DOI10.47051/YKSW1188

Published January 17, 2021. Open access.

Gallery ❯

Common Mussurana (Clelia clelia)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Serpentes | Colubridae | Clelia | Clelia clelia

English common names: Common Mussurana, Black Mussurana, Black Cribo

Spanish common names: Ratonera común, chonta, lisa (Ecuador); cazadora negra (Colombia); zopilota, víbora de sangre (Juvenile), tiznada (Costa Rica); ratonera (Venezuela).

Recognition: ♂♂ 180 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 260 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail..1 The Common Mussurana (Clelia clelia) is a large, robust snake with a cylindrical body and comparatively small eyes. Snakes of this species change in coloration throughout the organism’s lifespan: the adults have a uniform glossy black or gray dorsum whereas young individuals measuring less than 60 cm in total length have a bright red dorsum with black scale tips, black head, and a cream or yellow nuchal collar followed by a black band.2,3 Individuals 60–90 cm in length are dull reddish brown to brownish black with a faint nape band.2 The belly is always white but the dorsal coloration impinges the margins of the ventral scales.4 Clelia clelia is the only snake in Ecuador having this coloration and 19 rows of smooth scales at mid-body. The most similar species that may be found alongside C. clelia in Ecuador are Drepanoides anomalus and Pseudoboa coronata, which have 15 and 17 dorsal scale rows at mid-body, respectively.57 Clelia equatoriana is similar in external appearance to C. clelia, but it occurs in the cloud forests of the Pacific slopes of the Andes above the elevation range of the Common Mussurana.8

Figure showing variation among individuals of Clelia clelia

Figure 1: Individuals of Clelia clelia from Buenaventura Reserve, El Oro province (); Zumba–Pucubamba road, Zamora Chinchipe province (); La Selva Lodge, Sucumbíos province (), Ecuador. ad=adult, j=juvenile.

Natural history: FrequentRecorded weekly in densities below five individuals per locality throughout much of its range,1 but uncommonUnlikely to be seen more than once every few months in Ecuador.9 Clelia clelia is a terrestrial and nocturnal snake that inhabits a variety of ecosystems ranging from savannas and deciduous (dry) forests to evergreen lowlands rainforests and even cloudforests.10,11 Common Mussuranas occur in old-growth forest, especially along bodies of water,7,9 as well as in heavily disturbed areas such as pastures, cultivated fields,12 yards, rural houses,13 and along roadsides.9,14 Most individuals are seen active at night on the soil, leaf-litter, grass, swamps, creeks, or on rocky stream beds,2,15 but in some cases, they have been spotted on tree branches up to 170 cm above the ground.5,16 During the daytime, most individuals are hidden, but others are active, crossing roads and trails.5,9

Clelia clelia is an ophiophagous species; that is, it feeds on other snakes, occasionally larger than itself.17 Preyed species include harmless snakes (Chironius fuscus, C. exoletus,18 Dipsas palmeri,19 Drymarchon corais,20 Erythrolamprus reginae,2 Helicops angulatus,21 Ninia hudsoni,22 Tantilla melanocephala, Xenodon rabdocephalus, X. severus,23 as well as members of its own species), boas (Boa constrictor),13,24 vipers (Bothriechis schlegelii,25 Bothrops asper,26 Lachesis muta, and Porthidium nasutum27),28 and coralsnakes (Micrurus obscurus)23. Despite being primarily ophiophagous, Common Mussuranas also include in their diet: lizards (such as Ameiva ameiva,2 Enyalioides heterolepis,9 and species of the genus Tupinambis), snake eggs, opossums,29 rodents,5 birds, small mammals, and snails.1,30 Individuals of C. clelia are active foragers, tracking prey by quickly flicking their tongues to detect their scent trail.9 The species is much appreciated by villagers because of its snake-eating habits.1

Although Clelia clelia has grooved rear fangs and venom glands, this species also constricts its prey.1,31 After striking it, the Mussurana subsequently launches the third of its body to surround the prey and then tightens it with body coils until the prey stops resisting.14 After that, it ingest the prey (dead or alive) head-first. This species has natural immunity to the venom of vipers.32,33 Individuals are mostly calm. When grabbed, they constrict their bodies and do not usually strike, but instead hide their head under body coils and deploy a cloacal discharge.7 In humans, the venom of C. clelia can produce localized swelling, hemorrhage, and even necrosis (death of tissues and cells).34

“The bright red juveniles of the two Costa Rican mussuranas are considered to be víboras de sangre (blood snakes) whose bite results in bleeding over the entire body surface and death. This in an unfounded belief lacking any element of fact.”

