New Species of Snake Found Under Ecuadorian Graves

Written by Colby Maxwell
Updated: March 14, 2023
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Key Points

  • Three new species of snake were found living in Ecuadorian gravesites.
  • All of the snakes were located in the Andes Mountains, one of the tallest and largest mountain chains in the world.
  • The three species of snakes that were discovered are extremely unique.

Snakes are some of the most interesting and prolific creatures across the world, but we don’t know as much about them as we would like. In fact, humans are discovering new species of snake all the time, each crazier than the last!

Recently, three species of snake were found under Ecuadorian grave sites. Let’s learn a bit about these spooky reptiles and find out what they were doing there!

Three New Species of Snake Were Found Living in Ecuadorian Gravesites

Three new species of ground snake were discovered in the remote Andes

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©Alejandro Arteaga / Eurekalert – License

When we picture grave sites and cemeteries, we don’t normally think of “rich” biodiversity. In fact, we think of the opposite. Still, even in the places where we relate to death, nature abounds. That is especially true with three new species of snake that were recently found in Ecuador.

The snakes are known as “ground snakes”, primarily because they spend their entire lives underground. In fact, many species of ground snakes exist all over the world, it’s just that most people never interact with them. The three species are named as follows:

  • Discovery Ground Snake (Atractus discovery)
  • Atractus zgap
  • Atractus michaelsabini 

A. discovery was found hidden in a small graveyard in a remote “cloud forest” in southeastern Ecuador. A cloud forest is a type of forest that is known for its persistent steam and cloud coverage across the region.

Train in Andes Mountains

Discovery Ground Snake was found hidden in remote Ecuador.


They are often totally covered in moss and are extremely localized. A. zgap and A. michaelsabini were discovered near an old church and next to a small school, respectively.

All of the snakes were located in the Andes Mountains, one of the tallest and largest mountain chains in the world. For the team that discovered the rare snakes, it was a sign that there may just be more out there. Currently, these three snakes are believed to have a small distribution, mostly in Colombia and Ecuador.

“All of this seems to suggest that, at least in the Andes, new species of snakes might be lurking just around the corner,” the team said.


How Long Do Ground Snakes Live?

Snakes reach sexual maturity within two to four years. This can also depend on the species of the snake and living conditions. In ideal conditions, adult snakes can live anywhere from 20 to 30 years when living in captivity. These years shorter when living in the wild due to natural predators and humans.

Some snakes live much longer lives, and some snakes live much shorter lives depending on species and environment.

Unique and Beautiful

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©Alejandro Arteaga / Eurekalert – License

The three species of snakes that were discovered are extremely unique but are also quite beautiful. They are each around 1.2 feet and about an inch or two wide.

Overall, they are relatively small. Their coloration however is quite distinct. A. discovery is a reddish-orange color with a bright yellow belly and black center spotting, while A. michaelsabini is a brighter orange color with blackish marks that almost resemble scuff marks.

As a ground snake, each species is adept at spending its days beneath brush and soil. Additionally, ground snakes are almost always nonvenomous.

What Do Ground Snakes Eat?

Ground snakes hunt small insects that also happen to thrive in the areas that the snakes call home. Some of the most common foods that ground snakes will eat are scorpions, centipedes, and spiders.

Insect larvae is a treat for ground snakes. In addition, they like grasshoppers and crickets.

The Oldest Snake Fossil Found

A new discovery like these three snake species is an exciting event in the scientific world. Snakes have a long history but due to their bodies not being conducive to fossil-making it’s been harder to keep records of them compared to other species.

One of the most ancient snake ancestors found was Megachirella wachtleri, which lived about 242 million years ago dating from fossils found in Italy.

The oldest snake fossils discovered were 167 million years old. They were unearthed in similar layers of sediment and belonged to 4 species: Eophis Underwoodi, Parviraptor estesi, Diablophis gilmorei, and Portugalophis lignites. It’s thought that Eophis Underwoodi was probably the oldest, up to 167 million years old, and found in Oxfordshire in England. Find out more here.

What’s Next?

Although the discovery of the three ground snakes is wonderful, scientists are still worried. Each of the snakes is specially adapted to native forestlands in the jungles of the Andes, a type of habitat that is shrinking. Now that they have been discovered, work must be done to better understand and conserve these beautiful animals.

The discovery of these new snakes is only the first step towards a much larger conservation project. Thanks to the encouragement of ZGAP, we have already started establishing a nature reserve to protect ground snakes. This action would not have been possible without first unveiling the existence of these unique and cryptic reptiles, even if it meant momentarily disturbing the peace of the dead in the graveyard where they lived.โ€

Eureka Alert

Snakes are often viewed as pests or bad omens, but conservation projects hope to establish safe grounds and educate people on the value of biodiversity. Without snakes, we may find ourselves overrun by hordes of mice and insects! Even more, protecting the earth’s rare and beautiful creatures is something that we can all support.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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