Published August 20, 2023. Updated January 6, 2024. Open access.

Gallery ❯

Black-spotted Skink (Copeoglossum nigropunctatum)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Scincidae | Copeoglossum nigropunctatum

English common names: Black-spotted Skink, South American spotted Skink.

Spanish common name: Lagartija lisa de puntos negros.

Recognition: ♂♂ 25.5 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=10.7 cm. ♀♀ 26.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=11.3 cm..1,2 The Black-spotted Skink (Copeoglossum nigropunctatum) stands out distinctly from most other lizards found in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest. It is characterized by its shiny smooth dorsal scales, which are uniform in size and similar in dimensions to the ventral scales.1,2 The dorsum is pale brown with a bronze sheen, accompanied by broad black dorsolateral stripes (Fig. 1).1,2 Juveniles of this species have a blue tail.3,4 Unlike other lizards with smooth scales (like Iphisa brunopereira), the dorsal scales of C. nigropunctatum are cycloid, overlapping, and arranged in oblique rows.1,2 This species is often confused with Varzea altamazonica, an Amazonian skink that can be identified by having parietals in broad contact behind the interparietal and seven (instead of eight or nine) supralabials, with the fifth (instead of the sixth) being the largest and placed under the eye.5

Figure showing an adult female individual of Copeoglossum nigropunctatum

Figure 1: Adult female of Copeoglossum nigropunctatum from Yasuní National Park, Orellana province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Copeoglossum nigropunctatum is a locally frequent skink that inhabits semi-open areas in old growth to moderately disturbed rainforests, which may be terra-firme or seasonally flooded.17 The species prefers clearings, tree fall areas, forest edges, banana groves, and peri-urban areas.27 Black-spotted Skinks are terrestrial to fully arboreal.6 They occupy all strata of the rainforest, from the forest floor to the branches of emergent trees at 45 m above the ground.6,8 Moreover, these skinks have been observed to inhabit man-made structures such as fences, walls, and thatched roofs.6,7 This species is diurnal and heliophilic, meaning its activity is restricted to periods of direct sunlight, particularly in the mid- to late morning hours.2,3 Individuals are often seen foraging or basking on logs, tree trunks, branches, and thatched roofs under these conditions.29 Conversely, during overcast days or at nighttime, these skinks seek shelter in tree cavities or within the thatch of roofs.4,6 Black-spotted Skinks are active foragers that feed primarily on grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and spiders.1,4,9 They also consume a diverse array of non-insect prey items, spanning from snails to lizards.1,4,9 When confronted with threats, these cautious reptiles swiftly evade observers by darting into thick vegetation or retreating into crevices and burrows.3 They are also quick to shed their bright tail as a distraction to predators.6 There are documented instances of predation on individuals of this species, including by snakes (Bothrops atrox,7 Siphlophis cervinus,10 and Oxyrhopus melanogenys4), pygmy owls,11 and kites.12 Copeoglossum nigropunctatum is a viviparous species, with females attaining sexual maturity by the end of the first year of life.1,9 The gestation period extends from 9 to 12 months, and brood sizes range from 2 to 9 offspring.1,9

Reader support helps us keep the Reptiles of Ecuador book 100% free.

Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..13 Copeoglossum nigropunctatum is listed in this category because the species has a wide distribution throughout the Amazon basin and it is comparatively common and abundant in most areas.13 Moreover, more than half of the occurrence area of C. nigropunctatum in Brazil falls within designated protected areas.14 Observations in Brazil indicate a growing abundance of this species as a response to the conversion of dense-canopy rainforests into selectively logged semi-open environments.15

Distribution: Copeoglossum nigropunctatum is native to an estimated area of 3,975,062 km2 throughout much of the Amazon basin of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, and Suriname.

Distribution of Copeoglossum nigropunctatum in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Copeoglossum is derived from the Greek nouns kopeus (=chisel) and glossa (=tongue), in allusion to the shape of the tongue.16 The specific epithet nigropunctatum comes from the Latin niger (=black), punctum (=spot), and the suffix -atum (=provided with).17 This refers to the dorsal color pattern.

See it in the wild: Black-spotted Skinks can be observed sporadically along semi-open areas throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest. The species is locally common at Yasuní Scientific Station, Tiputini Biodiversity Station, and Finca Heimatlos. Individuals can be seen more easily during sunny days by scanning logs and tree trunks along forest borders and clearings.

