Imprimir Republish


Guide to Amazon snakes launched at the Butantan Institute

Illustrated panels provide information and teach visitors how to recognize 160 species that inhabit the biome

The yellow-bellied puffing snake (Spilotes sulphureus) is diurnal, does not have venom-injecting fangs, and lives on the ground and in trees

Laurie Vitt / Sam Noble Museum

If you go for a walk in the Amazon rainforest, caution dictates that you wear boots, leggings over your pants, and that you do not put your hands anywhere without first checking if it is safe. The caution is justified, since an accident with a venomous animal—especially snakes—could mean a complex rescue operation, if it is in a location far from medical assistance.

The Amazon is home to the greatest diversity of snakes in Brazil, but it comes as somewhat of a surprise that the majority of the species do not pose any risk to human beings. This is just one of the facts presented in the illustrated guide Serpentes da Amazônia (Snakes of the Amazon; Ponto A, 2023), recently published by a quartet of researchers knowledgeable about this animal group: Otavio Marques, of the Butantan Institute; André Eterovic, of the Federal University of ABC (UFABC); Marcio Martins, of the University of São Paulo (USP); and Ivan Sazima, of the University of Campinas (UNICAMP).

“Marcio Martins has vast experience in the Amazon, where he worked in the Ducke reserve, in the region of Manaus,” says Marques, stressing that his colleague is also an excellent photographer—an essential attribute for creating a visual guide. “Sazima also has lots of images of snakes from a range of places,” he adds.

However, after the bibliographical review that defined the known species that should make up the book, it was necessary to go in search of photographic records of the more discreet ones and those that live in other Amazonian states. Due to a lack of images, 16 of them had to be left out.

After general information about the Amazon and about snakes, the guide provides, on each page, a photograph with the scientific and popular name, family, and icons that reveal ecological and biological details. The most dangerous in relation to the potential for accidents are marked with a red skull and crossbones, to leave no doubt. At the end, there are distribution maps for the 160 included species—around 98% of the known total for the biome.

Otavio Marques / Butantan The parrot snake (Leptophis ahaetulla) shows its dark mouthOtavio Marques / Butantan

Marques explains that many of the species only exist in the Amazon, but are widely distributed within this forest—which means the risk of extinction is not a recurring problem, as is the case in the Atlantic Forest, where occurrence is often restricted to locations that can be easily destroyed. Even so, there is one stand-out case: the false coral snake Anilius scytale, the sole species of the Aniilidae family, only exists in this region (although in all the Amazonian states). “If it disappeared, a whole family would cease to exist,” reflects the herpetologist. Besides this taxonomic singularity, the animal, with alternating black and red stripes, still holds the trump card of being the most similar to the ancestor of all the snakes. In the icons that accompany its picture, we learn that it is nocturnal, the chance of seeing it is average, like its size; it does not have venom-injecting fangs; it gives birth to offspring without the egg case; it lives in water and below the leaf litter or in the earth; it feeds on snakes; and, when threatened, makes erratic movements, hides its head, curls its tail, and releases feces and other repulsive substances from its vent.

Ivan Sazima / UNICAMP A juvenile emerald tree boa (Corallus caninus) relaxes in a treeIvan Sazima / UNICAMP

Getting the information for the icons is not always an easy task, even searching extensively in scientific articles. “We relied on the experience of the authors and reports from other people,” explains Marques. They include, as a result, new information that has not been published elsewhere.

The researcher, who is also coauthor of similar guides for the Atlantic Forest, Pantanal, Cerrado (wooded savanna), and the Caatinga (semiarid scrublands), states that the most recent volume is already out of date because of species described since the completion of the guide. In fact, the Atlantic Forest guide was published in 2001 and more recently, in 2019, gained an updated and expanded edition. The snakes from the less diverse southern plains still remain to be covered.

Ivan Sazima / UNICAMP The false coral (Anilius scytale) is the most similar to the ancestor of all the snakesIvan Sazima / UNICAMP

The guides can be used by anybody interested in recognizing snakes and learning more about them. Physicist Ricardo Galvão, of USP and current president of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), tells in the preface to the Amazon guide how, at age seven, he learned from his grandfather about the ecological importance of snakes and also the necessity of sending them live to the Butantan Institute for the production of snake antivenom. He keeps a box and a specialized snare pole on his farm in the countryside of the state of São Paulo for exactly this reason. Also, next to his desk, there is the guide Serpentes da Mata Atlântica (Snakes of the Atlantic Forest). “[…] whenever I have the chance, I show the photos and explanations about the most common snakes in the area to the worker who is providing a service, seeking to encourage them to capture them instead of killing them,” he writes, confessing relative success.

The book will be released at the Butantan Institute on December 7, at 6:00 PM, as part of a program that involves a presentation by Marcio Martins, an autograph session, cocktail, and a tour of the collection and serpentarium, with the opportunity to touch a snake in the flesh.

Snakes in the Amazon: Illustrated guide (nº 23/06733-1); Grant Mechanism Research Grant – Scientific Publications – Books in Brazil; Principal Investigator Otavio Augusto Vuolo Marques (Instituto Butantan); Investment R$35,900.
2. Challenges in the conservation of amphibians and scaled reptiles, with an emphasis on Brazilian fauna: From basic information to conservation actions (nº 20/12658-4); Grant Mechanism Thematic Project Program Biota; Principal Investigator Marcio Roberto Costa Martins (USP); Investment R$1,753,183.58.

MARQUES, O. A. V. et al. Serpentes da Amazônia – Guia ilustrado. Ponto A. 2023.