Published September 28, 2023. Updated January 15, 2024. Open access.

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Seven-lined Whiptail (Holcosus septemlineatus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Teiidae | Holcosus septemlineatus

English common name: Seven-lined Whiptail.

Spanish common name: Lagartija de siete líneas.

Recognition: ♂♂ 43.2 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=13.5 cm..1,2 Whiptails differ from other striped diurnal lizards by having small granular dorsal scales, large squarish ventral scales, and large plate-like scales on the head.3,4 Holcosus septemlineatus can be differentiated from the co-occurring whiptails Medopheos edracanthus and Dicrodon guttulatum by having the frontal plate replaced by smaller scales.1,3 In its juvenile stage, this lizard presents a dark reddish brown dorsum adorned with five vibrant yellow longitudinal lines, accompanied by a cyan tail. As it matures, the dorsum gradually assumes a brown hue, the vivid lines fade, and the tail undergoes a transition from cyan to brown (Fig. 1). The lizard most akin to it in terms of size and coloration is H. bridgesii, a saurian distinguishable by lacking a set of plate-like scales on its upper arm.3

Figure showing variation among individuals of Holcosus septemlineatus

Figure 1: Individuals of Holcosus septemlineatus from Ecuador: Buenaventura Biological Reserve, El Oro province (); Cerro de Hayas, Guayas province (); Jorupe Reserve, Loja province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Holcosus septemlineatus is a diurnal and terrestrial lizard that occurs in high densities in rainforests and seasonally dry forests as well as in human-modified habitats such as crops and rural gardens.5,6 The species prefers clearings, tree fall areas, and forest edges rather than closed canopy situations.2,5,6 Seven-lined Whiptails are active only during hot, sunny hours.2,5 They forage frantically, essentially never stopping as they search for food at ground level, never too far from vegetation cover.2 As soon as sunlight wanes, they retreat into ground holes or under leaf-litter, logs, or in man-made structures such as pipes.2 Their diet is insectivorous: roaches7 and grasshoppers8 have been documented as prey items. Individuals of H. septemlineatus are notably skittish, maintaining a vigilant watch for potential predators. Their primary defense mechanisms are alertness and rapid sprinting, though they may resort to biting or readily shedding their tails if captured.2 There are documented instances of predation on individuals of this species by snakes (Oxybelis transandinus9 and Porthidium arcosae10) and raptors.11

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..12 Holcosus septemlineatus is listed in this category primarily on the basis of the species’ wide distribution, high population densities, and adaptability to human-modified environments.12 Observations in Ecuador5,6 indicate a growing abundance of H. septemlineatus as a response to the conversion of dense-canopy habitats into sparsely forested semi-open environments.

Distribution: Holcosus septemlineatus is native to the Tumbesian lowlands and adjacent foothills of the Andes in western Ecuador and northwestern Peru (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Holcosus septemlineatus in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Holcosus is probably derived from the Greek word holkos (a kind of grain). It may refer to the many grain-like keeled scales on the head of lizards of this genus. The specific epithet septemlineatus comes from the Latin words septem (=seven), linea (=line), and the suffix -atus (=provided with).13 It refers to the dorsal pattern.

See it in the wild: Seven-lined Whiptails are virtually guaranteed sightings within their distribution range in Ecuador, especially forest-edge situations in Machalilla National Park, Buenaventura Biological Reserve, and Cerro de Hayas Protected Forest. These jittery reptiles can be readily observed running on the forest floor along forest borders during warm, sunny days.