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

Photographers: Jose VieirabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Frank PichardobAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Black-spotted Skink (Copeoglossum nigropunctatum). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/LJXF6393

Literature cited:

  1. Duellman WE (1978) The biology of an equatorial herpetofauna in Amazonian Ecuador. Publications of the Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas 65: 1–352.
  2. Avila-Pires TCS (1995) Lizards of Brazilian Amazonia (Reptilia: Squamata). Zoologische Verhandelingen 299: 1–706.
  3. Vitt LJ, De la Torre S (1996) A research guide to the lizards of Cuyabeno. Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Quito, 165 pp.
  4. Duellman WE (2005) Cusco amazónico: the lives of amphibians and reptiles in an Amazonian rainforest. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 433 pp.
  5. Miralles A, Barrio-Amoros CL, Rivas GA, Chaparro-Auza JC (2006) Speciation in the “Varzea” flooded forest: a new Mabuya (Squamata, Scincidae) from western Amazonia. Zootaxa 1188: 1–22. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.1188.1.1
  6. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  7. Dixon JR, Soini P (1986) The reptiles of the upper Amazon Basin, Iquitos region, Peru. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 154 pp.
  8. Photo by Naia Andrade.
  9. Vitt LJ, Blackburn DG (1991) Ecology and life history of the viviparous lizard Mabuya bistriata (Scincidae) in the Brazilian Amazon. Copeia 1991: 916–927. DOI: 10.2307/1446087
  10. Cunha OR, do Nascimento FP (1994) Ofídios da Amazônia. As cobras da região leste do Pará. Boletim do Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi 9: 1–191.
  11. Hoogmoed MS (1973) Notes on the herpetofauna of Surinam. IV. The lizards and amphisbaenians of Surinam. Biogeographica 4: 1–419.
  12. De Pinho JB, Garbim Gaiotti M, Albonette de Nóbrega PF (2010) Mabuya nigropunctata: predation. Herpetological Review 41: 82.
  13. Cacciali P, Scott N, Perez P, Avila-Pires TCS, Aparicio J, Moravec J, Rivas G (2019) Copeoglossum nigropunctatum. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T47102757A47102768.en
  14. Ribeiro-Júnior MA, Amaral S (2016) Diversity, distribution, and conservation of lizards (Reptilia: Squamata) in the Brazilian Amazonia. Neotropical Biodiversity 2: 195–421. DOI: 10.1080/23766808.2016.1236769
  15. Lima AP, Suárez FIO, Higuchi N (2001) The effects of selective logging on the lizards Kentropyx calcarata, Ameiva ameiva, and Mabuya nigropunctata. Amphibia-Reptilia 22: 209–216.
  16. Hedges SB, Conn CE (2012) A new skink fauna from Caribbean islands (Squamata, Mabuyidae, Mabuyinae). Zootaxa 3288: 1–244. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3288.1.1
  17. 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 Copeoglossum nigropunctatum in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorMorona SantiagoComunidad Shuar AmaruCarvajal-Campos & Torres-Carvajal 2018
EcuadorMorona SantiagoVilla AshuaraRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
EcuadorNapoFinca LizaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaPuesto de control MAE en TiputiniiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaRío PucunoRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
EcuadorOrellanaRío Tiputuni, near ITTiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaYasuní Scientific StationThis work, Fig. 1
EcuadorPastazaAlto CurarayRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
EcuadorPastazaArutamiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaCampo Villano BCarvajal-Campos & Torres-Carvajal 2018
EcuadorPastazaChichirotaRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
EcuadorPastazaCuya CochaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaFinca HeimatlosReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaKapawi LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaRío CapahuariRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
EcuadorPastazaRío ConamboRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
EcuadorPastazaRío Copataza, mouth ofRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
EcuadorPastazaRío RutunoRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
EcuadorSucumbíosComunidad ZábaloCevallos Bustos 2010
EcuadorSucumbíosCuyabenoRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
EcuadorSucumbíosGarzacochaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosLago AgrioDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosNapo Wildlife CenterReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosPañacochaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta Cecilia Duellman 1978
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeEl PadmiGonzález et al. 2010
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeRío BombuscaroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeZamoraiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruAmazonasCaterpizaRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
PeruAmazonasChazutaRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
PeruAmazonasHuampamiRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
PeruAmazonasOrellanaRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
PeruAmazonasPuerto GalileaRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
PeruAmazonasShaimRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
PeruLoretoCampo AndoasValqui Schult 2015
PeruLoretoRío YubinetoMiralles et al. 2006