Jay M Savage, American herpetologist, 2002.

Females of Clelia clelia reach sexual maturity at 97.3 cm of snout-vent-length; males at 65 cm. During courtship, the female may respond aggressively at first and on occasion, can kill and eat the male.31 After a gestation period of 47 days,1 females lay 9–25 eggs1,14 that take 117–120 days to hatch.35 In natural conditions, these are laid during periods of high rainfall. Hatchlings measure 31–49 cm in total length at birth.1

Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..36 Clelia clelia is listed in this category mainly on the basis of the species’ wide distribution, occurrence in protected areas, presumed stable populations, and adaptability to human-modified environments.36 However, the decline in the abundance of prey, coupled with the destruction and fragmentation of forested environments throughout Central and South America can be a threat for the long-term of survival of the species.37 In a rainforest locality in Panama, the occurrence rates of C. clelia have diminished in the period from 1997 to 2012,38 probably as a result of the diminished snake abundance caused by a corresponding loss of amphibians.38 Additionally, individuals of C. clelia are commonly found dead on the roads due vehicular traffic.39

Distribution: Clelia clelia is widely-distributed in Central and South America, from southern Mexico (Yucatán) to northern Argentina.11,36 The species has an estimated total range size of 2,078,373 km2 that encompasses much of Mesoamerica, the Chocó, Magdalena valley, the Llanos plains, the Amazon rainforest, and El Chaco.11 In Ecuador, this species occurs at elevations between 0 and 1990 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Clelia clelia in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The word clelia is derived from the Latin Cloelia, a girl’s name meaning “illustrious” or “famous.” According to Roman legend, Cloelia was a heroine who was held hostage by an Etruscan invader. However, she managed to escape by swimming across the river Tiber.40

See it in the wild: Individuals of Clelia clelia can be seen with ~1–3% certainty in forested areas throughout the species’ area of distribution in Ecuador. Some of the best localities to find Common Mussuranas in the wild in Ecuador are: Yasuní Scientific Station, Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve, and Jama Coaque Reserve. The snakes are more easily located by walking along forested rivers and streams at night. Common Mussuranas are often seen crossing roads, so care must be taken to run over them.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Darwin Núñez and Diego Piñán for providing locality data for Clelia clelia.

Authors: Juan C. Díaz-RicaurteaAffiliation: Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil. and Alejandro ArteagabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

Photographers: Jose VieirabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Sebastián Di DoménicodAffiliation: Keeping Nature, Bogotá, Colombia.

How to cite? Díaz-Ricaurte JC, Arteaga A (2021) Common Mussurana (Clelia clelia). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: www.reptilesofecuador.com. DOI: 10.47051/YKSW1188

Literature cited:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Arquilla AM, Lehtinen RM (2018) Geographic variation in head band shape in juveniles of Clelia clelia (Colubridae). Mesoamerican Herpetology 5: 112–120.
  4. Murphy JC, Downie R, Smith JM, Livingstone S, Mohammed R, Lehtinen RM, Eyre M, Sewlal JN, Noriega N, Casper GS, Anton T, Rutherford MG, Braswell AL, Jowers MJ (2018) A field guide to the amphibians & reptiles of Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago Naturalist’s Club, Port of Spain, 336 pp.
  5. Duellman WE (2005) Cusco amazónico: the lives of amphibians and reptiles in an Amazonian rainforest. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 433 pp.
  6. de Fraga R, Lima AP, da Costa Prudente AL, Magnusson WE (2013) Guia de cobras da região de Manaus - Amazônia Central. Editopa Inpa, Manaus, 303 pp.
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  8. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  9. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
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  11. Nogueira CC, Argôlo AJS, Arzamendia V, Azevedo JA, Barbo FE, Bérnils RS, Bolochio BE, Borges-Martins M, Brasil-Godinho M, Braz H, Buononato MA, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Colli GR, Costa HC, Franco FL, Giraudo A, Gonzalez RC, Guedes T, Hoogmoed MS, Marques OAV, Montingelli GG, Passos P, Prudente ALC, Rivas GA, Sanchez PM, Serrano FC, Silva NJ, Strüssmann C, Vieira-Alencar JPS, Zaher H, Sawaya RJ, Martins M (2019) Atlas of Brazilian snakes: verified point-locality maps to mitigate the Wallacean shortfall in a megadiverse snake fauna. South American Journal of Herpetology 14: 1–274. DOI: 10.2994/SAJH-D-19-00120.1
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  15. Solórzano A (2004) Serpientes de Costa Rica. Distribución, taxonomía e historia natural. Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, 792 pp.
  16. Photographic record by César Barrio-Amorós.
  17. César Barrio-Amorós, pers. comm.
  18. Photo by Patrick Campbell.
  19. MECN, JOCOTOCO, ECOMINGA (2013) Herpetofauna en áreas prioritarias para la conservación: el sistema de reservas Jocotoco y Ecominga. Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales, Quito, 408 pp.
  20. Photo by Giuseppe Gagliardi-Urrutia.
  21. Photo by Vincent Vos.
  22. Wright T, Floyd E, Camper JD, Nilsson J (2019) Clelia clelia (Black Mussurana). Diet. Herpetological Review 50: 388–387.
  23. Harry Turner, pers. comm.
  24. Photo by Josua Hannink.
  25. Chavarría M, Barrio-Amorós C (2014) Clelia clelia. Predation. Mesoamerican Herpetology 1: 286.
  26. Campbell JA, Lamar WW (2004) The venomous reptiles of the western hemisphere. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 774 pp.
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  28. Valencia JH, Garzón-Tello K, Barragán-Paladines ME (2016) Serpientes venenosas del Ecuador: sistemática, taxonomía, historial natural, conservación, envenenamiento y aspectos antropológicos. Fundación Herpetológica Gustavo Orcés, Quito, 653 pp.
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  33. Lomonte B, Cerdas L, Solórzano A, Martínez S (1989) El suero de neonatos de Clelia clelia (Serpentes: Colubridae) neutraliza la acción hemorrágica del veneno de Bothrops asper (Serpentes: Viperidae). Revista de Biología Tropical 38: 325–326.
  34. Weinstein SA, Warrell DA, White J, Keyler DE (2011) “Venomous” bites from non-venomous snakes. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 364 pp. DOI: 10.1016/C2010-0-68461-6
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  37. 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.
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Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Clelia clelia in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

