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New coffee snake discovered in the cloud forests of Ecuador

Researchers from the Khamai Foundation and Liberty University have identified a new species of coffee snake in the cloud forests of northwestern Ecuador. 

This discovery, led by biologist Alejandro Arteaga, represents a significant contribution to the biodiversity of the region and sheds light on the complex ecosystems of the Andes.

Reptiles of Ecuador 

Arteaga first encountered this unique species in Ecuador’s Pichincha province. His discovery occurred while searching for animals to feature in his upcoming book, “Reptiles of Ecuador.” 

Arteaga’s discovery is not just a scientific triumph but also a personal milestone. “This is species number 30 that I have discovered, out of a target of 100.”

Tudor’s Coffee-Snake

The newly identified snake, named Tudor’s Coffee-Snake, exhibits traits typical of coffee snakes but is distinguished by its unique characteristics and specific habitat. These snakes predominantly reside in coffee plantations, a habitat choice influenced by the destruction of their native cloud forest environments. 

Endemic to the Pacific slopes of the Andes in northwestern Ecuador, Tudor’s Coffee-Snake thrives at elevations ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 meters above sea level.

Conservation efforts

While the species is not currently facing immediate extinction threats, concerns are rising about the potential decline of its populations. This is attributed to ongoing deforestation driven by logging and large-scale mining activities, which are fragmenting and depleting the snake’s natural habitat.

The discovery of Tudor’s Coffee-Snake is more than a mere addition to the list of known species; it represents a crucial step in highlighting the importance of conserving the cloud forest ecosystem. 

The researchers hope that this discovery will attract more attention to the need for research and conservation efforts in human-modified habitats surrounding the cloud forests, such as coffee plantations and pastures.

Tribute to Guy Tudor 

In a touching tribute, the name of this new species honors Guy Tudor, an acclaimed naturalist and scientific illustrator renowned for his profound love for birds and wildlife. His contributions to the conservation of South America’s birds through his artistic works have been impactful, which the researchers acknowledged in their paper.

The research goes beyond academic curiosity by serving a greater purpose in conservation. Arteaga and his team are leveraging the naming of new species as a new approach to fund conservation initiatives. In particular, the identification of Tudor’s Coffee-Snake has played a pivotal role in supporting the protection of the Buenaventura Reserve, a key biodiversity hotspot in Ecuador.

More about coffee snakes 

The Ninia genus of snakes, commonly known as coffee snakes or coral coffee snakes, belongs to the family Colubridae. These snakes are small, typically growing only up to about 20-30 centimeters in length. They are found primarily in Central America and northern South America, thriving in a variety of habitats including forests, plantations, and sometimes in more urban areas.


What’s interesting about the Ninia genus is their resemblance to the much more dangerous coral snakes, which they mimic in coloration. This mimicry serves as a defense mechanism, deterring predators who might mistake them for their venomous lookalikes. Despite their appearance, Ninia snakes are non-venomous and pose no threat to humans.


Their diet mainly consists of small invertebrates, with a particular fondness for earthworms. Ninia snakes have adapted to be efficient burrowers, which aids in hunting their prey. They have a secretive nature and are often found under logs, stones, or leaf litter.


Reproduction in Ninia snakes is oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. The females typically lay small clutches of eggs, and there is little to no parental care once the eggs are laid. The young are independent from birth and are miniature versions of the adults in both behavior and appearance.

The study is published in the journal Evolutionary Systematics.

Image Credit: Alejandro Arteaga

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