Published August 5, 2021. Updated February 8, 2024. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Orcés’ Hedgehog-Lizard (Echinosaura orcesi)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gymnophthalmidae | Echinosaura orcesi

English common name: Orcés’ Hedgehog-Lizard.

Spanish common names: Lagartija erizo de Orcés, lagartija espinosa de Orcés.

Recognition: ♂♂ 18.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=8.7 cm. ♀♀ 16.2 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=8.1 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. In Ecuador, Echinosaura orcesi differs from its congeners (E. brachycephala, E. horrida, and E. keyi) by lacking paravertebral rows of elongated conical scales and by having a comparatively longer snout (Fig. 1).1 Adult males differ from females by having a wider head and a greater number of femoral pores (14–15 vs 4–5 pairs).1

Figure showing an adult male individual of Echinosaura orcesi

Figure 1: Individuals of Echinosaura orcesi from Esmeraldas province, Ecuador: Itapoa Reserve (); Verdecanandé ().

Natural history: Echinosaura orcesi is a rarely seen cryptozoic lizard that inhabits well-preserved tropical lowland rainforests and foothill forests, particularly along small bodies of running water.2,3 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 sleeping at night under logs or exposed on rock walls near waterfalls.3,4 One individual was active during the day on rocks beside a stream. When disturbed, it jumped into the water and swam.5 As a defense mechanism, Orcés’ Hedgehog-Lizards usually try to flee, but if manipulated, they can bite or release their tail as a distraction.3 In captivity, one individual fed on cockroaches and crickets.3

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Conservation: Near Threatened Not currently at risk of extinction, but requires some level of management to maintain healthy populations..2 Echinosaura orcesi is included in this category because the species has been recored in more than ten localities, it occurs in protected areas, and is distributed over a comparatively well-preserved segment of the Chocó rainforest.2 Unfortunately, some populations are facing deforestation caused by agriculture, cattle grazing, and mining, as well as the pollution of water bodies.2,5 In Ecuador, it is estimated that approximately 68% of the habitat of this saurian has been destroyed.6 Therefore, the species could qualify for a threatened category in the near future if actions are not taken to protect its habitat. More research is needed to understand the ecology, distribution, and population status of E. orcesi. Fortunately, the species occurs in protected areas: Farallones National Park in Colombia and reserves Itapoa and Tesoro Escondido in Esmeraldas province, Ecuador.2,5

Distribution: Echinosaura orcesi is native to the Chocoan lowlands, from the Anchicayá region in Valle del Cauca department, Colombia, to Esmeraldas and Carchi provinces in Ecuador (Fig. 2).1,7

Distribution of Echinosaura orcesi in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Echinosaura orcesi in Ecuador. 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),8 refers to the large dorsal spines present in some members of the genus.9 The specific epithet orcesi honors Dr. Gustavo Orcés (1903–1999), an Ecuadorian zoologist of the Escuela Politécnica Nacional.10 Gustavo Orcés made many contributions to the herpetology of Ecuador and is considered to be the father of zoology in this country.

See it in the wild: Orcés’ Hedgehog-Lizards are rare and secretive lizards that are usually overlooked unless actively searched for in moist and shaded microhabitats. In Ecuador, individuals can be seen along streams in well-preserved forests in Itapoa and Tesoro Escondido reserves. The best way to find lizards of this species is by looking under logs and rocks, or in rock wall crevices on the banks of streams at night.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Raúl Nieto, Jhael Ortega, Julio Carreón, and the local guides of the Itapoa Reserve, Isidro y García, who provided field assistance during the expedition that resulted in the finding of the specimen photographed in this account.

Special thanks to Anna Boszko-Zaremba for symbolically adopting the Orcés’ Heghedhod-Lizard and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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Author and photographer: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

Editor: Alejandro ArteagacAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

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

How to cite? Vieira J (2024) Orcés’ Hedgehog-Lizard (Echinosaura orcesi). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/RGZZ9449

Literature cited:

  1. 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
  2. Bolívar W, Velasco J, Cisneros-Heredia DF (2015) Echinosaura orcesi. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T44578593A44578596.en
  3. Field notes of Jose Vieira.
  4. Raúl Nieto, pers. comm.
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  7. Vásquez-Restrepo JD, Ibáñez R, Sánchez-Pacheco SJ, Daza JM (2020) Phylogeny, taxonomy and distribution of the Neotropical lizard genus Echinosaura (Squamata: Gymnophthalmidae), with the recognition of two new genera in Cercosaurinae. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 189: 287–314. DOI: 10.1093/zoolinnean/zlz124
  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.
  10. Beolens B, Watkins M, Grayson M (2011) The eponym dictionary of reptiles. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 296 pp.

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

ColombiaValle del CaucaBajo AnchicayáFritts et al. 2002
ColombiaValle del CaucaDagua, 13 km W ofFritts et al. 2002
EcuadorCarchiSan MarcosKöhler et al. 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasAlto Tambo–El PlacerTorres-Carvajal 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque Integral OtokikiTorres-Carvajal 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé ReserveYánez-Muñoz et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasCentro Comunal MatajeFritts et al. 2002
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva ItapoaThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Tesoro EscondidoVásquez-Restrepo et al. 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasVerdecanandéThis work; Fig. 1