Published May 30, 2022. Updated November 21, 2023. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

Gallery ❯

Spiny Hedgehog-Lizard (Echinosaura horrida)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gymnophthalmidae | Echinosaura horrida

English common names: Spiny Hedgehog-Lizard, Rough Teiid.

Spanish common names: Corcho de agua, lagartija espinosa terrible.

Recognition: ♂♂ 19.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=8.6 cm. ♀♀ 17.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=8.0 cm..1,2 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.25 Echinosaura horrida differs from its congeners in Ecuador (E. brachycephala, E. fischerorum, E. keyi, and E. orcesi) by having the following combination of features: a series of spine-like scales forming oblique lines along the flanks, low tubercles in the temporal region, and subconical tubercles in nuchal region (Fig. 1).1 The Ecuadorian lizard that most resembles E. horrida in external appearance is E. fischerorum, a species that occurs at elevations above 1000 m in which individuals have a pair of spine-like scales on the temporal and nuchal regions.1,6 Adult males of E. horrida differ from adult females by having a wider head and a greater number of femoral pores (14–18 pairs in males versus 1–2 pairs in females).2

Figure showing variation among individuals of Echinosaura horrida

Figure 1: Individuals of Echinosaura horrida from Esmeraldas province, Ecuador: FCAT Reserve (); Canandé Reserve (); Itapoa Reserve (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Echinosaura horrida is a cryptozoic lizard that occurs in high densities in moist, shaded microhabitats in lowland rainforests, particularly along streams, rivers, and swamps.2,7,8 Spiny Hedgehog-Lizards appear to be active both during the day and at night.79 They are semi-aquatic, dwelling in water as well as on rocks, among roots, and in damp leaf-litter along small bodies of water.2,7,9 When not active, they hide under leaf-litter, logs, and rocks, sometimes right alongside individuals of E. keyi, E. orcesi,7 and Lepidoblepharis grandis.10 The dietary preferences of this species are not known, but there is a mention of an individual feeding on eggs of the glassfrog Cochranella mache.11 As a defense mechanism, these jittery reptiles usually try to flee; if captured, they can bite or shed the tail as methods of defense and escape.7 There are records of snakes (Leptodeira ornata) preying upon individuals of E. horrida.12 A gravid female in Ecuador contained two eggs,2 but the actual clutch size and nesting sites are not known.

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 Echinosaura horrida is listed in this category given the species’ wide distribution over areas that retain the majority of their original forest cover, including the southern portion of the Colombian Pacific Coast as well as major national parks in Ecuador: Awá Ethnic and Forest Reserve, Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve, and Cayapas Mataje Ecological Reserve. Although E. horrida occurs in protected areas and is facing no immediate threat of extinction, the species depends on well-preserved lowland rainforests, an ecosystem declining in extent and quality due to the expansion of the agricultural frontier, mining, and rural-urban development.13

Distribution: Echinosaura horrida occurs in the Chocó biogeographic region from western Colombia to Cotopaxi province in west-central Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Echinosaura horrida in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Echinosaura horrida in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the (presumed) type locality: Paramba, Imbabura 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 (meaning “hedgehog”) and saurus (meaning “lizard”)14 refers to the large dorsal spines present in some members of the genus.15 The specific epithet horrida is a Latin word meaning “dreadful” or “rough.”14 It probably refers to the dorsal aspect of this lizard, which is bedecked with enlarged spiny scales.15

See it in the wild: Although Spiny Hedgehogs are secretive lizards, they can be surprisingly abundant in suitable well-preserved forest streams throughout the species’ area of distribution in Ecuador. These lizards are easy to find in Canandé Reserve, Bilsa Biological Reserve, and Tinalandia Lodge. They can be encountered by carefully scanning the rocks and leaf-litter along streams in well-preserved forests.

Special thanks to Remco Stuster for symbolically adopting the Spiny Heghedhod-Lizard and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

Click here to adopt a species.

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

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

Photographer: Jose VieiracAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2023) Spiny Hedgehog-Lizard (Echinosaura horrida). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/VQBF2425

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. Uzzell TM (1965) Teiid lizards of the genus Echinosaura. Copeia 1965: 82–89.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. Fritts TH, Smith HM (1969) A new teiid lizard genus from Western Ecuador. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 72: 54–59.
  6. 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
  7. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  8. MECN (2010) Serie herpetofauna del Ecuador: El Chocó esmeraldeño. Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales, Quito, 232 pp.
  9. Ortega-Andrade HM (2006) Reptilia, Squamata, Gymnophthalmidae, Echinosaura horrida: distribution extension and new geographic distribution map for Ecuador. Check List 2: 3–4. DOI: 10.15560/2.3.2
  10. Miyata K (1985) A new Lepidoblepharis from the Pacific slope of the Ecuadorian Andes (Sauria: Gekkonidae). Herpetologica 41: 121–127.
  11. Torres-Carvajal O, Pazmiño-Otamendi G, Salazar-Valenzuela D (2019) Reptiles of Ecuador: a resource-rich online portal, with dynamic checklists and photographic guides. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation 13: 209–229.
  12. Espinoza Regalado A (2021) Dieta de Leptodeira (Colubridae: Serpentes) (Fitzinger 1843) en Ecuador y notas ecológicas de una población de L. septentrionalis larcorum (Kennicott 1859) en Zapotillo-Loja, Ecuador. Quito, Universidad Central del Ecuador, 57 pp.
  13. Gutiérrez-Cárdenas P, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Caicedo J, Rivas G, Arredondo JC (2016) Echinosaura horrida. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T203054A2759552.en
  14. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  15. 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 horrida in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

