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Temporal range: Oligocene to recent
Coluber caspius.jpg
Caspian whipsnake, Coluber caspius
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Superfamily: Colubroidea
Family: Colubridae
Oppel, 1811

Colubridae (/kəˈlbrɪd/, commonly known as colubrids /ˈkɒljʊbrɪdz/, from Latin: coluber, 'snake') is a family of snakes. With 249 genera,[1] it is the largest snake family. The earliest species of the family date back to the Oligocene epoch. Colubrid snakes are found on every continent except Antarctica.[2]


While most colubrids are not venomous (or have venom that is not known to be harmful to humans) and are mostly harmless, a few groups, such as genus Boiga, can produce medically significant bites. In addition, the boomslang, the twig snakes, and the Asian genus Rhabdophis have caused human fatalities.[2][3][4]

According to Scott Weinstein, author of "Venomous" Bites from Non-Venomous Snakes, more research needs to be done on the bites and venom of colubrids.[4] Some colubrids are described as opisthoglyphous (often called "rear-fanged"), meaning they have elongated, grooved teeth located in the back of their upper jaws. Opisthoglyphous dentition likely evolved many times in the history of snakes[3] and is an evolutionary precursor to the fangs of vipers and elapids, which are located in the front of the mouth.[5][6][7][2][3]


In the past, the Colubridae were not a natural group, as many were more closely related to other groups, such as elapids, than to each other.[8] This family was historically used as a "wastebasket taxon"[4] for snakes that do not fit elsewhere.[9] Until recently, colubrids were basically colubroids that were not elapids, viperids, or Atractaspis.[10]

However, recent research in molecular phylogenetics has stabilized the classification of historically "colubrid" snakes and the family as currently defined is a monophyletic clade,[11][12][13][14] although additional research will be necessary to sort out all the relationships within this group. As of May 2018, eight subfamilies are recognized.[15]

Current subfamilies

Sibynophiinae – 2 genera

Natricinae – 37 genera (sometimes given as family Natricidae)

Two Indian rat snakes (grey and yellow)
Two Indian rat snakes (grey and yellow)

Pseudoxenodontinae – 2 genera

Dipsadinae – 99 genera (sometimes given as family Dipsadidae)

Grayiinae – 1 genus

Calamariinae – 7 genera

Ahaetuliinae – 5 genera

Colubrinae – 93 genera

A colubrine, Dolichophis jugularis, preying on a legless lizard, a sheltopusik
A colubrine, Dolichophis jugularis, preying on a legless lizard, a sheltopusik

Unknown incertae sedis (not currently placed in a subfamily, usually because of the absence of genetic data, but suspected to be colubrids based on morphology)

Former subfamilies

These taxa have been at one time or another classified as part of the Colubridae, but are now either classified as parts of other families, or are no longer accepted because all the species within them have been moved to other (sub)families.

Fossil Colubridae

North America

Locations of Colubridae fossil finds in Mexico
White pog.svg Cueva de Abra Travertine
Yellow ffff80 pog.svg Goleta Formation#
Yellow pog.svg Las Tunas Wash; Jeffries Site
Find NALMA Formation Notes Refs
Colubrinae indet. Pleistocene Cueva de Abra Travertine Described from Cueva de Abra Travertine in Tamaulipas by W. W. Dalquest and E. Roth. 1970. Late Pleistocene mammals from a cave in Tamaulipas, Mexico. Southwestern Naturalist 15(2):217-230 [17]
?Pituophis sp. Blancan Described from Las Tunas Wash; Jeffries Site in Baja California Sur by W. E. Miller. 1980. The Late Pliocene Las Tunas Local Fauna from Southernmost Baja California, Mexico. Journal of Paleontology 54(4):762-805 [18]
Lampropeltis intermedius Blancan Goleta Described from locality in Michoacán by C. A. Repenning. 1962. The Giant Ground Squirrel Paenemarmota. Journal of Paleontology 36(3):540-556 [19]

South America

Locations of Colubridae fossil finds in South America
White pog.svg Pleisto-Holocene ages
Yellow ffff80 pog.svg Pliocene ages
Yellow pog.svg Miocene ages

