Published June 27, 2019. Updated January 7, 2024. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Shieldhead Gecko (Gonatodes caudiscutatus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Sphaerodactylidae | Gonatodes caudiscutatus

English common name: Shieldhead Gecko.

Spanish common names: Geco cabeciamarillo, salamanquesa cabeciamarilla.

Recognition: ♂♂ 9.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=4.4 cm. ♀♀ 9.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=4.5 cm..1,2 Geckos of the genus Gonatodes in Ecuador can be identified based on their diurnal habits, lack of moveable eyelids, undilated digits having exposed claws, and absence of a scaly supraciliary flap (present in Lepidoblepharis).3,4 Shieldhead Geckos differ from the two other Gonatodes in Ecuador by having a posthumeral ocellus and lacking dorsal vermiculations (Fig. 1).1 Males of G. caudiscutatus can be identified based on their distinctive head coloration: bright yellow to orange with contrasting dark brown to black reticulations (Fig. 1).2 Females and juveniles are brownish overall and similar to other Ecuadorian dwarf geckos, but they are unique in lacking enlarged scales above the upper eyelid and a vertical white line above the shoulder.1,2

Figure showing variation among individuals of Gonatodes caudiscutatus

Figure 1: Individuals of Gonatodes caudiscutatus from Ecuador: Yankuam Lodge, Zamora Chinchipe province (); Reserva Las Balsas, Santa Elena province (); Huella Verde Lodge, Pastaza province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Gonatodes caudiscutatus is an opportunistic gecko that naturally occurs in areas of seasonally dry forest and rainforests, but also colonizes and occurs in high densities in human-modified environments such as crops, planted forests, and peri-urban areas.57 Shieldhead Geckos are diurnal and most active during the middle of the day.2 They are gregarious, being found in groups, basking or foraging on tree trunks, buttress roots, walls, and on timber.2,5 At night, they remain hidden within crevices or under piles of timber, trash, and debris.2 In the presence of a disturbance, these jittery lizards tend flee into crevices or under surface objects. If captured, they may shed the tail and lose portions of the skin.2 Shieldhead Geckos feed on termites, beetles, bees, and wasps.2 Females lay clutches of a single egg at intervals of about three weeks.2 These hatch after 90–110 days.2

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..8 Gonatodes caudiscutatus is listed in this category because this species is widely distributed, thrives in human-modified environments, and is considered to be undergoing no obvious population declines nor facing major immediate threats of extinction.8 Conversely, G. caudiscutatus is an introduced species in the Galápagos Islands6 and the Amazonian slopes of the Andes in Ecuador.5 There is no information regarding how the introduced Shieldhead Gecko interacts with endemic species in Galápagos, but, since it seems to depend on human-modified environments, its impact might be limited.2

Distribution: Gonatodes caudiscutatus is native to the Pacific lowlands Ecuador and northwestern Peru (Fig. 2), and has been introduced into Amazonian Ecuador and the Galápagos (Fig. 3).2

Distribution of Gonatodes caudiscutatus in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Gonatodes caudiscutatus in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Pallatanga, Chimborazo province. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Distribution of Gonatodes caudiscutatus in Galápagos

Figure 3: Distribution of Gonatodes caudiscutatus in Galápagos. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Gonatodes comes from the Greek words gonatos (=node) and odes (=resembling),9 and probably refers to the form of the digits which are slender but in which the joints are prominent as swellings.10 The specific epithet caudiscutatus means “beautifully arranged” in Latin.9

See it in the wild: On mainland Ecuador, the easiest place to see individuals of Gonatodes caudiscutatus is the town of Puerto Quito, Pichincha province. In Galápagos, the town El Progreso, on San Cristóbal Island, is notable for having high densities of Shieldhead Geckos.

Special thanks to Anna Kay Smith for symbolically adopting the Shieldhead Gecko and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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Authors: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador. and Juan M GuayasaminbAffiliation: Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Quito, Ecuador.

Academic reviewer: Anthony RussellcAffiliation: The University of Calgary, Canada.

Photographer: Jose VieiradAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,eAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A, Guayasamin JM (2024) Shieldhead Gecko (Gonatodes caudiscutatus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/EOMY5868

Literature cited:

  1. Sturaro MJ, Avila-Pires TCS (2013) Redescription of the gecko Gonatodes caudiscutatus (Günther, 1859) (Squamata: Sphaerodactylidae). South American Journal of Herpetology 8: 132–145. DOI: 10.2994/SAJH-D-13-00002.1
  2. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Tapia W, Guayasamin JM (2019) Reptiles of the Galápagos: life on the Enchanted Islands. Tropical Herping, Quito, 208 pp. DOI: 10.47051/AQJU7348
  3. Vanzolini PE (1968) Geography of the South American Gekkonidae. Arquivos de Zoologia 17: 85–112.
  4. Sturaro MJ, Avila-Pires TCS (2011) Taxonomic revision of the geckos of the Gonatodes concinnatus complex (Squamata: Sphaerodactylidae), with description of two new species. Zootaxa 2869: 1–36. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.2869.1.1
  5. Carvajal-Campos A, Torres-Carvajal O (2012) Gonatodes caudiscutatus (Günther, 1859) (Squamata: Sphaerodactylidae): Distribution extension in Ecuador. Check List 8: 525–527. DOI: 10.15560/8.3.525
  6. Olmedo J, Cayot L (1994) Introduced geckos in the towns of Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal and Isabela. Noticias de Galápagos 53: 7–12.
  7. Valencia JH, Garzón K (2011) Guía de anfibios y reptiles en ambientes cercanos a las estaciones del OCP. Fundación Herpetológica Gustavo Orcés, Quito, 268 pp.
  8. Caicedo J, Calderón M, Castro F, Ines Hladki A, Kornacker P, Ramírez Pinilla M, Renjifo J, Urbina N (2016) Gonatodes caudiscutatus. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T178422A44954082.en
  9. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  10. Russell AP, Baskerville J, Gamble T, Higham TE (2015) The evolution of digit form in Gonatodes (Gekkota: Sphaerodactylidae) and its bearing on the transition from frictional to adhesive contact in Gekkotans. Journal of Morphology 276: 1311–1132. DOI: 10.1002/jmor.20420