CountryProvinceLocalitySource
ColombiaCaquetáBelén de AndaquíesDíaz-Ricaurte et al. 2018
ColombiaCaquetáCaserío La RastraDíaz-Ricaurte et al. 2018
ColombiaCaquetáFlorenciaDíaz-Ricaurte et al. 2018
ColombiaCaquetáSantuariosUAM 0405
ColombiaCaquetáVereda FátimaMLS 680
ColombiaCaquetáVia antigua Caquetá–HuilaDíaz-Ricaurte et al. 2018
ColombiaNariñoBoca del Río MiraUPTC 018
ColombiaNariñoReserva Natural El PangánOnline multimedia
ColombiaPutumayoPiñuña, 22 km NE ofPUJ 56
ColombiaPutumayoPuerto AsísDíaz-Ricaurte et al. 2018
ColombiaPutumayoPuerto Leguizamo, 25 km N ofParques Nacionales de Colombia
EcuadorBolívarBalzapambaKU 132502
EcuadorCañarTerminal La TroncalOrtega Torres 2015
EcuadorEl OroCasa de investigadoresThis work
EcuadorEl OroMachalaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroReserva Biológica BuenaventuraThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasAlto TamboMECN 3307
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasEsmeraldasNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorEsmeraldasHotel El PedregalMECN 5669
EcuadorEsmeraldasPajonalMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasPalmicultora La TolitaOnline multimedia
EcuadorEsmeraldasQuinindé, 35 km NE ofMHNG 2086.088
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío NegroMECN 3307
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan LorenzoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorGuayasBalzarNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquilNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorGuayasRío DauleMCZ 3570
EcuadorGuayasSanto DomingoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorImbaburaManduriacu ReserveiNaturalist
EcuadorLojaBosque Petrificado de PuyangoINABIO 2019
EcuadorLojaLojaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorLojaYanganaArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueGBIF
EcuadorManabíJama Coaque ReserveThis work
EcuadorManabíLa Unión de Santa AnaMHNG 2531.061
EcuadorManabíMaicitoMHNG 1357.014
EcuadorManabíRío JamaPhoto by David Salazar
EcuadorManabíSan IsidroCisneros-Heredia et al. 2007
EcuadorMorona SantiagoBosque Protector AbanicoCumba Endara 2008
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacasAMNH 8861
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacas, 14 km W ofNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacumaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMéndez–El Pescado roadValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoNormandíaAMNH 35919
EcuadorMorona SantiagoQuebrada NapinazaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoReserva Ecológica El Paraíso Photo by Alex Achig
EcuadorMorona SantiagoRío SantiagoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoRío UpanoiNaturalist
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSanta Ana, 1 km NE ofThis work
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSardinayacuNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTaishaValencia et al. 2016
EcuadorMorona SantiagoVall del Río QuimiBetancourt et al. 2018
EcuadorNapoArchidonaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoArchidona, 1.5 km N ofiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoBaezaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoCoca Codo SinclairMECN 2013
EcuadorNapoEl ChacoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoEl Chaco, 1 km NE ofUSNM 210849
EcuadorNapoFinca FischerTCWC 65016
EcuadorNapoGareno LodgePhoto by Margy Green
EcuadorNapoGuagua SumacoiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoGuamaníNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoIkiamThis work
EcuadorNapoJatun Sacha Biological StationMCZ 173840
EcuadorNapoLimoncochaUIMNH 54662
EcuadorNapoMisahuallíThis work
EcuadorNapoNapo GalerasMECN 3024
EcuadorNapoRio HollínNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoRío HuataracoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoRío OyacachiAMNH 110582
EcuadorNapoRío SunoUSNM 210850
EcuadorNapoRuna HuasiNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorNapoSan Francisco de BorjaUSNM 210855
EcuadorNapoTenaiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoTena, 4 km N ofiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoWildsumaco Wildlife SanctuaryKnowles et al. (in press)