Find SALMA Basin Formation Country Notes Refs
"Colubridae sp." sic Laventan VSM Villavieja  Colombia Described from same Los Mangos Fishbed in Huila; Colombophis portai and Eunectes stirtoni by R. Hoffstetter and J.-C. Rage. 1977. Le gisement de vertébrés Miocènes de La Venta (Colombie) et sa faune de serpents. Annales de Paléontologie (Vertébrés) 63(2):161-190 [20]
indet. Chasicoan
Solimões Solimões  Brazil Described from Talismã, upper Purus River locality in Amazonas; the snakes Colombophis spinosus, aff. Epicrates sp., Eunectes sp. , the turtle Chelonoidis sp., crocodylians Acresuchus pachytemporalis and Caiman brevirostris, lizard cf. Paradracaena sp., and many mammals by Cozzuol, Mario Alberto. 2006. The Acre vertebrate fauna: Age, diversity, and geography. Journal of South American Earth Sciences 21. 185–203. Accessed 2017-08-15. [21]
Colubrinae indet. Holocene Subandean Belt Ñuapua  Bolivia Described from Ñuapua 2 locality in Chuquisaca; snakes Tupinambis teguixin, Boidae indet., Crotalidae indet., turtles, frogs Leptodactylus cf. ocellatus, Bufo cf. paracnemis, birds Crypturellus tataupa, Podiceps minor, Podiceps auritus cornutus, Platalea ajaja, Rhea cf. americana, Anas sp., Coccyzus sp., Dendrocygna sp., Jacana sp., Nyctibius sp., Platalea sp., cf. Rhynchotus sp., Columbidae indet., Falconidae indet., Passeriformes indet., Rallidae indet., fossils of Tolypeutus matacus, Ceratrophrys cf. ornata, and Leposternon sp., and many mammals including Homo sapiens by Marshall, Larry G., and Thierry Sempere. 1991. The Eocene to Pleistocene vertebrates of Bolivia and their stratigraphic context: A review. Revista técnica de YPFB 12. 631–652. Accessed 2017-08-15. [22]
indet. Chapadmalalan Sierras de Córdoba Brochero  Argentina Described from Valle de Traslasierra - Paso del Río Arriba and Pedernara Cliffs locality in Córdoba; with Rhinella cf. arenarum, R. cf. spinulosa, Teius sp., ?Liolaemus sp., Iguanidae indet. and the mammals Chukimys favaloroi and Echimyidae indet. by L. E. Cruz, J. C. Fernicola, and C. A. Carignano. 2018. New Vertebrates of the Brochero Formation (Córdoba, Argentina): A Review of the Pliocene of Central Argentina. Journal of Mammalian Evolution 25:315-326 [23]
indet. Chasicoan Colorado Cerro Azul  Argentina Described from Cerro La Bota locality in La Pampa; reported with many mammal fossils by Verzi, Diego H.; Claudia I. Montalvo, and Cecilia M. Deschamps. 2008. Biostratigraphy and biochronology of the Late Miocene of central Argentina: Evidence from rodents and taphonomy. Geobios 41. 145–155. Accessed 2017-08-15. [24]
indet. Montehermosan Claromecó Monte Hermoso  Argentina From several localities in Buenos Aires; reported by R. L. Tomassini, C. I. Montalvo, C.M. Deschamps and T. Manera. 2013. Biostratigraphy and biochronology of the Monte Hermoso Formation (early Pliocene) at its type locality, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina. Journal of South American Earth Sciences 48:31-42 and C. M. Deschamps, G. I. Esteban, and M. S. Bargo. 2001. El registro más antiguo del género Lestodon Gervais, 1855 (Xenarthra, Tardigrada, Mylodontidae) (Montehermosense, Plioceno Temprano). Ameghiniana 38(2):151-156 [25][26]
indet. Colhuehuapian Golfo San Jorge Trelew Mb of Sarmiento  Argentina Described from same Gaiman locality in Chubut; Gaimanophis tenuis, Waincophis sp., the turtle Chelonoidis gringorum and many mammals by A. M. Albino. 1996. Snakes from the Miocene of Patagonia (Argentina) Part I: The Booidea. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 199(3):417-434 [29]
indet. Santacrucian Austral Rio Pinturas  Argentina From Río Pinturas locality in Santa Cruz; reported by A. M. Albino. 1996. Snakes from the Miocene of Patagonia (Argentina) Part II: The Colubroidea. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 200(3):353-360 [30]
indet. Santacrucian Austral Santa Cruz  Argentina Sole reptile described from Santa Cruz Formation locality in Santa Cruz together with the terror birds Psilopterus bachmanni, P. lemoinei, Phororhacos longissimus, Patagornis marshi, Brontornis burmeisteri, penguin Paraptenodytes antarcticus and other birds Eoneornis australis, Eutelornis patagonicus, Anisolornis excavatus, Protibis cnemialis, Opisthodactylus patagonicus, Liptornis hesternus, and many mammals by A. M. Albino. 1996. Snakes from the Miocene of Patagonia (Argentina) Part II: The Colubroidea. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 200(3):353-360 & Vizcaíno, Sergio F.; Richard F. Kay, and Susana Bargo. 2012. Early Miocene Paleobiology in Patagonia: High-Latitude Paleocommunities of the Santa Cruz Formation, 1–370. Cambridge University Press ISBN 9780521194617. Accessed 2017-10-21.}} [31][32]


