Mussurana Snake

Clelia clelia, Clelia equatoriana, Clelia hussami, Clelia langeri, Clelia plumbea, Clelia scytalina

Last updated: March 14, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Patrick K. Campbell/Shutterstock.com

Mussurana Snake Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Colubridae
Genus
Clelia
Scientific Name
Clelia clelia, Clelia equatoriana, Clelia hussami, Clelia langeri, Clelia plumbea, Clelia scytalina

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Mussurana Snake Conservation Status

Mussurana Snake Locations

Mussurana Snake Locations

Mussurana Snake Facts

Prey
Other snakes, including venomous snakes, small mammals
Diet
Carnivore

Mussurana Snake Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Yellow
  • Black
  • White
  • Pink
Lifespan
11.5 to 12 years
Length
4.9 to 8.2 feet
Venomous
Yes
Aggression
Low

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“It eats the fer-de-lance but is harmless to people.”

The mussurana is a colubrid, and like many colubrid’s, it’s not the flashiest of snakes. Though mussurana babies begin life as colorful, they grow to be long, slender snakes in shades of gray, brown or black. What sets mussuranas apart is that they’re immune to the venom of vipers such as the fer-de-lance, one of the most feared snakes in the New World. This is a good thing, for the mussurana has the fer-de-lance on the menu. As it swallows, the mussurana mashes the snake into a wave so that it can fit into its narrow GI tract.

Mussurana Amazing Facts

Here are five amazing facts about mussuranas.

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1. The mussurana uses a rear-fang technique to catch its prey. They use the two fangs at the back of their mouth to hold on to the prey’s head before they swallow it.
2. Other names the snake goes by are zopilota, cribo, moon snake and pseudoboa.
3. Many South and Central American farmers keep the snake as a pet so it can eat dangerous pit vipers whose bites kill livestock. The mussurana also helps keep down the population of vermin such as rats and mice.
4. The snake is considered mild-mannered when it comes to humans and is hesitant to bite even when it’s picked up.
5. Because it is immune to fer-de-lance venom, São Paulo’s Instituto Butantan honored the snake with a statue. The institute is famous for developing antivenoms and other biopharmaceuticals.

Where To Find Mussuranas

Mussuranas are only found in Mexico and Central and South America. They prefer a habitat that has dense vegetation, either a dense forest or dense shrubbery.

Mussurana Scientific Name

Mussurana snakes belong to the Clelia genus. Clelia comes from the Latin word cluere and means “famous or renown.” It was the name of a Roman girl given to an Etruscan soldier as a prize. She escaped him by swimming all the way across the Tiber river. There are six extant species of mussurana. They are:



1. Clelia Clelia
2. Clelia equatoriana
3. Clelia hussami
4. Clelia langeri
5. Clelia plumbea
6. Clelia scytalina

Another species, C. errabunda, Underwood’s mussurana was found only on St. Lucia in the Caribbean and is now considered extinct.

The Different Types of Mussurana

The elusiveness of the species of mussurana makes them hard to study. They can be told apart by where they’re found, and their colors, patterning and size may differ from one species to the next. For example, C. clelia can grow as long as 6.9 feet. It is black or gray on top and yellowish-white on the bottom, and its babies have black heads, a yellow collar around the neck and pale brown or red bodies. C. clelia has two subspecies, C. clelia clelia and C. clelia groomei. It’s found in Central America down to northern Argentina.

C. plumbea is found in Paraguay and Brazil. It resembles C. clelia but has more ventral scales and has a line that separates the scales on the abdomen from the scales on the sides of the body.

C. scytalina, or the Mexican snake eater is found in the south of Mexico, Central America and down to Colombia. It resembles C. clelia, but juvenile snakes resemble venomous coral snakes and are sometimes killed because of it.

Mussurana Population & Conservation Status 

Conservationists aren’t sure of the population of mussuranas, but according to the IUCN list of endangered species, the status of C. clelia is least concern and C. errabunda is extinct. Other types of mussurana have become rare because their prey is becoming scarce.

