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Rediscovery of the Guatemalan Yellow-lipped snake, Chapinophis xanthocheilus (Serpentes: Dipsadidae), with comments on its distribution and ecology


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An adult male Chapinophis xanthocheilus with a snout–vent length (SVL) of 451 mm, total length (TL) of 525, mm and tail length of 74 mm was encountered while active at 2000 h on 10 September 2016. These photographs represent the second photographic record of the species, as the only specimen previously photographed was a paratype (UTA R-37591). Chapinophis xanthocheilus has not been documented in nature since 1994. The present rediscovery of C. xanthocheilus also represents an 18 km NW range extension of the nearest known locality 5 km ENE Chilascó, Finca San Jorge, 1829 m elev. (MVZ 160488), and is also the first report of the species in the protected habitat of BUCQ.
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Herpetological Review 48(1), 2017
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Rediscovery of the Guatemalan Yellow-lipped Snake,
Chapinophis xanthocheilus (Serpentes: Dipsadidae),
with Comments on its Distribution and Ecology
The Guatemalan Yellow-lipped Snake, Chapinophis
xanthocheilus, belongs to a monotypic genus previously known
from high elevations in cloud forests of the Departamento de
Baja Verapaz in the Chilascó area of the Sierra de las Minas in
east-central Guatemala. It is known from only the type series
consisting of three specimens (Campbell and Smith 1998).
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, this
snake is catalogued as endangered because of its very restricted
distribution (Johnson et al. 2013). According to Campbell and
Smith (1998), the first specimen of this species to reach scientific
collections was a female (one of the paratypes, MVZ 160488)
collected on 15 April 1978 from 5 km ENE Chilascó, Finca San
Jorge, 1829 m elevation. The second specimen known was an
adult male (the type of the genus and holotype for the species,
UTA R-35919) collected on 8 April 1993 from 5 km ENE Finca
Miranda, 2300 m elevation. This species has not been seen since
a female (one of the paratypes, UTA R-37591) was collected on
6 August 1994 from 4 km ENE Chilascó, Finca San Jorge, 1855 m
elevation (Fig. 1a).
MateRials and Methods
On 10 September 2016, a herpetological survey of Biotopo
Protegido “Mario Day Rivera” para la Conservación del Quetzal
Departamento de Biología, Universidad del Valle de Guatemala,
11 calle 15-79 z.15 V.H. III, Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala
*Corresponding author; e-mail:
Herpetological Review 48(1), 2017
(BUCQ), Baja Verapaz, Guatemala was conducted with students
of herpetology from Universidad del Valle de Guatemala. Visual
Encounter Surveys for amphibian and reptile species were made
along the park trail leading to Río Colorado and Río Apaj in the
core zone of the protected area between 1500 h and 2200 h.
An adult male Chapinophis xanthocheilus with a snout–vent
length (SVL) of 451 mm, total length (TL) of 525, mm and tail
length of 74 mm was encountered while active at 2000 h on 10
September 2016 (Fig. 1b–d). The specimen was found crawling
on a moss-covered rock in the Río Apaj riverbed within BUCQ,
Baja Verapaz, Guatemala (15.206631°N, 90.232606°W; WGS84)
at 2155 m elevation (Fig. 2). On the same night, many amphib-
ians were observed in the area, including Plectrohyla quecchi, P.
pokomchi, and Cryptotriton veraepacis. Because the sighting of
C. xanthocheilus occurred within the core area at BUCQ and our
survey objectives and legal permits did not include the preser-
vation of specimens, the snake was released the next day subse-
quent to positive identification and acquisition of photographs.
These photographs represent the second photographic record
of the species, as the only specimen previously photographed
was a paratype (UTA R-37591; J. A. Campbell, pers. comm.).
Three photographic vouchers of the specimen were deposited at
Colecciones Biológicas de la Universidad del Valle de Guatemala,
Guatemala (UVGF 009–012).
