Published December 16, 2020. Open access.

Gallery ❯

Gorgona Shade-Lizard (Alopoglossus gorgonae)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Alopoglossidae | Alopoglossus gorgonae

English common names: Gorgona Shade-Lizard, Rusty Shade-Lizard.

Spanish common name: Lagartija sombría de Gorgona.

Recognition: ♂♂ 22.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=7.8 cm. ♀♀ 15.8 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=5.5 cm.. The Gorgona Shade-Lizard (Alopoglossus gorgonae) is a small, slender, and brownish lizard distinguishable from other Chocoan lizards in Ecuador by having weakly (nearly smooth) striated rectangular dorsal scales (Fig. 1), and extremities so short that the front and hind limbs fail to overlap (or do so barely) when pressed against its body.1,2 The ventral surfaces of females is pale orange, whereas that of males is deep orange and yellow.1 Juveniles are more vividly marked and have a characteristic pattern of bright red markings on the head, including a nape band and two blotches on the snout.1 One lizard that can be found living alongside A. gorgonae and is similar in external appearance is A. harrisi, which has mucronate (ending abruptly in a sharp point) dorsal scales.3

Figure showing variation among individuals of Alopoglossus gorgonae

Figure 1: Individuals of Alopoglossus gorgonae from Bilsa Biological Reserve, Esmeraldas province (), and Bosque Privado El Jardín de los Sueños, Cotopaxi province (), Ecuador. ad=adult, j=juvenile.

Natural history: Alopoglossus gorgonae is an extremely rare4,5 cryptozoic (preferring moist, shaded microhabitats) and semi-fossorial lizard that inhabits old-growth to moderately disturbed evergreen lowland forests (=rainforest) but may as well be found in banana plantations near forest borders.1,4 Observations in the wild4 as well as in captivity1 suggest that Gorgona Shade-Lizards are active in the leaf-litter at night. When not active, individuals hide under rocks, rotten trunks, and in thick humid leaf-litter.1,4 One female contained four advanced ovarian follicles,1 but the actual clutch size is unknown. When threatened, individuals of A. gorgonae will quickly flee under cover. If captured, they may bite or readily shed the tail.4

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Conservation: Near Threatened Not currently at risk of extinction, but requires some level of management to maintain healthy populations.. Alopoglossus gorgonae has not been formally evaluated by the IUCN. Two regional conservation assessments categorize it as Data Deficient.6,7 Here, the species is proposed to be included in the Near Threatened category following IUCN criteria8 because the species is widely distributed throughout the Chocoan lowlands, especially in areas that have not been heavily affected by deforestation, like the Colombian Pacific coast. Thus, the species is considered to be facing no major immediate extinction threats. The main threat to the long-term survival of populations of A. gorgonae is the continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat, mostly due to encroaching human activities such as agriculture and cattle grazing. In Ecuador, an estimated ~68% of the habitat of the species has been destroyed.9 Therefore, the species may qualify for a threatened category in the near future if this threat is not addressed.

Distribution: Alopoglossus gorgonae is native to the Chocoan lowlands and adjacent foothills of the Andes in Ecuador and Colombia. The species occurs at elevations between 16 and 638 m (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Alopoglossus gorgonae in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Alopoglossus gorgonae in Ecuador. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Alopoglossus, which is derived from the Greeks words alopekia (meaning “bare”) and glossa (meaning “tongue”),10 refers to the tongue of lizards of this genus, which lacks scale-like papillae.1,11 The specific epithet gorgonae refers both to Gorgon, a snake-haired creature in Greek mythology, and to the type locality, Gorgona, an island in the Colombian Pacific Ocean.1

See it in the wild: Gorgona Shade-Lizards are recorded rarely, no more than once every few months. In Ecuador, there are three reserves where individuals of Alopoglossus gorgonae have been found more than once: Bosque Privado El Jardín de los Sueños, Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve, and Bilsa Biological Reserve. At these places, Gorgona Shade-Lizards can be found by digging in areas of thick damp leaf-litter or by turning over rocks and logs.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Daniela Franco for finding one of the individuals of Alopoglossus gorgonae photographed in this account. This account was published with the support of Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior Ciencia y Tecnología (programa INEDITA; project: Respuestas a la crisis de biodiversidad: la descripción de especies como herramienta de conservación; No 00110378), Programa de las Naciones Unidas (PNUD), and Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ).

Author: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographers: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2020) Gorgona Shade-Lizard (Alopoglossus gorgonae). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/TSIY5285

Literature cited:

  1. Harris DM (1994) Review of the teiid lizard genus Ptychoglossus. Herpetological Monographs 8: 226–275. DOI: 10.2307/1467082
  2. Peters JA, Donoso-Barros R (1970) Catalogue of the Neotropical Squamata: part II, lizards and amphisbaenians. Bulletin of the United States National Museum, Washington, D.C., 293 pp.
  3. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  4. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. Castro-Herrera F, Valencia-Aguilar A, Villaquirán-Martínez DF (2012) Diversidad de anfibios y reptiles del Parque Nacional Natural Isla Gorgona. Universidad del Valle, Cali, 112 pp.
  6. Carrillo E, Aldás A, Altamirano M, Ayala F, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Endara A, Márquez C, Morales M, Nogales F, Salvador P, Torres ML, Valencia J, Villamarín F, Yánez-Muñoz M, Zárate P (2005) Lista roja de los reptiles del Ecuador. Fundación Novum Millenium, Quito, 46 pp.
  7. Morales-Betancourt MA, Lasso CA, Páez VP, Bock BC (2005) Libro rojo de reptiles de Colombia. Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt, Bogotá, 257 pp.
  8. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  9. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  10. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  11. Boulenger GA (1885) Catalogue of the lizards in the British Museum. Taylor & Francis, London, 497 pp.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Alopoglossus gorgonae in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaNariñoEl PalmichalPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoReserva Natural El PangániNaturalist
EcuadorChimborazoChimboHarris 1994
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque Privado El Jardín de los SueñosThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReserveThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva ItapoaThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Tesoro EscondidoCitlalli Morelos, pers. comm.
EcuadorManabíReserva Biológica Tito SantosAlmendáriz et al. 2012
EcuadorManabíReserva Jama CoaqueThis work
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca la EsperanzaHarris 1994