How To Identify Mussurana: Appearance and Description 

Mussuranas are large, slender snakes whose adults are black, brown or dark blue on top and whitish-yellow ventrally. Their heads are distinct from their necks, and they have round snouts. Their eyes are medium-sized with cat-like pupils, and they have smooth scales on their backs. Their juveniles are often pink, with light-colored collars.

Mussuranas have teeth at the front of their upper jaws but also have rear-fangs. These are called opisthoglyphous teeth. They help the snake hold its snake prey by the head, the better to subdue and swallow it. All mussurana snakes lay eggs, and they may be nocturnal or diurnal depending on where they live.

Mussuranas breed in early March, and after mating the female lays nine to 25 eggs that hatch after three to four months.

Mussurana Venom: How Dangerous Are They?

Mussurana venom is so weak that some people do not believe the snakes are venomous at all. They are docile snakes and are not inclined to bite even when picked up. Even when they do bite, the effects are mild. If the person is sure that they’ve been bitten by a mussurana, regular wound care is in order. If they don’t know what kind of snake bit them, they should seek medical attention quickly.

Mussurana Behavior and Humans

Though mussurana aren’t the showiest of snakes, they are sometimes kept as pets or at least they are tolerated on farms where they can keep down the number of rats, mice and severely venomous snakes such as fer-de-lances and other vipers. If they are truly kept as pets, their care might be expensive, as they can grow to be large. They’ll at least need very large enclosures whose temperatures to be controlled. On top of this, some of mussuranas will only take live snakes as food.

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Mussurana Snake FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are mussuranas venomous?

Mussuranas are venomous, but for humans their venom is weak. Some scientists even classify the snake as non-venomous. No human has been known to die from the bite of a mussurana.

How do mussuranas hunt?

Like other snakes, mussuranas use their Jacobson’s organ to find prey. Snakes, including mussuranas, flick their forked tongues and pick up molecules left by potential prey such as rats, other small mammals and other snakes. The tongue then transfers the molecules to the organ, which lets the snake know which prey they are pursuing. When the mussurana finds prey, it grabs it with its front teeth and either envenomates it or constricts it to death. They never do both at the same time. As a rear-fang snake, the mussurana uses its back teeth especially for other snakes, for the fangs hold on to the head while the mussurana struggles to swallow the rest of its prey.

Are mussuranas aggressive?

Mussuranas are not aggressive toward humans and can even be handled without biting. Interestingly, female mussuranas are said to be aggressive during the mating season. They are bigger than males, and a female may kill and eat her mate.

Where do mussuranas live?

Mussuranas live only in Mexico, Central America and South America.

What do mussuranas eat?

Mussuranas are notorious for eating other snakes, including venomous ones. They also eat rodents and lizards.

What is a mussurana?

A mussurana is a large but slender rear-fanged snake endemic to Central and South America. It is famous for eating other snakes and is sometimes kept on farms for this purpose.

Are mussurana snakes deadly?

Mussuranas are deadly only to their prey. They are not dangerous to humans. Even if the snake bites, it is difficult for it to envenomate a person as the venom-delivering fangs are at the back of the mouth.

Can you have a mussurana as a pet?

ed the snake, the temperature needs to be lowered for a period of time in the fall. The substrate also needs to be deep enough for the snake to dig through, and the animal may be picky about what and even when it eats. Some mussuranas won’t eat before sundown.

Where are mussurana snakes found?

They are found in habitats that are dense in plants at altitudes of less than 6560 feet.

Sources
  1. , Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mussurana
  2. , Available here: https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=209463#null
  3. , Available here: https://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/species?genus=Clelia&species=clelia
  4. , Available here: https://kidadl.com/animal-facts/mussurana-facts
  5. , Available here: http://www.toxinology.com/fusebox.cfm?fuseaction=main.snakes.display&id=SN1191

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