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Shhh: A Gallery of Secretive Ground Snakes

Atractus dunni

hell snake Atractus

(Image credit: Alejandro Arteaga)

Atractus dunni, an Ecuadorian ground snake first discovered in 1955. The Atractus genus has more species than any other genus of snakes. There are 140 different members, 33 of which were discovered in the last decade, according to herpetologist Alejandro Arteaga and colleagues. Snakes of this genus typically live in burrows and eat insect larvae.

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Atractus elaps

hell snake Atractus

(Image credit: Alejandro Arteaga)

Atractus elaps is an Atractus species found in Ecuador, northern Peru, eastern Colombia, Brazil, Venezuel and Bolivia. It is one of the most colorful species in the genus, easily recognizable by its striking red-and-black ring pattern.

Atractus multicinctus

hell snake Atractus

(Image credit: Alejandro Arteaga)

The banded ground snake, Atractus multicinctus, is found in rainforests in Colombia and Ecuador. It is a rare species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but is not known to be endangered or at risk as its distribution covers a wide area.

Atractus touzeti

hell snake Atractus

(Image credit: Alejandro Arteaga)

Touzet's groundsnake (Atractus touzeti) is an Ecuadorian ground snake discovered in 1992 and named after Jean-Marc Touzet, founder of Ecuador's Fundación Herpetológica Gustavo Orcés. The snake is known to live only in Ecuador.

Atractus Cerberus

hell snake Atractus

(Image credit: Arteaga, et al. ZooKeys)

Two adult male Cerberus groundsnakes (Atractus Cerberus), newly discovered near the gates of the Refinería del Pacífico, a massive petrochemical complex that reminded the snake's discoverers of hell. These snakes are presumed to be critically endangered, as they were found in a small area of forest surrounded by land that had been cleared for industrial activites.

Atractus esepe

hell snake Atractus

(Image credit: Arteaga, et al. ZooKeys)

The indistinct ground snake, Atractus esepe, was found in an evergreen lowland forest in the Ecuadorian province of Esmereldas. The specimen is about 9 inches (232 mm) long and was named for the Spanish pronunciation of the scientific abbreviation "sp," for species. In the field, Spanish-speaking herpetologists often describe Atractus snakes as "Atractus sp." if they don't know the proper species name.

Atractus pyroni

hell snake Atractus

(Image credit: Arteaga, et al. ZooKeys)

Pyron's ground snake, Atractus pyroni, is decorated with glimmering golden scales along the top of its back. The snake is known from a single specimen found dead on a dirt road in the province of Bolívar. The snake was about 17 inches (443 mm) long.

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Mapping the Serpents

hell snake Atractus

(Image credit: Arteaga, et al. ZooKeys)

A map of Ecuador showing the known location of six species of Atractus snake. The snakes can be found under rocks and logs in the Andean highlands and are sometimes seen crossing paths or trails in the forested lowlands, said herpetologist Alejandro Arteaga.