Published May 29, 2022. Updated November 21, 2023. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Fischers’ Hedgehog-Lizard (Echinosaura fischerorum)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gymnophthalmidae | Echinosaura fischerorum

English common name: Fischers’ Hedgehog-Lizard.

Spanish common names: Lagartija erizo de los Fischer, lagartija espinosa de los Fischer.

Recognition: ♂♂ 15.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=6.9 cm. ♀♀ 14.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=6.7 cm..1 Hedgehog-Lizards can be differentiated from other leaf-litter lizards in their area of distribution by their stream-dwelling habits and by having a brownish dorsum with granular scales interspersed with conical scales.24 Echinosaura fischerorum differs from its congeners in Ecuador (E. brachycephala, E. horrida, E. keyi, and E. orcesi) by having the following combination of features: keeled enlarged dorsal scales forming a paired vertebral row, two paravertebral series of short oblique rows of projecting scales, and a pair of spine-like scales on each side in temporal and nuchal regions (Fig. 1).1 The Ecuadorian lizard that most resembles E. fischerorum in external appearance is E. horrida, a species that occurs below 1000 m above sea level and in which individuals have low tubercles in the temporal region and subconical tubercles in nuchal region.1 Adult males of E. fischerorum differ from adult females by having a wider head and by the presence of femoral pores.1

Figure showing an adult female individual of Echinosaura fischerorum

Figure 1: Adult female of the Fischers’ Hedgehog-Lizard (Echinosaura fischerorum) from Río Manduriacu, Imbabura province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Echinosaura fischerorum is a rarely seen lizard that inhabits moist, shaded microhabitats in well-preserved evergreen montane forests, particularly along streams and rivers.1,5 Given its rarity, not much is known about the natural history of this species. The few available sightings suggest that it is a diurnal lizard, since individuals have been found active among roots and damp leaf-litter during the day.1,5 One individual contained several snail shells in its stomach.1 As a defense mechanism, Fischers’ Hedgehog-Lizards usually try to flee; if captured, they can bite or shed the tail as a distraction.5 In captivity, one female laid a clutch of two eggs.5

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Conservation: Vulnerable Considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the mid-term future.. Echinosaura fischerorum is a recently described species; thus, its conservation status has not yet been formally evaluated by the IUCN. Here, it is proposed to be included in the Vulnerable category because the species has a limited (~3,204 km2; Fig. 2) extent of occurrence, it is known to exist at no more than 10 localities, and some populations are under severe threat from large-scale mining and agricultural development.1,6 Fortunately, the majority (around 74%) of the species’ potential distribution holds continuous areas of pristine forest7,8 and approximately 20% of the area in Ecuador is inside the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve.

Distribution: Echinosaura fischerorum is endemic to an area of approximately 3,204 km2 along the Pacific slopes of the Andes in northwestern Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Echinosaura fischerorum in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Echinosaura fischerorum in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Reserva Dracula, Sector El Guapilal, Carchi 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 words echinos (=hedgehog) and saurus (=lizard)9 refers to the large dorsal spines present in some members of the genus.10 The specific epithet fischerorum honors Beat Fischer and Urs Fischer, in recognition of their contribution to the creation of Dracula Reserve, which protects populations of this new endemic species.1

See it in the wild: Fischers’ Heghedhod-Lizards are rare and secretive lizards that are usually overlooked unless actively searched for in suitable habitats. In Manduriacu Reserve and Dracula Reserve, these shy lizards can be located by looking among roots and damp leaf-litter along streams in well-preserved forests.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Eric Osterman and Diana Castillo for finding the individual of Echinosaura fischerorum pictured here.

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

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

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

How to cite? Arteaga A (2023) Fischers’ Hedgehog-Lizard (Echinosaura fischerorum). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/MTOC7507

Literature cited:

  1. 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
  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. 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. Fritts TH, Smith HM (1969) A new teiid lizard genus from Western Ecuador. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 72: 54–59.
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. Guayasamin JM, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Vieira J, Kohn S, Gavilanes G, Lynch RL, Hamilton PS, Maynard RJ (2019) A new glassfrog (Centrolenidae) from the Chocó-Andean Río Manduriacu Reserve, Ecuador, endangered by mining. PeerJ 7: e6400. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.6400
  7. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  8. IDEAM (2014) Mapa de cobertura de la tierra adaptada para Colombia.
  9. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  10. 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 fischerorum in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

EcuadorCarchiCerro OscuroYánez-Muñoz et al. 2021
EcuadorCarchiComunidad La EsperanzaYánez-Muñoz et al. 2021
EcuadorCarchiEl Guapilal*Yánez-Muñoz et al. 2021
EcuadorCarchiEl Pailón ChicoYánez-Muñoz et al. 2021
EcuadorImbaburaBosque Protector Los CedrosiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaHidroeléctrica ManduriacuiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaLita, 6 km SW ofThis work
EcuadorImbaburaManduriacu ReserveYánez-Muñoz et al. 2021
EcuadorImbaburaPropiedad del Sr. Luis PompilioThis work