Published April 12, 2022. Updated December 12, 2023. Open access.

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Western Shade-Lizard (Alopoglossus harrisi)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Alopoglossidae | Alopoglossus harrisi

English common name: Western Shade-Lizard.

Spanish common names: Lagartija sombría occidental, lagartija sombría de Harris.

Recognition: ♂♂ 16.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=6.0 cm. ♀♀ 18.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=6.4 cm..1,2 The Western Shade-Lizard (Alopoglossus harrisi) is a small, slender lizard with a brown dorsum and a light vertebral stripe.3,4 It can be distinguished from other lizards in western Ecuador by having strongly keeled and overlapping dorsal scales on the back4 and by lacking postparietal scales.5 Alopoglossus harrisi is most likely to be confused with A. viridiceps, a cloud forest species from which it differs by having 16–24 (instead of 29–32) dorsal scales in a transverse row in the middle of the body and by lacking the following features: green dorsal coloration on the head and a whitish line running from the corner of the mouth to the shoulder.2 However, these two species are not known to co-occur.6

Figure showing variation among individuals of Alopoglossus harrisi

Figure 1: Individuals of Alopoglossus harrisi from Cerro de Hayas, Guayas province (); and Buenaventura Reserve, El Oro province (); Ecuador. j=juvenile.

Natural history: Alopoglossus harrisi is an extremely common lizard that inhabits old growth to heavily disturbed evergreen lowland/foohill forests and seasonally dry forests.6 The species also occurs in disturbed areas such as banana, cacao, and coffee plantations.1,7,8 During sunny days, Western Shade-Lizards forage actively on the leaf-litter in shaded areas instead of in open or very dry areas.1,8,9 During cold or cloudy days, these lizards hide under rocks and logs.1 At night, they are usually found sleeping among the leaf-litter.1 The diet of A. harrisi probably includes a wide range of terrestrial insectes, but so far only cockroaches have been confirmed as prey.1 In the presence of a disturbance, Western Shade-Lizards usually quickly retreat under leaf-litter; if captured, they may shed the tail or bite.1 Nothing is known about the reproductive habits of the species, although other Alopoglossus lay two eggs per clutch.10

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances.. 8 Alopoglossus harrisi is included in this category mainly on the basis of the species’ wide distribution, presence in protected areas, presumed large stable populations, and adaptability to human-modified environments.8 However, the fragmentation and loss of forest habitat are major threats to some populations of this species, particularly those occurring in the lowlands of western Ecuador, where ~64% of the species’ potential distribution is deforested.11

Distribution: Alopoglossus harrisi is native to the Pacific lowlands and adjacent foothills of the Andes (Chocó and Tumbesian regions) in Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), and Peru.

Distribution of Alopoglossus harrisi in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Alopoglossus harrisi in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Vinces. 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 (=bare) and glossa (=tongue),12 refers to the tongue of lizards of this genus, which lacks scale-like papillae.13,14 The specific epithet harrisi honors Dennis Harris, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the taxonomy of Alopoglossidae.15 Harris completed the only available review of the genus Ptychoglossus, and figures as an author in the descriptions of almost one third of the currently known alopoglossid species.15

See it in the wild: Western Shade-Lizards can be seen with relative ease in Buenaventura Reserve and Bilsa Biological Reserve. They can be found by searching the leaf-litter during sunny mornings along forest trails. They may also be found at night by removing leaf-litter or by searching under rocks and logs.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Lina Parra for helping compile some of the information used in this account.

Special thanks to Justin Rijnberg for symbolically adopting the Western Shade-Lizard and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

Click here to adopt a species.

