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Biomedical database


Colubrids Elapids Vipers Pit Vipers

Colubridae (Colubrids)

Including the genera Boiga, Rhabdophis, Dispholidus and Thelothornis

Most colubrids possess modified supralabial salivary glands which in many cases are in the form of so-called Duvernoy's glands. The saliva produced by such glands may contain various amounts of toxic compounds.

Duvernoy's glands are structures that are homologous to the venom glands of true venomous snakes. Secretions from these glands empty through a duct into the region of the posterior maxillary teeth. In many species, the teeth are elongated in this region. In this regard, colubrids can be divided into those with grooved teeth or fangs (opisthoglyphs) and those without grooved teeth (aglyphs).

The following tables list those colubrids that may possess venomous saliva, on the basis of morphological criteria (elongated or grooved teeth, nature of the glands). The lists have been compiled according to McKinstry (1983). Atractaspis spp. and Homoroselaps spp., which were recently assigned to the Colubridae family, are listed elsewhere. 


Key to the geographical distribution:

New World:

CI          Caribbean Islands
NAm     North America including Mexico
SAm     South and Central America

Old World:

Af         Sub-Saharan Africa
As        Asia

Aus      Australia

EAs      East Asia (in particular China)
Eu        Europe

Ind       Indonesia, the Malay Peninsula and Borneo
Mad     Madagascar
NAf      North Africa including the Sahara
Phil      Philippines

SAs      Southern Asia (India and Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indochina, in some cases southern China)
WAs     Western Asia (Arabian Peninsula to western Pakistan)


1. Worldwide aglyphous colubrid genera with unmodified maxillary teeth. Supralabial glands or Duvernoy's glands present

Genus Distribution Genus Distribution
Amphiesma EAs, Ind, Aus Natriciteres Af
Arizona NAm Nerodia (= Natrix) NAm
Boaedon Af Oligodon SAs, Ind
Bothrophthalmus Af Opheodrys NAm, SAs, Ind
Calamaria SAs, Ind Opisthotrophis SAs, Ind
Chironius SAm Pareas SAs, Ind
Coluber Eu, NAm, SAm, As, NAf Pituophis NAm, SAm
Conopsis NAm, SAm Pliocercus NAm, SAm
Coronella Eu, Af, As Pseudaspis Af
Dendrelaphis SAs, Ind, Aus Pseudoeryx SAm
Dipsas NAm, SAm Ptyas SAs
Dryadophis NAm, SAm Rhinocheilus NAm
Drymarchon NAm, SAm Salvadora NAm
Drymobius NAm, SAm Scaphiodontophis NAm, SAm
Dryocalamus SAs Scaphiophis Af
Duberria Af Sibon NAm, SAm
Eirensis NAf, WAs Sibynomorphus SAm
Elaphe Eu, NAm, SAm, As Sibynophis SAs, Mad, Ind
Farancia (= Abastor) NAm Spalerosophis NAf, WAs
Gastropyxis Af Spilotes NAm, SAm
Geophis NAm, SAm Stegonotus Ind, Aus, Phil
Gonyophis SAs, Ind Storeria NAm, SAm
Haldea (= Virginia) NAm Thamnophis NAm, SAm
Helicops SAm Trachischium SAs
Lampropeltis NAm, SAm Tretanorhinus NAm, SAm, CI
Lycophidion Af Xenochrophis Ind, SAs
Masticophis NAm, SAm Zaocys SAs
Mehelya Af    


2. New World aglyphous colubrid genera with elongated maxillary teeth

Genus Distribution Genus Distribution
Alsophis CI  Liophis  SAm
Amastridium SAm  Lystrophis  SAm



 NAm, SAm

Cemophora NAm  Ptychophis  SAm
Diadophis NAm  Rhachidelus  SAm
Drepanoides SAm  Rhadinaea  NAm, SAm
Eridiphas NAm  Rhadinophanes  NAm
Erythrolamprus NAm, SAm  Storeria  NAm, SAm
Heterodon NAm Tantalophis  NAm
Hydrodynastes SAm  Uromacer  CI
Hydrops SAm  Uromacerina  SAm
Hypsiglena NAm, SAm  Urotheca  SAm
Leptophis NAm, SAm  Waglerophis  SAm
Lioheterophis SAm  Xenodon  SAm


