Published July 16, 2018. Updated December 3, 2023. Open access.

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Spiny Dwarf-Iguana (Enyalioides heterolepis)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Hoplocercidae | Enyalioides heterolepis

English common names: Spiny Dwarf-Iguana, Spiny Woodlizard, Bocourt’s Dwarf Iguana.

Spanish common names: Iguana enana espinosa, lagartija de palo espinosa.

Recognition: ♂♂ 33.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=18.2 cm. ♀♀ 31.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=11.5 cm..13 Enyalioides heterolepis is unique among dwarf iguanas in western Ecuador in having a dark triangle-shaped mark beneath the eye, a pale vertical line above the arm, and a low serrated middorsal crest which is continuous but higher on the nape (Fig. 1).14 The species further differs from all other Enyalioides with which it co-occurs by having scattered, projecting, tetrahedral large scales on dorsum, flanks, and hind limbs.1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Enyalioides heterolepis

Figure 1: Individuals of Enyalioides heterolepis from Morromico Reserve, Chocó department, Colombia (); Itapoa Reserve, Esmeraldas province, Ecuador (); Canandé Reserve, Esmeraldas province, Ecuador (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Enyalioides heterolepis is a locally frequent lizard that is nevertheless difficult to observe during the daytime due to its cryptic camouflage. This species occurs in pristine lowland rainforests as well as in heavily disturbed gallery forests and even plantations.1 Spiny Woodlizards are active during the daytime on shaded areas of the forest floor, staying immobile for prolonged periods of time on the leaf-litter or on logs.1,5 At night, they roost on stems and twigs 0.2–1.7 m above the ground, sometimes next to streams.1 They tend to sleep beside their den, to which they retreat upon the slightest disturbance.15 The den is usually a hole in the ground, but can also be a hollow log or a tunnel among tree roots or amidst the aerial roots of palms.2,5 Occasionally, the lizards choose to spend the night in the den or under leaf-litter.3,5 Their preferred predator avoidance strategy is staying still and blending against the leaf-litter or running into holes. The diet in this ambush predator consists primarily of ants, crickets, beetles, and spiders.1,6 There are recorded instances of predation on individuals of this species by snakes (Clelia clelia and Rhinobothryum bovallii).5 Females of E. heterolepis containing two eggs have been found in Ecuador,1 but the real clutch size is not known.

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..7 Enyalioides heterolepis is listed in this category primarily on the basis of the species’ wide distribution, presumed large population densities, and presence in protected areas. Although E. heterolepis is considered to be facing no major immediate extinction threats, the species does not survive outside closed canopy lowland rainforests, an ecosystem declining in extent and quality due to the expansion of the agricultural frontier.

Distribution: Enyalioides heterolepis is widely distributed throughout the Chocoan lowlands of Panamá, Colombia, and Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Enyalioides heterolepis in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Enyalioides, which comes from the Latin words Enyalius (a genus of neotropical lizards) and the suffix oides (=similar to), refers to the similarity between lizards of the two genera. The specific epithet heterolepis comes from the Greek words heteros (=different) and lepis (=scale),8 and refers to the heterogeneous dorsal scales.

See it in the wild: Spiny Dwarf-Iguanas are usually found in closed-canopy situations rather than in open or semi-open areas. These cryptic reptiles are easier to detect by sampling well-preserved forest trails at night with the aid of a flashlight. In this way, roosting individuals may be detected at a rate of at least one per night, particularly at Canandé Reserve and Centro Científico Río Palenque.

Authors: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador. and Gabriela AguiarbIndependent researcher, Quito, Ecuador.