Author: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

Editor: Alejandro ArteagacAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographer: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Vieira J (2022) Western Shade-Lizard (Alopoglossus harrisi). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/TFTG7478

Literature cited:

  1. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  2. Torres-Carvajal O, Lobos SE (2014) A new species of Alopoglossus lizard (Squamata, Gymnophthalmidae) from the tropical Andes, with a molecular phylogeny of the genus. ZooKeys 410: 105–120. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.410.7401
  3. Ruibal R (1952) Revisionary studies of some South American Teiidae. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 106: 475–529.
  4. Köhler G, Hans-Helmut D, Veselý M (2012) A contribution to the knowledge of the lizard genus Alopoglossus (Squamata: Gymnophthalmidae). Herpetological Monographs 26: 173–188. DOI: 10.1655/HERPMONOGRAPHS-D-10-00011.1
  5. Castro Herrera F, Ayala SC (1988) Saurios de Colombia. Unpublished, Bogotá, 692 pp.
  6. Arteaga A, Pyron RA, Peñafiel N, Romero-Barreto P, Culebras J, Bustamante L, Yánez-Muñoz MH, Guayasamin JM (2016) Comparative phylogeography reveals cryptic diversity and repeated patterns of cladogenesis for amphibians and reptiles in northwestern Ecuador. PLoS ONE 11: e0151746. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151746
  7. Ortega-Andrade HM, Bermingham J, Aulestia C, Paucar C (2010) Herpetofauna of the Bilsa Biological Station, province of Esmeraldas, Ecuador. Check List 6: 119–154. DOI: 10.15560/6.1.119
  8. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Velasco J, Bolívar W (2016) Alopoglossus festae. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T44578111A44578114.en
  9. Cruz García FK (2017) Diversidad y preferencia de microhábitats de la herpetofauna del Bosque Protector Pedro Franco Dávila (Jauneche) y del Área Provincial Natural de Recreación Cerro de Hayas (Naranjal). BSc thesis, Universidad de Guayaquil, 94 pp.
  10. Vitt LJ, De la Torre S (1996) A research guide to the lizards of Cuyabeno. Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Quito, 165 pp.
  11. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  12. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  13. Harris DM (1994) Review of the teiid lizard genus Ptychoglossus. Herpetological Monographs 8: 226–275. DOI: 10.2307/1467082
  14. Boulenger GA (1885) Catalogue of the lizards in the British Museum. Taylor & Francis, London, 497 pp.
  15. Hernández Morales C, Sturaro MJ, Nunes PMS, Lotzkat S, Peloso PL (2020) A species‐level total evidence phylogeny of the microteiid lizard family Alopoglossidae (Squamata: Gymnophthalmoidea). Cladistics 36: 301–321. DOI: 10.1111/cla.12407

