Published January 12, 2021. Updated January 16, 2024. Open access.

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Cocha Whiptail (Kentropyx altamazonica)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Teiidae | Kentropyx altamazonica

English common names: Cocha Whiptail, Upper-Amazon Whiptail.

Spanish common names: Lagartija látigo altamazónica, lagartija de amazonía alta.

Recognition: ♂♂ 36.5 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=11.4 cm. ♀♀ 33.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=10.5 cm..1 The Cocha Whiptail (Kentropyx altamazonica) differs from other medium-sized, striped diurnal and terrestrial lizards in the Ecuadorian Amazon by having granular dorsal scales, strongly keeled ventral scales arranged in 14–16 rows, and large plate-like scales on the head.24 Adults have a broad greenish mid-dorsal stripe with straight margins running from top of the head to the middle of body. Young individuals have a dark reddish brown dorsum marked by a series of distinct greenish stripes.46 The most similar whiptails that may be found living alongside K. altamazonica in Ecuadorian are K. pelviceps, which has a vertebral stripe with undulating margins, and Ameiva ameiva, which has smooth ventral scales and does not have greenish stripes.4

Figure showing variation among individuals of Kentropyx altamazonica

Figure 1: Individuals of Kentropyx altamazonica from Zamora Chinchipe province, Ecuador: Yankuam Lodge (); Panguintza (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Kentropyx pelviceps is a diurnal lizard that occurs in higher densities in areas of várzea (=whitewater-flooded forests), notably along water courses such as rivers and oxbow lakes.2,4,7 In two populations in Brazil, the majority (85.2%) of individuals were observed in river forest habitats, with the remainder in terra-firme forest and igapó (=blackwater-flooded forests).7 Kentropyx altamazonica also seems to prefer more open habitats than K. pelviceps, including clearings, forest edge, secondary growth, river margins, plantation sites, and yards.2,3 These lizards need extended periods of direct sunlight hitting the ground in order to become active.7 During sunny days, they are out between 9:30 am and 3:30 pm, but on cloudy days (which can be ~52–62% of days), they remain hidden.7 Individuals spend up to 51.7% of their time active time basking at ground level as well as on logs floating in water or on logs overhanging water.7 Cocha Whiptails are mostly terrestrial, but also semi-arboreal (climbing trees, palm fronds, branches, roots, and vines up to 2 m above the ground) and semi-aquatic, especially during flood season.2,3,7 The majority of their time in the water is spent foraging on floating trunks and aquatic vegetation,8 but individuals are occasionally seen swimming, diving, or running across the water surface like a basilisk.3,4,9 Cocha Whiptails spend nearly half (45.8%) of their active time foraging frantically, essentially never stopping as they search for food.7 Their diet includes mostly insects (particularly roaches, grasshoppers, and beetles) as well as their eggs and larva, but also spiders, mites, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, snails, and small vertebrates.4,7,10 Cocha Whiptails rely mostly on their wariness and sprint speed as defense mechanisms, but they may bite or readily shed the tail if captured. Reproduction seems to take place throughout the year.3,4,11 Females lay clutches of 3–13 eggs in 10 cm deep holes in sandy substrate and these take 110–143 days (~4–5 months) to hatch.4,11 Neonates measure 9.2–9.3 cm in total length at birth.11

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..12 Kentropyx altamazonica is listed in this category given its wide distribution, presence in major protected areas, lack of widespread threats, and tolerance to human-modified environments.12 The species occurs over areas that retain the majority of their vegetation cover, but, in Ecuador an estimated ~37% of the species’ habitat has been destroyed,13 mostly due to the expansion of the agricultural frontier and large-scale mining projects.

Distribution: Kentropyx altamazonica is native to the Amazonian lowlands and adjacent Andean foothills of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), and Peru.14

Distribution of Kentropyx altamazonica in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Kentropyx, which is derived from the Greek words kentron (=spur) and pyxis (=box),15 probably refers to the preanal spurs.16 The specific epithet altamazonica refers to the upper Amazon basin.

See it in the wild: Cocha Whiptails are most easily seen along waterbodies throughout the species’ area of distribution in Ecuador. There are populations in the towns Panguintza and Yantzaza, along the Zamora River in southeastern Ecuador. The lizards may be seen during sunny days foraging in open areas close to the water.

Acknowledgments: This account was published with the support of Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior Ciencia y Tecnología (programa INEDITA; project: Respuestas a la crisis de biodiversidad: la descripción de especies como herramienta de conservación; No 00110378), Programa de las Naciones Unidas (PNUD), and Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ).