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

How to cite? Arteaga A, Aguiar G (2023) Spiny Dwarf-Iguana (Enyalioides heterolepis). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/EYEO2742

Literature cited:

  1. Torres-Carvajal O, Etheridge R, de Queiroz K (2011) A systematic revision of Neotropical lizards in the clade Hoplocercinae (Squamata: Iguania). Zootaxa 2752: 1–44. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.2752.1.1
  2. Castro Herrera F, Ayala SC (1988) Saurios de Colombia. Unpublished, Bogotá, 692 pp.
  3. Eisenberg T, Pantchev N (2010) Notes on body size and natural history of Enyalioides heterolepis (Bocourt 1874) in its northernmost population in Panama. Herpetological Bulletin 111: 12–14.
  4. Lotzkat S (2014) Diversity, taxonomy, and biogeography of the reptiles inhabiting the highlands of the Cordillera Central (Serranía de Talamanca and Serranía de Tabasará) in western Panama. PhD thesis, Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main, 931 pp.
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. MECN, JOCOTOCO, ECOMINGA (2013) Herpetofauna en áreas prioritarias para la conservación: el sistema de reservas Jocotoco y Ecominga. Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales, Quito, 408 pp.
  7. Ibáñez R, Ines Hladki A, Jaramillo C, Ramírez Pinilla M, Renjifo J, Urbina N (2016) Enyalioides heterolepis. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T203067A2759766.en
  8. 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 Enyalioides heterolepis in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaNariñoCamino a CuatalaBorja-Acosta & Galeano Muñoz 2023
ColombiaNariñoCascada ChinangüíiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaNariñoEl PalmichalPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoReserva Natural El PangániNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCarchiTobar DonosoYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque Privado El Jardín de los SueñosPellet 2017
EcuadorCotopaxiYakusinchiPhoto by Jane Sloan
EcuadorEsmeraldasAlto TamboTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasAngosturaMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasBloque SirúaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque Protector La ChiquitaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasCabeceras de BilsaAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorEsmeraldasCaimitoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReserveThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorEsmeraldasCarondeletMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro MutilesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro ZapalloiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasCharco VicenteMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasCorriente GrandeTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasDurangoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasEstero PoteMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasGallinazoMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasGualpíMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasInésMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasItapoa ReserveThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorEsmeraldasJeyambiMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa LagarteraGBIF
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa TablaMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasLagarto, Reserva MayrongaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasLoma LindaPazmiño Otamendi 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote RoseroThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote SalvadoresReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasMompicheiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasPadre SantoMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasPajonalMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasPartidero-Poza HondaVázquez et al. 2005
EcuadorEsmeraldasPichiyacuPazmiño Otamendi 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasQuinindéTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva Mache ChindulTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío PalabíWiens and Etheridge 2003
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío SantiagoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasSalto del BravoMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan JavierTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan Miguel de CayapasTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan SalvadorTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasSanta RitaMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasTangarealMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasTsejpiMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasTundaloma LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasZabalitoMorales-Mite 2004
EcuadorImbaburaLitaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLos RíosCerro SamamaPazmiño Otamendi 2020
EcuadorLos RíosZapotalPhoto by Pablo Loaiza
EcuadorManabíCarmen, 23 km SW ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorManabíCarmen, 38 km NW ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorManabíCascada Las CaídasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíCerro Pata de PájaroReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíEl CarmenTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorManabíEl GuayacániNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíEloy AlfaroPhoto by Redgy Vera
EcuadorManabíHacienda SiberiaHamilton et al. 2005
EcuadorManabíLas VillegasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíReserva Jama CoaqueLynch et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíThree Forests TrailPhoto by Paul Maier
EcuadorPichinchaBosque Protector Mindo NabilloPhoto by Milton Narváez
EcuadorPichinchaEl Chalpi-SaguangalYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorPichinchaEl Esfuerzo, 4 km ESE ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorPichinchaHostería Selva VirgenReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaMangalomaPhoto by Andreas Kay
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaPalma Real Torres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto QuitoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorPichinchaRío BlancoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorPichinchaRío CaoniTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorPichinchaRío Silanche Wildlife SanctuaryPhoto by Andreas Kay
EcuadorPichinchaRío ToachiTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorPichinchaSaragoza–Río CintoYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasHacienda TinalandiaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasLa FloridaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasReserva Forestal La PerlaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto DomingoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 30 km E ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 30 km NW ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2011