Published December 4, 2020. Updated November 17, 2023. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Cryptic Andean-Lizard (Andinosaura crypta)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gymnophthalmidae | Andinosaura crypta

English common name: Cryptic Andean-Lizard.

Spanish common name: Lagartija andina críptica.

Recognition: ♂♂ 16.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=6.9 cm. ♀♀ 16.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=6.8 cm..1,2 The Cryptic Andean-Lizard (Andinosaura crypta) differs from all other lizards in its area of distribution by having the following combination of features: one superciliary scale, light dorsolateral stripes, no prefrontal scales, and extremities so short that the front and hind limbs do not overlap when pressed against its body.1,2 Adult males can be recognized by being more robust, having a broad head, and flanks with bright white or yellowish spots (Fig. 1). Adult females are brownish overall.2,3 Similar lizards that may be found living alongside A. crypta are A. oculata and A. vieta, both of which have more than one superciliary scale, and Riama cashcaensis, which lacks dorsolateral stripes.2

Figure showing variation among individuals of Andinosaura crypta

Figure 1: Individuals of Andinosaura crypta from Ecuador: Pilaló, Cotopaxi province (), Balzapamba alto, Bolívar province ().

Natural history: Andinosaura crypta is a rarely seen cryptozoic lizard that inhabits old-growth to heavily disturbed evergreen high montane forests, cloudforests, and areas containing a mixture of pastures and remnants of native vegetation.3 Cryptic Andean-Lizards spend most of their lives hidden under soft soil, rocks, and logs.3 Females lay clutches of two eggs in communal nesting sites such as in holes and crevices.3 When threatened, individuals of A. crypta will quickly flee under cover. If captured, they may bite or readily shed the tail.3

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Conservation: Endangered Considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the near future..4 Andinosaura crypta is listed in this category because the species is known from only four populations and is restricted to a small (approximately 3,792 km2) area that has lost about 54.5% of its natural vegetation cover.5 The habitat of A. crypta is severely fragmented and continues to decline in extent and quality due to encroaching human activities such as agriculture, cattle grazing, and the replacement of native vegetation with eucalyptus and pine trees.3,6

Distribution: Andinosaura crypta is endemic to an area of approximately 3,792 km2 area along the Pacific slopes of the Andes in central Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Andinosaura crypta in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Andinosaura crypta in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Pilaló, Cotopaxi province. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Andinosaura, which comes from the Spanish word andino (from the Andes) and the Latin sauria (=lizard), refers to the distribution of this group of lizards.7 The specific epithet crypta is derived from the Greek word kryptos, which means “hidden” or “concealed.”8 It is used to refer to the fact that this species was long confused with another one: A. hyposticta.2

See it in the wild: Cryptic Andean-Lizards are recorded rarely unless they are actively searched for by digging in areas of soft soil or by turning over rocks and logs. Around the town Pilaló, Cotopaxi province, individuals can be found reliably if the search is targeted and carried out for a period of at least four hours.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Amanda Quezada for providing locality data and natural history information for Andinosaura crypta. 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).

Special thanks to Ellen Smith for symbolically adopting the Cryptic Andean-Lizard and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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

Academic reviewer: Jeffrey D CamperbAffiliation: Department of Biology, Francis Marion University, Florence, USA.

Photographers: Jose VieiracAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Sebastián Di DoménicocAffiliation: Keeping Nature, Bogotá, Colombia.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2023) Cryptic Andean-Lizard (Andinosaura crypta). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/PDTM2135

Literature cited:

  1. Sánchez-Pacheco SJ, Aguirre-Peñafiel V, Torres-Carvajal O (2012) Lizards of the genus Riama (Squamata: Gymnophthalmidae): the diversity in southern Ecuador revisited. South American Journal of Herpetology 7: 259–275.
  2. Sánchez-Pacheco SJ, Kizirian DA, Sales-Nunes PM (2011) A new species of Riama from Ecuador previously referred to as Riama hyposticta (Boulenger, 1902) (Squamata: Gymnophthalmidae). American Museum Novitates 3719: 1–15.
  3. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  4. Cisneros-Heredia DF (2017) Riama crypta. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T50950499A50950502.en
  5. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  6. Lewis TR (2002) Threats facing endemic herpetofauna in the cloud forest reserves of Ecuador. Herpetological Bulletin 79: 18–26. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.3744655
  7. Sánchez‐Pacheco SJ, Torres‐Carvajal O, Aguirre‐Peñafiel V, Sales-Nunes PM, Verrastro L, Rivas GA, Rodrigues MT, Grant T, Murphy RW (2017) Phylogeny of Riama (Squamata: Gymnophthalmidae), impact of phenotypic evidence on molecular datasets, and the origin of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta endemic fauna. Cladistics 34: 260–291. DOI: 10.1111/cla.12203
  8. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Andinosaura crypta in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

EcuadorBolívarBalzapamba altoThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorCotopaxi3 km W PilalóSánchez-Pacheco et al. 2011
EcuadorCotopaxiLas PampasSánchez-Pacheco et al. 2011
EcuadorCotopaxiOtonga, near stationDavid Salazar, pers. comm.
EcuadorCotopaxiPilaló*Sánchez-Pacheco et al. 2011
EcuadorPichinchaTandapi at 2000 mSánchez-Pacheco et al. 2011