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Messelophis ermannorum 02.jpg
Messelophis ermannorum extinct pygmy boa
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Superfamily: Anilioidea
Family: Tropidophiidae
Brongersma, 1951
  • Ungualiidae Cope, 1894
  • Ungaliidae Cope, 1900
  • Tropidophinae Brongersma, 1951
  • Tropidophidae Underwood, 1976
  • Tropidophiidae Duellman, 1979
  • Tropidopheidae McDowell, 1987
  • Ungaliopheinae McDowell, 1987
  • Tropidopheinae — McDowell, 1987
  • Tropidopheidae
    H.M. Smith & Preston, 1987
  • Tropidopheoidae
    — H.M. Smith & Chiszar, 1992[1]

The Tropidophiidae, common name dwarf boas,[2] are a family of nonvenomous snakes found from Mexico and the West Indies south to southeastern Brazil. These are small to medium-sized fossorial snakes, some with beautiful and striking color patterns. Currently, two living genera, containing 34 species, are recognized.[3] Two other genera (Ungaliophis and Exiliboa) were once considered to be tropidophiids but are now known to be more closely related to boids, and are classified in the subfamily Ungaliophiinae. There are a relatively large number of fossil snakes that have been described as tropidophiids (because their vertebrae are easy to identify), but which of these are more closely related to Tropidophis and Trachyboa and which are more closely related to Ungaliophis and Exiliboa is unknown.


This family is confined to the neotropics, mainly in Hispaniola, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands, with the greatest diversity being in Cuba, where new species are being discovered. These snakes are relatively small, averaging to about 30–60 cm (12–24 in) in total length (including tail).


Most species spend their day burrowed underground or under vegetation, surfacing only at night or when it rains. Some species are arboreal and are often seen hiding in bromeliads in trees.

Color change[edit]

The dwarf boas can change color from light (when they are active at night) to dark (inactive in the day). This color change is brought about by the movement of dark pigment granules.

Defensive behavior[edit]

When threatened, tropidophiids coil up into a tight ball. A more peculiar defensive behavior is their ability to bleed voluntarily from the eyes, mouth, and nostrils.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

They are found from southern Mexico and Central America, south to northwestern South America in Colombia, (Amazonian) Ecuador, and Peru, as well as in northwestern and southeastern Brazil, and also in the West Indies.[1]


Genus[2] Taxon author[1] Species[2] Common name Geographic range[1]
Trachyboa W. Peters, 1860 2 Panama, Pacific Colombia and Ecuador.
TropidophisT Bibron, 1840 17 The West Indies, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador.

T Type genus.[1]

See also[edit]

Cited references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e McDiarmid RW, Campbell JA, Touré T. 1999. Snake Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, Volume 1. Washington, District of Columbia: Herpetologists' League. 511 pp. ISBN 1-893777-00-6 (series). ISBN 1-893777-01-4 (volume).
  2. ^ a b c "Tropidophiidae". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 17 August 2007. 
  3. ^ "Tropidophiidae". The Reptile Database. Retrieved 24 April 2017. 

External links[edit]