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

EcuadorAzuaySarayungaPhoto by José Manuel Falcón
EcuadorAzuayUzhcurumiReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorBolívarBalzapambaAMNH 38767; examined
EcuadorBolívarCabañas del Camino RealReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorBolívarCalumaAltamirano-Ponce et al. 2023
EcuadorBolívarTelimbelaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorCañarEl ChorroPhoto by Alex Angulo
EcuadorCarchiChinambíReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorChimborazoPallatanga*Günther 1859
EcuadorEl OroArenillasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroCascadas de Manuel Garzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroPasaje, 3 km E ofAMNH 110593; examined
EcuadorEl OroPortoveloiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroReserva Militar ArenillasGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroSan GregorioGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroSanta Lucía, 3 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroSanta RosaAMNH 22236; examined
EcuadorEl OroSanta Rosa, 6 mi S ofSturaro & Avila-Pires 2013
EcuadorEl OroTendalesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroValle HermosoPazmiño-Otamendi & Carvajal-Campos 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasAtacamesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveUSNM 541949; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque Protector La PerlaPhoto by Nathan Shepard
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda CucarachaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasItapoa ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasMompicheiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan LorenzoOnline multimedia
EcuadorEsmeraldasTerminal Marítimo OCPValencia & Garzón 2011
EcuadorEsmeraldasTundaloma LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasY de la LagunaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGalápagosEl ProgresoLever 2003
EcuadorGalápagosPuerto AyoraJiménez-Uzcátegui 2014
EcuadorGalápagosPuerto Baquerizo MorenoArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosPuerto VillamilArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosSan CristóbalArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGuayasBalzarSturaro & Avila-Pires 2013
EcuadorGuayasBosque Protector Cerro BlancoAlmendáriz & Carr 2007
EcuadorGuayasBucayAMNH 21906; examined
EcuadorGuayasCerro MasvaleReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasDuránUF 87643; VertNet
EcuadorGuayasEl Empalme, 21 km SW ofSturaro & Avila-Pires 2013
EcuadorGuayasHacienda San MiguelSturaro & Avila-Pires 2013
EcuadorGuayasIsla Palo SantoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasMontero, 14 Km ESE ofKU 142674; VertNet
EcuadorGuayasNueva Unión CampesinaPazmiño-Otamendi & Carvajal-Campos 2020
EcuadorGuayasParque SamanesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasPuerto del MorroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasRío DauleUF 86871; VertNet
EcuadorGuayasSan FernandoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasZoo El PantanalReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaBosque Petrificado PuyangoGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorLojaCatamayoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaMalacatosiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosBosque Protector Pedro Franco DávilaCruz & Sánchez 2016
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueSturaro & Avila-Pires 2013
EcuadorLos RíosCerro Samama MumbesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosFinca ElbaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosQuevedoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosQuevedo, 4 km N ofKU 132467; VertNet
EcuadorLos RíosRecinto Naranjo Agrio AltoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíAgua BlancaAltamirano-Ponce et al. 2023
EcuadorManabíBoca de PalmitoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíBosque Seco Lalo LoorHamilton et al. 2005
EcuadorManabíCañales, 3 km W ofReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíCerro PucaUSNM 166151; VertNet
EcuadorManabíChoneSturaro et al. 2011
EcuadorManabíDon JuanHamilton et al. 2005
EcuadorManabíEl CarmenTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorManabíLa CrespaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíMantaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíPedernalesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíPortoviejoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíPuerto Cayo, 2 Km E ofSturaro et al. 2011
EcuadorManabíPuerto LópezReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíReserva Biológica Cerro SecoPhoto by Michi Maissen
EcuadorManabíReserva Jama CoaqueLynch et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíRío AyampeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíRuta SpondylusiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíTito SantosHamilton et al. 2005
EcuadorManabíVilla RamonitaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoEstación Biológica WisuiChaparro et al 2011
EcuadorMorona SantiagoGualaquizaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoLimónPazmiño-Otamendi & Carvajal-Campos 2020
EcuadorMorona SantiagoPaloraiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoPindalPhoto by Jorge Vaca
EcuadorMorona SantiagoProañoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSiete Iglesias ReserveOnline multimedia
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSucúaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTaishaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoChontapuntaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoSelina NapoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoTenaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaCocaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaChichirotaSturaro & Avila-Pires 2013
EcuadorPastazaHuella Verde LodgeThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorPastazaPuniniNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaPuyoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaPedro Vicente MaldonadoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaRancho SuamoxPhoto by Rafael Ferro
EcuadorSanta ElenaReserva Las BalsasThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorSanta ElenaSanta ElenaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasEl TriunfoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca La FloreanaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasOtongachiReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto DomingoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorTungurahuaRío NegroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeEl PanguiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeGuayzimiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipePalandaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipePanguintzaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeYankuam LodgeThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeZamoraReptiles of Ecuador book database
PeruTumbesCabo CotrinaiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruTumbesDestacamento CampoverdeiNaturalist; photo examined