Our individual agrees with characters noted in the original
description of the species by Campbell and Smith (1998). The
snake had 17 longitudinal dorsal scale rows at midbody, reduced
anteriorly to 15, but not posteriorly. Characteristics included
smooth dorsal scales without apical pits, 7 supralabials, 1 + 1
temporals, cloacal scute divided, and 43 paired subcaudals. Eyes
were small with round pupils. The coloration was as follows:
dorsum ocher-brown, venter bright yellow with an irregular
series of black spots, bright yellow markings along upper lip,
and a dark pigment along the median suture of the subcaudals
forming an irregular midventral stripe.
Chapinophis xanthocheilus has not been documented in
nature since 1994. The present rediscovery of C. xanthocheilus also
represents an 18 km NW range extension of the nearest known
locality 5 km ENE Chilascó, Finca San Jorge, 1829 m elev. (MVZ
160488), and is also the first report of the species in the protected
habitat of BUCQ (Fig. 3). The specimen was found in one of the
BUCQ’s most pristine areas along the Río Apaj. Many endangered
stream-breeding hylid frogs such as Plectrohyla hartwegi, P.
pokomchi, and P. quecchi have been found along the Río Apaj (Gil-
Escobedo 2014; Ariano-Sánchez and Gil-Escobedo 2015).
The fact that our specimen was found within one of the
more pristine areas at BUCQ helps to answer the question
made by Cambpell and Smith (1998) of whether Chapinophis
Fig. 1. A) Paratype (UTA R-37591) of Guatemalan Yellow-lipped Snake, Chapinophis xanthocheilus. B) Individual of C. xanthocheilus found on
10 September 2016 at Biotopo Protegido “Mario Day Rivera” para la Conservación del Quetzal (BUCQ), Baja Verapaz, Guatemala. C) Detail
of head of BUCQ specimen showing characteristic bright yellow markings along upper lip. D) Detail of tail showing cloacal plate divided and
defined dark coloration along the median suture of the subcaudals forming an irregular midventral stripe.
Herpetological Review 48(1), 2017
xanthocheilus is a forest-edge snake or whether its initial
discovery in this situation is merely a result of logging of much
of the original cloud forest in the area. Our record suggests that
the second option is correct and that the species is primarily a
pristine cloud forest inhabitant.
Three active Cryptotriton veraepacis, one lacking its tail,
were found near the moss-covered rock where Chapinophis
xanthocheilus was encountered. The observations we made of
C. xanthocheilus crawling active at night within the riverbed of
Río Apaj in about the same spot were these salamanders were
found, seems to support suggestions made by Campbell and
Smith (1998) that this species may be a salamander specialist.
This snake seems to have a somewhat similar ecology as
Rhadinophanes monticola, which is also a salamander specialist
(Myers and Campbell 1981).
If Chapinophis xanthocheilus is primarily a salamander
specialist, the well-known amphibian declines in Central
America, and specifically in the region around BUCQ, will have a
direct impact on this species. Evidence suggests that Guatemala
is one of Central America’s countries with the highest amphibian
decline rates due to the introduced pathogen Batrachochytrium
dendrobatidis and its impact on amphibian populations (Phillips
and Puschendorf 2013). The fact that major declines of many
species of salamanders have been reported for Guatemala
(Rovito et al. 2009) and that the BUCQ is known for being part of
catastrophic amphibian declines (Mendelson et al. 2004) makes
it likely that C. xanthocheilus populations will decline due to the
present amphibian crisis.
