Published December 15, 2020. Updated February 8, 2024. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Blunt Hedgehog-Lizard (Echinosaura brachycephala)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gymnophthalmidae | Echinosaura brachycephala

English common name: Blunt Hedgehog-Lizard.

Spanish common names: Lagartija erizo hocicorta, lagartija espinosa de cabeza corta.

Recognition: ♂♂ 19.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=7.2 cm. ♀♀ 21.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=7.8 cm.. The Blunt Hedgehog-Lizard (Echinosaura brachycephala) is a brownish lizard that is unique in the cloudforests of northwestern Ecuador by having a dorsum covered by small granular scales alternated with raised tubercular scales (Fig. 1).1,2 Males are more robust and have broader heads than females. The Ecuadorian lizard that most resembles E. brachycephala in external appearance is E. keyi, a species that occurs below 1000 m above sea level and in which adult individuals have a tail covered with large conical spines.3 In the cloud forests of Manduriacu province, E. brachycephala is known to co-occur with E. fischerorum,4 a species characterized by a series of dorsolateral rows of projecting spiny scales.5

Figure showing variation among individuals of Echinosaura brachycephala

Figure 1: Individuals of Echinosaura brachycephala from Ecuador: Río Manduriacu, Imbabura province (); Río Santa Rosa, Pichincha province ().

Natural history: Echinosaura brachycephala is an extremely rare cryptozoic, terrestrial, and diurnal lizard that inhabits moist and shaded microhabitats in old-growth cloudforests and evergreen montane forests.1,4 Blunt Hedgehog-Lizards spend most of their lives in damp leaf-litter in deep forest and along streams.4 When threatened, these shy reptiles will quickly flee under cover. If captured, they may bite or readily shed the tail.4

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Conservation: Endangered Considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the near future..6 Echinosaura brachycephala is listed in this category because the species’ extent of occurrence is less than 5,000 km2 and it persists in no more than five localities based on threat of land clearance. Also, there is an ongoing decline in the extent and quality of its forest habitat.6 An estimated 34% of the suitable habitat of E. brachycephala, mostly in Cotopaxi province, has already been converted to agricultural fields.7 Fortunately, the species has been recorded in four privately-protected areas: Otonga Reserve, Santa Lucía Cloud Forest Reserve, Séptimo Paraíso Reserve, and Las Gralarias Reserve.

Distribution: Echinosaura brachycephala is endemic to an area of approximately 4,181 km2 along the Pacific slopes of the Andes in northwestern Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Echinosaura brachycephala in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Echinosaura, which comes from the Greek echinos (=hedgehog) and saurus (=lizard),8 refers to the large dorsal spines present in some members of the genus.9 The specific epithet brachycephala, which is derived from the Greek words brachys (=short) and kephale (=head),8 refers to the snout of this lizard, which is comparatively shorter than the snout of its congeners.2

See it in the wild: Blunt Hedgehog-Lizards are rare and secretive lizards that are recorded no more than once every few moths at any given locality. The majority of the observations come from two reserves where long-term sampling projects of leaf-litter lizards were carried out: Santa Lucía Cloud Forest Reserve and Otonga Reserve. At these places, individuals of Echinosaura brachycephala were captured using pitfall traps.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to César Barrio-Amorós for finding the individual of Echinosaura brachycephala pictured here. 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.

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 Amanda QuezadacAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Blunt Hedgehog-Lizard (Echinosaura brachycephala). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/QIUY6554

Literature cited:

  1. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Guayasamin JM (2013) The amphibians and reptiles of Mindo. Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, 257 pp.
  2. Köhler G, Böhme W, Schmitz A (2004) A new species of Echinosaura (Squamata: Gymnophthalmidae) from Ecuador. Journal of Herpetology 38: 52–60. DOI: 10.1670/164-02A
  3. Fritts TH, Almendáriz A, Samec S (2002) A new species of Echinosaura (Gymnophthalmidae) from Ecuador and Colombia with comments on other members of the genus and Teuchocercus keyi. Journal of Herpetology 36: 349–355. DOI: 10.1670/0022-1511(2002)036[0349:ANSOEG]2.0.CO;2
  4. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. Yánez- Muñoz MH, Torres-Carvajal O, Reyes-Puig JP, Urgiles-Merchán MA, Koch C (2021) A new and very spiny lizard (Gymnophthalmidae: Echinosaura) from the Andes in northwestern Ecuador. PeerJ 9: e12523. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.12523
  6. Cisneros-Heredia DF (2016) Echinosaura brachycephala. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T203053A2759545.en
  7. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  8. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  9. Boulenger GA (1890) First report on additions to the lizard collection in the British Museum (Natural History). Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1890: 77–86.

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

EcuadorCotopaxiLas Pampas*Köhler et al. 2004
EcuadorCotopaxiOtonga, near stationArteaga et al. 2013
EcuadorImbaburaManduriacu ReserveiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaPropiedad del Sr. Luis PompilioThis work
EcuadorPichinchaReserva Las GralariasThis work
EcuadorPichinchaRío Santa RosaThis work
EcuadorPichinchaSanta Lucía ReserveMaddock 2010
EcuadorPichinchaSéptimo Paraíso LodgeThis work
EcuadorPichinchaTandapiKöhler et al. 2004
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSilanteMCZ 127764