3. Old World aglyphous colubrid genera with elongated maxillary teeth

Genus Distribution
Cyclocorus Phil
Dinodon SAs, EAs
Lioheterodon Mad
Lycodon SAs, Ind
Macropisthodon SAs, Ind
Oligodon SAs, Ind
Prosymna Af
Pseudoxenodon SAs, Ind
Pseudoxyrhopus Mad
Rhabdophis EAs
Spalerosophis NAf, WAs
Thrasops Af


4. New World opisthoglyphous colubrid genera

Genus Distribution Genus Distribution
Amastridium SAm Phimophis SAm
Apostolepis SAm Platyinion SAm
Calamodontophis SAm Pseudablabes SAm
Chilomeniscus NAm Pseudoboa SAm, CI
Chionactis NAm Pseudotomodon SAm
Clelia SAm Ptychophis SAm
Coniophanes NAm, SAm Rhachidelus  SAm
Conophis NAm, SAm Rhinobothryum SAm
Crisantophis SAm Scolecophis  SAm
Ditaxodon SAm Siphlophis  SAm
Drepanoides SAm Sonora NAm
Elapomorphus SAm Stenorrhina NAm, SAm
Erythrolamprus NAm, SAm Tachymenis  SAm
Gomesophis SAm Tantilla NAm, SAm
Ialtris CI Thamnodynastes SAm
Imantodes NAm, SAm Toluca (= Ogmius) NAm
Leptodeira NAm, SAm Tomodon SAm
Manolepis NAm Trimorphodon NAm, SAm
Oxybelis NAm, SAm Tripanurgos SAm
Oxyrhopus NAm, SAm Tropidodryas SAm
Parapostolepis SAm Xenopholis SAm
Philodryas SAm    


5. Old World opisthoglyphous colubrid genera

Genus Distribution Genus Distribution
Ahaetulla SAs Hemirhagerrhis Af
Alluaudina Mad Heurnia Ind
Amblyodipsas Af Hologerrhum Phil
Amplorhinus Af Homalopsis SAs, Ind
Aparallactus Af Ithycyphus Mad
Bitia SAs, Ind Langaha Mad
Boiga Af, SAs, Ind, Aus Lycodryas Mad
Brachyophis NAf Macrelaps Af
Cantoria SAs, Ind Macroprotodon Eu, NAf
Cerberus SAs, Ind, Aus Madagascarophis Mad
Chilorhinophis Af Malpolon Eu, NAf, WAs
Chrysopelea SAs, Ind Micrelaps Af, WAs
Crotaphopeltis Af Mimophis Mad
Dipsadoboa Af Myron Ind, Aus
Dispholidus Af Polemon (= Miodon) Af
Ditypophis ? Psammodynastes SAs, Ind
Dromophis Af Psammophis Af, SAs
Dryophiops SAs Psammophylax Af
Elachistodon SAs Pythonodipsas Af
Elapotinus Af (?) Rhabdophis EAs, Ind
Enhydris SAs, Ind, Aus Rhamphiophis Af
Erpeton SAs Stenophis Mad
Fordonia SAs, Ind, Aus Telescopus Eu, NAf, Af, WAs
Geodipsas Mad Thelotornis Af
Gerarda SAs Xenocalamus Af



Secretion of venom through Duvernoy's glands is generally slower than in the true venomous snakes with their highly developed venom glands. Envenoming from a colubrid bite is more likely if the snake does not let go immediately and injects the venom by means of a chewing motion. Nonetheless, very quick bites can also cause envenoming. The opisthoglyphs possess the most efficient venom apparatus amongst the colubrids, as the venom, which is released at the base of the teeth, is channelled into the grooves and can thus flow quickly along the teeth and into the bite.

Serious cases of colubrid envenoming are rare amongst humans and are generally the consequence of handling these snakes. In many cases, the victims are herpetologists or laypersons who collect snakes or keep them in terraria, and who are often quite unaware of the risk. Many colubrids, including opisthoglyphs, are sold as harmless animals.

Minton (1990b) provides an overview of colubrid envenoming.

The dangerous colubrids, which have even been known to cause systemic envenoming, are the opisthoglyphs Dispholidus typus, Thelotornis sp., Malpolon monspessulanus, Boiga irregularis, Tachymenis peruviana and Elapomorphus bilineatus, as well as Rhabdophis sp., an aglyphous genus which can have greatly elongated teeth. The genera Boiga, Rhabdophis, Dispholidus and Thelothornis are discussed in more detail (individual entries below).

The other colubrids have so far only been known to cause local envenoming (see below).


The Reptile Database


Additionial entries with unclear regional distribution