Acknowledgments.We thank Jonathan A. Campbell for provid-
ing valuable suggestions to this paper from its inception. He also
shared with us the original photos of one of the paratypes cata-
logued at UTA. Thanks to Kennedy Ruiz, Jennifer Hernández, Ale-
jandro Vásquez, Luisa Valdez, Pablo Gudiel, Jorge Piedrasanta, Ro-
drigo Madriz, and Israel Pimentel for helping with independent scale
counts during the identification of the species in the field. Thanks
also to Mayra Oliva, manager of Biotopo Universitario “Mario Dary
Rivera” para la Conservación del Quetzal and part of Centro de Estu-
dios Conservacionistas of Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala
(CECON-USAC) for her support with the logistics and permits for
visiting the field site. We thank two anonymous reviewers for com-
ments that have improved this paper. Thanks also to the students
of the 2016 Herpetology course of Universidad del Valle de Guate-
mala (UVG) who made this field trip an unforgettable experience.
Thanks to Gabriela Palomo from Colecciones Biológicas de la Uni-
versidad del Valle de Guatemala for her help with the photographic
vouchers. The field trip that led to this rediscovery had been possible
through partial funding by the Biology Department of UVG. We have
complied with all applicable institutional Animal Care guidelines.
CONAP provided the legal permits for conducting this research ac-
cording to permit No. 049-2014.
liteRatuRe cited
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ubrid snake from the Sierra de las Minas of Guatemala. Herpeto-
logica 54:207–220.
gil-escobedo, J. 2014. Estado de conservación de las subcuencas de
los Ríos Apaj, Cafetal y Colorado del Biotopo Universitario para
la Conservación del Quetzal “Mario Dary Rivera:” análisis de
parámetros fisicoquímicos y uso de los géneros de ranas Plectro-
hyla y Ptychohyla como bioindicadores. Informe final de EPS. Es-
cuela de Biología. Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, Gua-
temala. 58 pp.
Johnson, J. d., M. e. aceVedo, P. staFFoRd, J. a. caMPbell, and d. aRi-
Ano-sáncHez. 2013. Chapinophis xanthocheilus. The IUCN Red List
of Threatened Species: e. T29481A2798429.
Fig. 2. Riverbed of Río Apaj within pristine cloud forest at 2,155 m
elev. at BUCQ, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, where the specimen of
Chapinophis xanthocheilus was found
Fig. 3. Localities of the four specimens of the Guatemalan Yellow-
lipped Snake Chapinophis xanthocheilus known to date, including
the present record from the Biotopo Protegido “Mario Day Rivera
para la Conservación del Quetzal (BUCQ), Baja Verapaz, Guatemala.
The names of the main highlands in the area are shown on the map.
Herpetological Review 48(1), 2017
Mendelson iii, J. R, e. d. bRodie, JR., J. h. Malone, M. e. aceVedo, M.
a. bakeR, n. J. sMatResk, and J. a. caMPbell. 2004. Factors associated
with the catastrophic decline of a cloudforest frog fauna in Guate-
mala. Rev. Biol. Trop. 52(4):991–1000.
MyeRs, c. W., and J. a. caMPbell. 1981. A new genus and species of col-
ubrid snake from Sierra Madre del Sur of Guerrero, Mexico. Am.
Mus. Novit. 2708:1–12.
PhilliPs, b., and R. PuschendoRF. 2013. Do pathogens become more
virulent as they spread? Evidence from the amphibian declines in
Central America. Proc. R. Soc. B 280:20131290.
rovito, s. M., G. PArrA-oLeA, c. r. vásquez-ALMAzán, t. J. PAPenfuss, And
d. b. Wake. 2009. Dramatic declines in Neotropical salamander
populations are an important part of the global amphibian crisis.
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 106:3231–3236.
Herpetological Review, 2017, 48(1), 28–31.
© 2017 by Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles
On the Distribution of Northern Bahamian Rock Iguanas
(Cyclura cychlura) in the Exuma Islands
The Northern Bahamian Rock Iguana (Cyclura cychlura) occurs
naturally only in the Exuma Islands and Andros Island of The
Bahamas, and is a globally Vulnerable species. In the Exumas, the
IUCN Red List gives its distribution as restricted to thirteen islands
(Knapp et al. 2004). However, various reports of its occurrence
on other islands, many without documentation, suggest a wider
distribution (e.g., Smith and Iverson 2006; Buckner et al. 2012).