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

Photographer: Jose VieirabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Seven-lined Whiptail (Holcosus septemlineatus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/FNRE8115

Literature cited:

  1. Harvey MB, Ugueto GN, Gutberlet Jr RL (2012) Review of teiid morphology with a revised taxonomy and phylogeny of the Teiidae (Lepidosauria: Squamata). Zootaxa 3459: 1–156. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3459.1.1
  2. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  3. Peters JA (1964) The lizard genus Ameiva in Ecuador. Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences 63: 113–127.
  4. 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.
  5. Cruz García FK (2017) Diversidad y preferencia de microhábitats de la herpetofauna del Bosque Protector Pedro Franco Dávila (Jauneche) y del Área Provincial Natural de Recreación Cerro de Hayas (Naranjal). BSc thesis, Universidad de Guayaquil, 94 pp.
  6. Cuadrado Saldarriaga SS (2020) Estructura de la comunidad de herpetofauna diurna en agroecosistemas del Chocó ecuatoriano. BSc thesis, Universidad de Guayaquil, 56 pp.
  7. Photo by Victor Bustamante.
  8. Photo by Andrés Montes.
  9. Photo by Roger Valmon.
  10. Valencia JH, Vaca-Guerrero GV, Garzón K (2011) Natural history, potential distribution and conservation status of the Manabi Hognose Pitviper Porthidium arcosae (Schätti & Kramer, 1993), in Ecuador. Herpetozoa 23: 31–43.
  11. Photo by Miguel Aporta.
  12. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Bolívar W, Velasco J (2017) Holcosus septemlineatus. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T44579609A44579616.en
  13. 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 Holcosus septemlineatus in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorAzuayLa MaravillaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorAzuayPonce EnríqueziNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorAzuayProyecto Minas San FranciscoPhoto by Fausto Siavichay
EcuadorAzuayPuente de ChauchaErnesto Arbeláez, pers. comm.
EcuadorAzuayRío Jubones, campamento ChilcaplayaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorBolívarBalzapambaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorBolívarCalumaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorBolívarFacundo VelaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorBolívarFinca HernándeziNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorBolívarSan FranciscoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorBolívarSan Jose del TamboiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCañarCochancayMVZ 77480; VertNet
EcuadorCañarHidroeléctrica OcañaMZUA.Re.0229
EcuadorCañarManta RealRodríguez-Guerra & Andrango 2020
EcuadorChimborazoChilicoyPeters 1964
EcuadorChimborazoCumandáPhoto by Eduardo Zavala
EcuadorChimborazoValle de AlausíUSNM 33860; VertNet
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque Privado El Jardín de los SueñosiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCotopaxiHacienda San GregorioiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCotopaxiPilaló, 19 km W ofKU 152698; VertNet
EcuadorCotopaxiPucayacuiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCotopaxiRecinto La FloridaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCotopaxiVía Quinsaloma–MoraspungoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroBalneario ChaguanaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroBosque Petrificado de PuyangoAcosta 2014
EcuadorEl OroBuenaventura Biological ReserveYánez-Muñoz et al 2004
EcuadorEl OroCascadas de Manuel Garzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroHualtacoUSNM 193265; VertNet
EcuadorEl OroHumedal La TembladeraGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroLote TituanaThis work
EcuadorEl OroMachala, 7 km SSE ofPeters 1964
EcuadorEl OroMarcabelíGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroÑalacapaciNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroPasajeBurt & Burt 1931
EcuadorEl OroPasaje, 32.9 km E ofKU 152688; VertNet
EcuadorEl OroPlayas de DaucayiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroPortoveloBurt & Burt 1931
EcuadorEl OroQuebrada PájaroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroRemolinos Garzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroRepresa TahuínGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroRío JubonesBurt & Burt 1931
EcuadorEl OroSalatíiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroSan GregorioGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroSan RoqueiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroSanta RosaBurt & Burt 1931
EcuadorEl OroZarumaUSNM 98921; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda de Germán CortezReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasHacienda EquinoxHarvey et al. 2012
EcuadorEsmeraldasSanta MartaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasBosque Protector Cerro BlancoSalvatierra et al. 2014
EcuadorGuayasBucayPeters 1964
EcuadorGuayasCabeceras del Río CongoPeters 1964
EcuadorGuayasCasas ViejasSalvatierra et al. 2010
EcuadorGuayasCerro de HayasReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasCerro El MangoPhoto by Keyko Cruz
