 91: e20170976. DOI: 10.1590/0001-3765201820170976
  8. Martins M, Oliveira ME (1998) Natural history of snakes in forests of the Manaus region, Central Amazonia, Brazil. Herpetological Natural History 6: 78–150.
  9. Martins M, Marques OAV, Sazima I (2008) How to be arboreal and diurnal and still stay alive: microhabitat use, time of activity, and defense in neotropical forest snakes. South American Journal of Herpetology 3: 58–67. DOI: 10.2994/1808-9798(2008)3[58:HTBAAD]2.0.CO;2
  10. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  11. Grijalva JE, Arévalo V, Wood CH (2004) Expansión y trayectorias de la ganadería en la Amazonía. Instituto Nacional Autónomo de Investigaciones Agropecuarias, Quito, 214 pp.
  12. Guamán Rivera SA, Gonzáles Marcillo RL, Carrasco R, Guamán F (2019) Caracterización de los sistemas ganaderos de aptitud lechera en el Valle del Quijos, provincia del Napo, Ecuador. European Scientific Journal 15: 279–292. DOI: 10.19044/esj.2019.v15n15p279
  13. Medrano Vizcaíno PM (2015) Efecto de las carreteras en la mortalidad de vertebrados en un área megadiversa: los Andes Tropicales del Ecuador. MSc thesis, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, 50 pp.
  14. 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.
  15. Beekes R (2010) Etymological dictionary of Greek. Brill, Boston, 1808 pp.
  16. Duponchel P, Chevrolat L (1849) Atractus. In: d’Orbigny CD (Ed) Dictionnaire universel d’histoire naturelle. MM. Renard, Martinet et Cie., Paris, 312.

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

EcuadorNapoBaeza–CosangaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoCascabeliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoEl Chaco*Melo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoPacto Sumaco, 3 km S ofCamper et al. (in press)
EcuadorNapoPiedra FinaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoQuijosMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoRío CascabeliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoRío OyacachiReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoSan Francisco de BorjaMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoSan Francisco de Borja, 2 km E ofMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoSan Francisco de Borja, 2 km N ofMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoSan Rafael, Cascada de San RafaelMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoSanta Rosa de QuijosMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoSardinasMelo-Sampaio et al. 2021
EcuadorNapoSouthern slopes of Volcán SumacoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoSumaco Camp 1Reptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoWild Sumaco Wildlife SanctuaryReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaRío Bigal Biological ReservePhoto by Thierry García
EcuadorSucumbíosEastern slopes of Volcán ReventadoriNaturalist; photo examined