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

ColombiaNariñoBosque a 10 km del río MiraICN-MHN-Rep 5486
ColombiaNariñoEl PalmichalPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
EcuadorAzuayCampo minero PRODUMINTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorAzuayChilcaplayaArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorAzuayFlor y SelvaArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorAzuaySan Rafael de SharugMZUA.RE.9238; examined
EcuadorAzuaySarayungaTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorAzuaySendero a las Cascadas Río PindoOnline multimedia
EcuadorBolívarBalzapambaKöhler 2012
EcuadorBolívarBalzapamba, 4.15 km E ofReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorBolívarLas Naves, 3.3 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorBolívarRecinto San FranciscoTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorCañarHuatacónArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorCañarManta RealAlmendáriz & Carr 2007
EcuadorCarchiDestacamento MilitarArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorCarchiTobar DonosoSamec & Samec 1988
EcuadorChimborazoPallatangaKöhler 2012
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque Privado El Jardín de los SueñosPhoto by Christophe Pellet
EcuadorCotopaxiCorazón–MoraspungoTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorCotopaxiFinca de la familia TapiaTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorCotopaxiLa ManáTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorCotopaxiLas JuntasKöhler 2012
EcuadorEl OroBella MaríaTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorEl OroCaliforniaArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorEl OroCascadas de Manuel Garzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroCerro AzulPhoto by Anton Sorokin
EcuadorEl OroLa AvanzadaDarwin Núñez, pers. comm.
EcuadorEl OroLa EnramadaGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroLa LajasGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroLimón PlayaGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroLote GuzmánReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEl OroMachala, 7 km ESE ofKöhler 2012
EcuadorEl OroMarcabelíGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroÑalacapacGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroPiñasArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorEl OroPiñas, 13 km W ofKöhler 2012
EcuadorEl OroRemolinos Garzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroRepresa TahuinGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroReserva Biológica BuenaventuraArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorEl OroRío SabayániNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroSanta RosaArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasBarroTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque Protector La ChiquitaMHNG 2437.068; collection database
EcuadorEsmeraldasCaimitoTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro CeiboPhoto by Paul Hamilton
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro ZapalloiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasCresta San FranciscoArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasDurango, 7 km W ofTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorEsmeraldasEl PlacerKöhler 2012
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda EquinoxKöhler 2012
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa Lagartera, near mouth of CaoniUIMNH54330–32; collection database
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote EscobarYanez-Muñoz 2005
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote SalvadoresReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote VentanasYánez-Muñoz 2005
EcuadorEsmeraldasMonte SaínoArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasMuisneArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasPlaya de OroUSNM 20613; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasPlayón de San Francisco, 5 km E ofTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorEsmeraldasQuinindéArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Tesoro EscondidoCitlalli Morelos, pers. comm.
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío BlancoArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío SantiagoArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío Tongora headwatersTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan LorenzoKöhler 2012
EcuadorEsmeraldasTundaloma LodgeArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasVida Rosero ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasBosque Protector Cerro BlancoTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorGuayasCapeiraPhoto by Eduardo Zavala
EcuadorGuayasCerro de HayasReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasCerro Pancho DiabloReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasDurán, 40 km E ofUF 90584; VertNet
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquilKöhler 2012
EcuadorGuayasHacienda San MiguelKöhler 2012
EcuadorGuayasMilagroArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorGuayasNaranajalMHNG 2516.023; collection database
EcuadorGuayasNaranjal–PasajeKöhler 2012
EcuadorGuayasNueva Unión CampesinaTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorGuayasRío DauleReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasTenguelTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorImbaburaLitaArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorImbaburaPalma RealArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorImbaburaParambaKöhler 2012
EcuadorImbaburaRío MiraArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorLos RíosBuena FéArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueMiyata 1976
EcuadorLos RíosCerro Sama MumbesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosFinca Playa GrandeKöhler 2012
EcuadorLos RíosHacienda Cerro ChicoArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorLos RíosPichilangaeArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorLos RíosQuevedoKöhler 2012
EcuadorLos RíosQuevedo, 3 km E ofArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorLos RíosQuevedo, 4 km N ofKöhler 2012
EcuadorLos RíosRío BabaKöhler 2012
EcuadorLos RíosVinces*Peracca 1904
EcuadorManabíBosque Seco Lalo LoorArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíCerro Pata de PájaroAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorManabíCerro San SebastiánArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíJama CoaqueTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorManabíJama, 5 km E ofPhoto by Ryan Lynch
EcuadorManabíPacoche ReserveTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorManabíParque Nacional MachalillaArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíReserva AyampeMorales-Mite & Altamirano Benavides 2013
EcuadorPichinchaEl Abrazo del ÁrbolReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaENDESATorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorPichinchaHostería Selva VirgenArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaManduriacu ReserveLynch et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi ReserveArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaMilpe Bird SanctuaryArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto QuitoArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaRío CaoniKöhler 2012
EcuadorPichinchaRío Chirapi headwatersTorres-Carvajal & Lobos 2014
EcuadorPichinchaTandapiMHNG 2360.042; collection database
EcuadorSanta ElenaComuna Loma AltaArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorSanta ElenaDos MangasTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorSanta ElenaEl SuspiroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanta ElenaReserva Las BalsasReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRancho Santa TeresitaKöhler 2013
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío MulauleArteaga et al. 2016
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los ColoradosKöhler 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 24 S ofKöhler 2012
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 37 km S ofArteaga et al. 2016
PeruTumbesEl CauchoPhoto by Pablo Venegas