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

Photographers: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Frank PichardoaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Cocha Whiptail (Kentropyx altamazonica). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/UGIQ1951

Literature cited:

  1. Gallagher DS, Dixon JR (1992) Taxonomic revision of the South American lizard genus Kentropyx Spix (Sauria: Teiidae). Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali di Torino 10: 125–171.
  2. Avila-Pires TCS (1995) Lizards of Brazilian Amazonia (Reptilia: Squamata). Zoologische Verhandelingen 299: 1–706.
  3. Dixon JR, Soini P (1986) The reptiles of the upper Amazon Basin, Iquitos region, Peru. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 154 pp.
  4. Duellman WE (2005) Cusco amazónico: the lives of amphibians and reptiles in an Amazonian rainforest. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 433 pp.
  5. Magnusson WE, Lima AP (1995) Kentropyx altamazonica. Color. Herpetological Review 26: 36.
  6. Gallagher DS, Dixon JR, Schmidly DJ (1986) Geographic variation in the Kentropyx calcarata species group (Sauria: Teiidae): a possible example of morphological character displacement. Journal of Herpetology 20: 179–189. DOI: 10.2307/1563942
  7. Vitt LJ, Sartorius SS, Ávila-Pires TCS, Espósito MC (2001) Life at the river’s edge: ecology of Kentropyx altamazonica in Brazilian Amazonia. Canadian Journal of Zoology 79: 1855–1865. DOI: 10.1139/cjz-79-10-1855
  8. Bolla DAS, Bandeira LN, Carvalho F (2017) Kentropyx altamazonica (Cocha Whiptail). Habitat use. Herpetological Review 48: 847–848.
  9. Cole CJ, Dessauer HC, Townsend CR, Arnold MG (1995) Kentropyx borckiana (Squmata: Teiidae): a unisexual lizard of hybrid origin in the Guiana region, South America. American Museum Novitates 3145: 1–23.
  10. Meede U (1984) Herpetologische studien uber Echsen (Sauria) in einem begrenzten gebiet des Tropischen Regenwaldes in Peru: morphologische kriterien, autokologie und zoogeographie. Artenliste der Reptilien im untersuchungsgebiet. PhD thesis, Universitat Hamburg, 189 pp.
  11. Serrano Rojas SJ, Villacampa J, Whitworth A (2016) Notes on the reproduction of Kentropyx altamazonica (Squamata: Teiidae) and Imantodes lentiferus (Serpentes: Dipsadidae) from southeast Peru. Phyllomedusa 15: 69–73. DOI: 10.11606/issn.2316-9079.v15i1p69-73
  12. Calderón M, Perez P, Gagliardi G, Aparicio J, Avila-Pires TCS, Moravec J (2019) Kentropyx altamazonica. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-2.RLTS.T44579671A44579678.en
  13. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  14. Ribeiro-Junior MA, Amaral S (2016) Catalogue of distribution of lizards (Reptilia: Squamata) from the Brazilian Amazonia. III. Anguidae, Scincidae, Teiidae. Zootaxa 4205: 401–430. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.4205.5.1
  15. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  16. Uetz P, Freed P, Hošek J (2021) The reptile database. Available from:

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

EcuadorMorona SantiagoRap 7, Cordillera del CóndorAlmendáriz et al. 2014
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeDestacamento ShaimeMármol–Guijarro 2018
EcuadorZamora ChinchipePanguintzaThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeYankuam LodgeThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeYantzazaiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruAmazonasAguaruna VillageMVZ 163086; VertNet
PeruAmazonasChigkan EntseUSNM 560487; VertNet
PeruAmazonasChiriaco, 43 km NE ofLSUMZ 39389; VertNet
PeruAmazonasHuampamiUSNM 316790; VertNet
PeruAmazonasKusu, vicinity ofMVZ 163113; VertNet
PeruAmazonasLa Poza, along Río SantiagoAvila-Pires 1995
PeruAmazonasLoro MachicoAvila-Pires 1995
PeruAmazonasPuerto GalileaAvila-Pires 1995
PeruAmazonasSan Antonio, Río CenepaMVZ 163092; VertNet
PeruAmazonasSoledadMVZ 174862; VertNet
PeruAmazonasSua, vicinity ofAvila-Pires 1995
PeruLoretoPuerto ElviraAvila-Pires 1995
PeruLoretoReserva Nacional Pacaya SamiriaiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruLoretoTahuayo river areaiNaturalist; photo examined