EcuadorGuayasDos BocasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasFlandesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasGeneral Antonio ElizaldeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquilBoulenger 1885
EcuadorGuayasIsla SantayCruz-García et al. 2023
EcuadorGuayasJosé RealiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasMilagroPeters 1964
EcuadorGuayasNaranjalPhoto by Eduardo Toral
EcuadorGuayasRepresa Daule-PeripaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasRío PescadoBurt & Burt 1931
EcuadorGuayasSan RafaelUSNM 60522; VertNet
EcuadorGuayasSendero AulladoresiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasVictoriaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaCranoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaEl SaladoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaGuayquichumaRodríguez-Guerra & Andrango 2020
EcuadorLojaJorupe ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaLas PailitasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaMataderosiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaY de BalsonesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosBabahoyo, 33 km N ofKU 152735; VertNet
EcuadorLos RíosBosque Protector Pedro Franco DávilaCruz & Sánchez 2016
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueKU 145993; VertNet
EcuadorLos RíosHacienda El TriunfoUSNM 222796; VertNet
EcuadorLos RíosHotel Palmar del SoliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosPueblo ViejoUSNM 337772; VertNet
EcuadorLos RíosPuerto de IláUSNM 193257; VertNet
EcuadorLos RíosQuevedoPeters 1964
EcuadorLos RíosReserva Forestal Cerro SamamaYánez-Muñoz et al. 2016
EcuadorLos RíosSan FranciscoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosVincesHarvey et al. 2012
EcuadorManabíBosque Húmedo La JosefinaBrennan 2010
EcuadorManabíBosque Seco Lalo LoorReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíEl AromoRodríguez-Guerra & Andrango 2020
EcuadorManabíEl CarmeniNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíEl Carmen, 33.1 km W ofKU 152742; VertNet
EcuadorManabíFlavio Alfaro, 9.1 km E ofKU 152744; VertNet
EcuadorManabíHacienda La MarielaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíIsla de la PlataReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíJipijapa, 22 km S ofHarvey et al. 2012
EcuadorManabíLos FrailesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíMachalillaAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorManabíPacoche LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíPajaniNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíRancho EmyiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíReserva Jama CoaqueLynch et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíRío Muchacho Organic FarmiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíSalangoBrennan 2010
EcuadorManabíSan MateoHarvey et al. 2012
EcuadorManabíSan Pedro de SumaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíSan VicenteiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíSanta Rosa, 5 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíSendero Bola de OroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíVía Pedernales–CojimíesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaLa Unión del ToachiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaTantiBoulenger 1885
EcuadorPichinchaValle HermosoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanta ElenaDos MangasSalvatierra et al. 2014
EcuadorSanta ElenaReserva Ecológica Loma AltaSalvatierra et al. 2014
EcuadorSanta ElenaReserva Las BalsasReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanta ElenaSalanguilloiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasBosque Protector La PerlaPhoto by Plácido Palacios
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasConsultores CreativosiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca La FloreanaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasHacienda DyottUSNM 152402; VertNet
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasHacienda LeliaPeters 1964
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasHacienda Santa CeciliaRodríguez-Guerra & Andrango 2020
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasHacienda TinalandiaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasPalmar del Bimbe, 6 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío Baba, 19 km S of Santo DomingoUIMNH 91031; collection database
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasRío TaguazaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los ColoradosiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 10 km S and 4 km E ofKU 145996; VertNet
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, environs ofPeters 1964
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasZoológico Isla del TapiriNaturalist; photo examined
PeruTumbesCabo IngaTello 1998
PeruTumbesCerros de AmotapeiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruTumbesEl CauchoiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruTumbesParque Nacional Cerros de AmotapeHarvey et al. 2012
PeruTumbesQuebrada FaicalLSUMZ 39400; VertNet
PeruTumbesRío PuyangoiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruTumbesTumbesiNaturalist; photo examined