Published October 12, 2023. Updated January 15, 2024. Open access.

Gallery ❯

Forest Whiptail (Kentropyx pelviceps)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Teiidae | Kentropyx pelviceps

English common name: Forest Whiptail.

Spanish common name: Lagartija látigo selvática.

Recognition: ♂♂ 37.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=13.0 cm. ♀♀ 35.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=12.0 cm..1,2 The Forest Whiptail (Kentropyx pelviceps) 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.15 This species is easily recognizable due to its broad vertebral stripe that transitions from green to copper, with undulating margins that widen posteriorly (Fig. 1).1,5,6 Juveniles have a pair of blackish canthal–dorsolateral stripes, but the rest of the head is entirely green.1,5 The most similar whiptails that may be found living alongside K. pelviceps in the Ecuadorian Amazon are K. altamazonica, which has a vertebral stripe with straight margins, and Ameiva ameiva, which has smooth ventral scales and lacks greenish stripes.5

Figure showing variation among individuals of Kentropyx pelviceps

Figure 1: Individuals of Kentropyx pelviceps from Ecuador: Yasuní Scientific Station, Orellana province (); Aguas Negras Lodge, Sucumbíos province (); Curaray Medio, Pastaza province (); Laguna Jatuncocha, Orellana province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Kentropyx pelviceps is a locally abundant lizard inhabiting various rainforest environments, including várzea (=whitewater-flooded forests), igapó (=blackwater-flooded forests), and terra-firme.3 The species occurs in old-growth rainforests,3 as well as in clearings,7 plantations,6,8 rural gardens, and even inside houses.9 It is not associated with water bodies and prefers less open habitats than its congener K. altamazonica.3,4 Forest Whiptails require extended periods of direct sunlight to become active, typically being out during sunny days between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm when temperatures range between 28 and 40.3°C.210 On cloudy days, they remain concealed.5,7 At night, Forest Whiptails seek shelter in holes, leaf-litter, beneath logs, or roost on twigs and leaves 1–1.6 m above the ground.6,9 They are primarily terrestrial but also exhibit semi-arboreal behavior, climbing palm fronds and tree trunks up to 3.5 meters above the ground.37 The majority of their active time is spent basking on filtered sunlight (67.3%) or frantically foraging (34.3%), essentially never stopping as they search for food.2,5 Their diet includes mostly arthropods (particularly grasshoppers, spiders, and roaches),26 but also frogs and lizards, such as Anolis trachyderma.3,6 Forest Whiptails rely mostly on their wariness and sprint speed as defense mechanisms,10 but they may bite or readily shed the tail if captured. There are documented instances of predation on individuals of this species by snakes (Oxyrhopus petolarius,6 Micrurus obscurus,4 and Bothrops atrox4). Reproduction in K. pelviceps appears to occur throughout the year, with females laying clutches of 3–8 eggs.3,10

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..11 Kentropyx pelviceps is listed in this category given its wide distribution, presence in major protected areas, lack of widespread threats, and tolerance to human-modified environments.11 In Brazil, it is estimated that 94% of the species’ occurrence area is still forested12; in Ecuador, this figure is closer to 88%.13

Distribution: Kentropyx pelviceps is native to an estimated area of 1,169,430.95 km2 throughout the Amazonian lowlands and adjacent Andean foothills of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.12

Distribution of Kentropyx pelviceps in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Kentropyx pelviceps in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Napo River. 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),14 probably refers to the preanal spurs in species of this genus.15 The specific epithet pelviceps, derived from the Latin pelvis (=a basin) and caput (=head), refers to the concave condition of the frontoparietal region, a characteristic found most prominently in males.1

See it in the wild: Forest Whiptails are virtually guaranteed sightings within their distribution range in Ecuador, especially in Yasuní National Park and Cuyabeno Reserve. These jittery reptiles can be readily observed running on the forest floor in areas of filtered sunlight during warm, sunny days.

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

Photographers: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Forest Whiptail (Kentropyx pelviceps). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/SCKL1671

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. Vitt LJ, Zani PA, Caldwell JP, Carrillo EO (1995) Ecology of the lizard Kentropyx pelviceps (Sauria: Teiidae) in lowland rain forest of Ecuador. Canadian Journal of Zoology 73: 691–703. DOI: 10.1139/z95-081
  3. Avila-Pires TCS (1995) Lizards of Brazilian Amazonia (Reptilia: Squamata). Zoologische Verhandelingen 299: 1–706.
  4. Dixon JR, Soini P (1986) The reptiles of the upper Amazon Basin, Iquitos region, Peru. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 154 pp.
  5. Duellman WE (2005) Cusco amazónico: the lives of amphibians and reptiles in an Amazonian rainforest. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 433 pp.
  6. Duellman WE (1978) The biology of an equatorial herpetofauna in Amazonian Ecuador. Publications of the Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas 65: 1–352.
  7. Fitch HS (1968) Temperature and behavior of some equatorial lizards. Herpetologica 24: 35–38.
  8. Beirne C, Burdekin O, Whitworth A (2013) Herpetofaunal responses to anthropogenic habitat change within a small forest reserve in eastern Ecuador. The Herpetological Journal 23: 209–219.
  9. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  10. Vitt LJ, De la Torre S (1996) A research guide to the lizards of Cuyabeno. Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Quito, 165 pp.
  11. Calderón M, Perez P, Avila-Pires TCS, Aparicio J, Moravec J (2019) Kentropyx pelviceps. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-2.RLTS.T44579732A44579741.en
  12. Ribeiro-Júnior MA, Amaral S (2016) Diversity, distribution, and conservation of lizards (Reptilia: Squamata) in the Brazilian Amazonia. Neotropical Biodiversity 2: 195–421. DOI: 10.1080/23766808.2016.1236769
  13. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  14. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  15. Uetz P, Freed P, Hošek J (2021) The reptile database. Available from:

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

ColombiaCaquetáMecayaGallagher & Dixon 1992
ColombiaCaucaFinca San IsidroiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaNariñoVereda La LibertadiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaPutumayoAchaposGeopark Colombia & SGS Colombia 2022
ColombiaPutumayoKanakasGeopark Colombia et al. 2022
ColombiaPutumayoPuerto Asís, 5 km NW ofCalderon et al. 2023
ColombiaPutumayoReserva Natural La Isla EscondidaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaPutumayoRío PutumayoGallagher & Dixon 1992
ColombiaPutumayoSan Antonio del Guamués, 30 mi S ofGallagher & Dixon 1992
ColombiaPutumayoSanta Rosa de los CofanesGallagher & Dixon 1992
ColombiaPutumayoSanta Rosa de SucumbíosAvila-Pires 1995
ColombiaPutumayoSinaí IICahueño & Barbosa 2022
ColombiaPutumayoTeteyaiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaPutumayoVereda La UnióniNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoAchuar territoryiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoArapicosGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCusuimeOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorMorona SantiagoLa VirgenCarvajal-Campos & Torres-Carvajal 2021
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacumaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMiazalGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMisión BomboizaGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSawastianOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTurulaBurt & Burt 1931
EcuadorMorona SantiagoValle del Río SantiagoGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorMorona SantiagoValle del Río ZamoraGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorMorona SantiagoVilla AshuaraOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorNapoArchidonaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoCampamento Codo bajoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoFinca FischerTCWC 65018; VertNet
EcuadorNapoGareno LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoHidroeléctrica Coca Codo SinclairCOCASINCLAIR 2013
EcuadorNapoHuaorani LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoJatun Sacha Biological StationiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoKonimpare, 5 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoPuerto NapoUIMNH 55780; collection database
EcuadorNapoRío CotopinoGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorNapoTenaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoYachana LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoYachana ReserveBeirne et al. 2013
EcuadorOrellanaApaikaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaControl MAE Río YasuníiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaEl CocaMCZ 164496; VertNet
EcuadorOrellanaLaguna JatuncochaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaLoretoGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorOrellanaRío AguaricoGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorOrellanaRío BigalGarcía et al. 2021
EcuadorOrellanaRío NashiñoCarvajal-Campos & Torres-Carvajal 2021
EcuadorOrellanaRío PucunoGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de PayaminoMaynard et al. 2016
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de SumacoBurt & Burt 1931
EcuadorOrellanaShiripuno LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity Station Cisneros-Heredia 2003
EcuadorOrellanaYarentaroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaYarina LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaYasuni Scientific StationReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaZamonaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaApuyaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaArajuno Gallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorPastazaBalsauraOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaCabañas PiatúaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaCabeceras del BobonazaGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorPastazaCanelosBurt & Burt 1931
EcuadorPastazaCentro Achuar WayusentsaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaCentro Ecológico Zanja ArajunoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaComunidad Simón BolívariNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaCuraray MedioReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaDestacamento Militar ShionaAvila-Pires 1995
EcuadorPastazaHeimatlosiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaJuyuintzaOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaKapawi LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaKurintzaOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaLorocachiCarvajal-Campos & Torres-Carvajal 2021
EcuadorPastazaMirador IndichurisiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoAvila-Pires 1995
EcuadorPastazaPindoyacuOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaPuyoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaRío BobonazaGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorPastazaRío BufeoOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaRío CapahuariGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorPastazaRío ConamboGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorPastazaRío CopatazaAvila-Pires 1995
EcuadorPastazaRío LliquinoGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorPastazaRío PindoGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorPastazaRío VillanoGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorPastazaShellGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorPastazaSumak Kawsay In SituBentley et al. 2021
EcuadorPastazaTeresa MamaGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorPastazaTigüinoOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorSucumbíosAguas Negras LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosCampo PlatanilloEnvirotec 2015
EcuadorSucumbíosCofán BermejoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosComunidad SecoyaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosComunidad ZábaloCevallos Bustos 2010
EcuadorSucumbíosDurenoDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosEstación PUCE CuyabenoVitt & Zani 1996
EcuadorSucumbíosGarzacochaYánez-Muñoz & Venegas 2008
EcuadorSucumbíosLa Selva LodgeSunbird Tours
EcuadorSucumbíosLago AgrioDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncocha Biological ReserveUIMNH 54374; collection database
EcuadorSucumbíosLumbaqui, 5 km E ofDueñas and Báez 2021
EcuadorSucumbíosNapo Wildlife CenterReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosNWC clay lickReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosPlayas del CuyabenoGallagher & Dixon 1992
EcuadorSucumbíosPuerto LibreDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosRío GüeppiYanez-Muñoz et al. 2017
EcuadorSucumbíosSacha LodgePhoto by Charlie Vogt
EcuadorSucumbíosSan RoqueiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosSani LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta Cecilia Duellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosTarapoaMCZ 163561; VertNet
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeEl PanguiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipePerma TreeOnline multimedia
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeProyecto MiradoriNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeValle del QuimiBetancourt et al. 2018
PeruAmazonasCarretera Corral Quemado–NazarethGallagher & Dixon 1992
PeruLoretoAguas NegrasYánez-Muñoz & Venegas 2008
PeruLoretoCentro UniónGallagher & Dixon 1992
PeruLoretoCerro de KampankisCatenazzi & Venegas 2016
PeruLoretoMishanaHarvey et al. 2012
PeruLoretoMoroponHarvey et al. 2012
PeruLoretoRedondocochaYánez-Muñoz & Venegas 2008