  1. ^ "Colubrid". Britannica. Retrieved 2 December 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Bauer, Aaron M. (1998). Cogger, H.G.; Zweifel, R.G. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. San Diego: Academic Press. pp. 188–195. ISBN 0-12-178560-2.
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  6. ^ Vonk, F. J.; Admiraal, J. F.; Jackson, K.; Reshef, R.; de Bakker, M. A.; Vanderschoot, K.; van den Berge, I.; van Atten, M.; Burgerhout, E.; Beck, A. (2008). "Evolutionary origin and development of snake fangs" (PDF). Nature. 454 (7204): 630–633. Bibcode:2008Natur.454..630V. doi:10.1038/nature07178. PMID 18668106. S2CID 4362616. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-04-13. Retrieved 2018-05-13.
  7. ^ Fry, B. G.; Casewell, N. R.; Wüster, W.; Vidal, N.; Young, B.; Jackson, T. N. (2012). "The structural and functional diversification of the Toxicofera reptile venom system" (PDF). Toxicon. 60 (4): 434–448. doi:10.1016/j.toxicon.2012.02.013. PMID 22446061.
  8. ^ Lawson, R.; Slowinski, J.B.; Crother, B.I.; Burbrink, F.T. (2005). "Phylogeny of the Colubroidea (Serpentes): New evidence from mitochondrial and nuclear genes" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 37 (2): 581–601. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2005.07.016. PMID 16172004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2010-12-08.
  9. ^ Fry, B.G.; Vidal, N.; van der Weerd, L.; Kochva, E.; Renjifo, C. (2009). "Evolution and diversification of the Toxicofera reptile venom system". Journal of Proteomics. 72 (2): 127–136. doi:10.1016/j.jprot.2009.01.009. PMID 19457354.
  10. ^ Pough, F. H.; Andrews, R. M.; Cadle, J. E.; Crump, M. L.; Savitzky, A. H.; Wells, K. (2004). Herpetology (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River (NJ): Prentice Hall. p. 162. ISBN 0138508763.
  11. ^ Pyron, R. A.; Burbrink, F.; Wiens, J. J. (2013). "A phylogeny and revised classification of Squamata, including 4161 species of lizards and snakes". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 13: 93. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-93. PMC 3682911. PMID 23627680.
  12. ^ Figueroa, A.; McKelvy, A. D.; Grismer, L. L.; Bell, C. D.; Lailvaux, S. P. (2016). "A species-level phylogeny of extant snakes with description of a new colubrid subfamily and genus". PLOS ONE. 11 (9): e0161070. Bibcode:2016PLoSO..1161070F. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0161070. PMC 5014348. PMID 27603205.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Pyron, R. A.; Burbrink, F. T.; Colli, G. R.; de Oca, A. N. M.; Vitt, L. J.; Kuczynski, C. A.; Wiens, J. J. (2011). "The phylogeny of advanced snakes (Colubroidea), with discovery of a new subfamily and comparison of support methods for likelihood trees" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 58 (2): 329–342. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2010.11.006. PMID 21074626.
  14. ^ Zheng, Y; Wiens, JJ (2016). "Combining phylogenomic and supermatrix approaches, and a time-calibrated phylogeny for squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes) based on 52 genes and 4162 species" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 94 (Pt B): 537–547. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2015.10.009. PMID 26475614.
  15. ^ Uetz, Peter. "Colubridae at The Reptile Database". The Reptile Database. EMBL. Retrieved 13 May 2018.
  16. ^ a b Savage, Jay M. (2015). "What are the correct family names for the taxa that include the snake genera Xenodermus, Pareas, and Calamaria?". Herpetological Review. 46 (4): 664–665. Archived from the original on 2016-03-07. Retrieved 2018-05-14.
  17. ^ Fossilworks
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  30. ^ Fossilworks
  31. ^ Fossilworks
  32. ^ Fossilworks


External links

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