Outside of its well-known population centers, there has been no
recent contemporaneous survey of the species occurrence within
its overall range in the Exumas. In this paper, I report the results
of a survey of the Exuma Islands, which together with other post-
Red List reports (Buckner et al. 2012), show iguanas to be more
widely distributed among islands in the Exumas than currently
documented in the literature, findings that have conservation
I conducted a range-wide survey of 45 islands in the Exumas,
Bahamas over 28 days from January 2013 to July 2014 to determine
presence of iguanas. Target islands were selected based on existing
records in the literature, interviews with local residents, tour
operators, authorities, and my previous personal observations.
Targeted islands, as well as nearby islands, were accessed by
boat and searched on foot, or from the boat for small islands. To
increase opportunity for sightings, islands were surveyed in both
winter (when basking is more prominent) and summer (when
nesting signs are more evident). Weather conditions during the
study were within seasonal norms and surveys were restricted to
days that were sunny to partly cloudy. Presence was determined
for each island based on sightings of live iguanas, fresh iguana
tracks, evidence of nesting, or scat. On islands where iguanas were
in evidence, I estimated whether there were five or fewer animals
or more than five. I also recorded evidence of reproduction, as
indicated by: nest with eggs; presence of a site-defending female;
a population of more than five individuals well dispersed over the
island; or presence of both adult and juvenile age classes.
Also included in the results is my January 2013 survey of two is-
lands outside the species’ natural range at Little San Salvador (aka
Half Moon Cay), roughly 97 km E of the Exuma Island chain, where
ten sub-adult and one hatchling rock iguanas from the Allen Cays
were introduced in 2005 and monitored in 2008 and 2009 (S. Buck-
ner and J. Iverson, pers. comm.; K. Hines, pers. obs.). I also include
additional islands listed in Buckner et al. (2012).
Location names follow Lewis and Lewis (2010) and Pavlidis
(2009). For islands not named on these charts, location
descriptions are provided. Precise latitude and longitude are not
provided for security reasons, but are deposited with the Bahamas
National Trust, Nassau, The Bahamas.
In this study I report Northern Bahamian Rock Iguanas on
35 islands in the Exumas (Table 1). These numbers include one
iguana island record I could not confirm due to tide limiting
island access (O’Briens Cay, Table 1), but that was based on two
independent incontrovertible reports from a national park official
and a knowledgeable local island manager (B. Cooksey and A. Kriz,
pers. comm.). Based on my observations, nineteen islands were
populated by more than five individuals and 19 showed evidence
of reproduction.
Thirteen of these islands represent those previously
documented in the IUCN Red List species account (Knapp et
al. 2004; see Table 1). These sites include nine historic natural
populations, two populations established by government-
sanctioned introductions (Knapp et al. 2011), and two
unsanctioned introductions (Aplasca 2013; Smith and Iverson
2006). I observed iguanas on one island (Warderick Wells) listed as
possibly extirpated by Buckner et al. (2012) and I found no signs of
iguanas on two islands listed to have iguanas in the Buckner et al.
(2012) report (NW of Flat Rock Reef Cay (“Barn Owl Cay” in Buckner
et al. 2012) and Lee Stocking Island; Table 1). I documented eleven
additional islands in the Exumas not previously reported to have
Although the present study was limited to the species’ natural
range in the Exumas, a sanctioned introduction of iguanas to
Guana Cay in the Little San Salvador lagoon in 2005 is notable.
The introduction ultimately resulted in two additional islands
being inhabited by Northern Bahamian Rock Iguanas. Iverson and
I confirmed reproduction on Guana Cay in 2008 (K. Hines and J.
Iverson, pers. obs.) and Buckner and I found population expansion
on the cay in 2009 (S. Buckner and K. Hines, pers. obs.). During
my survey of January 2013, I found that fewer than five individuals
remained on Guana Cay and at least three iguanas were on Little
San Salvador where there had previously been none. Size of one of
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