ColombiaCaucaIsla GorgonaFritts et al. 2002
ColombiaNariñoReserva Natural Biotopo Selva HúmedaVera-Pérez et al. 2015
ColombiaNariñoReserva Natural Río ÑambíiNaturalist
Colombia NariñoSan FranciscoCastaño et al. 2004
Colombia NariñoTumaco Castaño et al. 2004
EcuadorCarchiFloridaYánez-Muñoz et al. 2021
EcuadorCotopaxiEl Jardín de los SueñosPellet 2017
EcuadorCotopaxiMoraspungo, 10 km NE ofPhoto by Gustavo Pazmiño
EcuadorEsmeraldasAlto Río MatajeYánez-Muñoz et al. 2021
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque Protector La PerlaPhoto by Plácido Palacios
EcuadorEsmeraldasCabeceras de BilsaAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé ReserveThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasCentro Comunal MatajeFritts et al. 2002
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro ZapalloiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasCresta San FranciscoYánez-Muñoz et al. 2021
EcuadorEsmeraldasEl PanFritts et al. 2002
EcuadorEsmeraldasEl PlacerFritts et al. 2002
EcuadorEsmeraldasEl Placer, 5 km S ofYánez-Muñoz et al. 2021
EcuadorEsmeraldasFCAT ReserveiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasGualpiThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda AguilariNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasItapoa ReserveThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa MayrongaYánez-Muñoz et al. 2021
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote RoseroThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote SalvadoresThis work
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote VentanasYánez-Muñoz 2005
EcuadorEsmeraldasMatajeKöhler et al. 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasPajonalMorales 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Tesoro EscondidoiNaturalist
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío MatajeFritts et al. 2002
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío PulsandiMHUA-R 10214
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío SapayoMHNG 744.045
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan JavierUzzell 1965
EcuadorEsmeraldasVerdecanandéThis work
EcuadorImbaburaLitaKöhler et al. 2004
EcuadorImbaburaParamba*Köhler et al. 2004
EcuadorImbaburaProyecto Minero CascabelCardno Entrix 2021
EcuadorImbaburaRío Aguas VerdesYánez-Muñoz et al. 2021
EcuadorImbaburaRío BolaniguasUSNM 196099
EcuadorImbaburaRío LitaUzzell 1965
EcuadorImbaburaSanto Domingo, 8 km E ofUzzell 1965
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueKöhler et al. 2004
EcuadorManabíBilsa Biological ReserveOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorManabíEl Carmen, 38 km NW ofFritts et al. 2002
EcuadorManabíJama Coaque ReserveLynch et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíLas DeliciasiNaturalist
EcuadorManabíZapoteYánez-Muñoz et al. 2021
EcuadorManabí El Carmen Köhler et al. 2004
EcuadorPichinchaArashá ResortiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaCabecera del río Sune ChicoThis work
EcuadorPichinchaGranja Las PalmerasiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaKapari Lodge (stream)This work
EcuadorPichinchaMangalomaFundación Jatun Sacha 2013
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi LodgeYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorPichinchaNear PactoFritts et al. 2002
EcuadorPichinchaReserva ENDESAMHNG 2437.070
EcuadorPichinchaRío MulauleUSNM 196098
EcuadorPichinchaSaguangalYánez-Muñoz et al. 2021
EcuadorPichinchaSan José de Alluriquín, 2.5 km NE ofYánez-Muñoz et al. 2021
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasCentinelaFritts et al. 2002
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasCrest of Montañas de IláFritts et al. 2002
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasEl Esfuerzo, 5 km ESE ofKöhler et al. 2004
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasHacienda DeltaIDIGBIO 123314
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasHacienda DyottMiyata 1985
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLa Florida, 2 km N ofiNaturalist
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLa Florida, 5 km W ofFritts et al. 2002
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRancho Santa TeresitaFritts et al. 2002
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío Baba, 5 km SSW of Santo DomingoKöhler et al. 2004
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío ToachiFritts & Smith 1969
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los ColoradosFritts et al. 2002
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 3 km NE ofiNaturalist