EcuadorNapoYachana ReserveWhitworth & Beirne 2011
EcuadorNapoZatzayacu, 4.5 km NNE KU 146735
EcuadorNapoZoo el ArcaPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorOrellanaÁvila ViejoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaCampo ApaikaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaCordillera GalerasNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaDicaro, 1.8 km NW ofPhoto by Morley Read
EcuadorOrellanaEl CocaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaEstación Científica YasuníNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaLoretoThis work
EcuadorOrellanaNPF, 5 km N ofNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaPayamino, 6 km SW ofiNaturalist
EcuadorOrellanaReserva Biológica Río BigalPhoto by Thierry García
EcuadorOrellanaRío PayaminoiNaturalist
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de PayaminoiNaturalist
EcuadorOrellanaShiripuno LodgeOnline multimedia
EcuadorOrellanaSPF, 12 km N ofNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaVía Maxus, km 98Nogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaAlto CurarayUSNM 210852
EcuadorPastazaBalsauraOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaConamboOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaJuyuintzaOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaKapawi EcolodgeThis work
EcuadorPastazaLago GawopeNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaMeraNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaMera, 3 km N ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPastazaPindoyacuOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaRío Anzu ReserveMECN 2013
EcuadorPastazaRío BufeoOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaRío LliquinoUSNM 210853
EcuadorPastazaRío PuninoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaRío VillanoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaSan José de CurarayiNaturalist
EcuadorPastazaSanta AnaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorPastazaSanta ClaraGBIF
EcuadorPastazaVillanoThis work
EcuadorPichinchaEstación Puerto Quito OCPValencia & Garzón 2013
EcuadorPichinchaRainforest MonterrealPhoto by Jorge Ambuludi
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto DomingoAMNH 27145
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 3 km E ofMCZ 156882
EcuadorSucumbíosDurenoYáñez & Chimbo 2007
EcuadorSucumbíosEl Eno, 4.7 km N ofNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosEl ReventadorMHNG 2445.005
EcuadorSucumbíosEstación Amazonas OCPValencia & Garzón 2011
EcuadorSucumbíosEstación CayagamaValencia & Garzón 2011
EcuadorSucumbíosEstación PUCE en CuyabenoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosGarzacochaiNaturalist
EcuadorSucumbíosLa Selva LodgeThis work
EcuadorSucumbíosLagartocochaiNaturalist
EcuadorSucumbíosLaguna GrandeNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncochaLACM 73327
EcuadorSucumbíosMushullactaMECN 3024
EcuadorSucumbíosPisoriéYánez-Muñoz & Chimbo 2007
EcuadorSucumbíosRío MaloNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosSan Pablo de KantesiyaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosSani LodgeThis work
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta CeciliaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorSucumbíosTarapoaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorTungurahuaCerro Candelaria ReserveThis work
EcuadorTungurahuaReserva Río ZuñacMECN 2013
EcuadorZamoraZumba-PucubambaThis work
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeAlto MachinazaNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeCerro PlateadoDarwin Núñez, pers. comm.
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeCiudad PerdidaOnline multimedia
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeEl Chorro, 1.4 km S ofThis work
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeJamboéDarwin Núñez, pers. comm.
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeJambué BajoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeReserva Biológica Cerro PlateadoNogueira et al. 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeVia RomerillosDarwin Núñez, pers. comm.
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeZamoraCisneros-Heredia et al. 2007
PeruAmazonasChiriaco, 43 km NE ofLSUMZ 39325
PeruLoretoParinariNogueira et al. 2019