Published February 13, 2022. Updated November 23, 2023. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Lonely Sticklizard (Macropholidus annectens)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gymnophthalmidae | Macropholidus annectens

English common name: Lonely Sticklizard.

Spanish common names: Cuilanpalo solitario, cuilán de Loja.

Recognition: ♂♂ 13.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=5.3 cm. ♀♀ 16.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=6.4 cm..1,2 Species of the genus Macropholidus can be identified from other small brownish diurnal lizards by their well-developed limbs and strongly overlapping sub-rhomboidal scales on the flanks.3 Macropholidus differs from its sister clade Pholidobolus by the presence of a transparent palpebral disc in the lower eyelid.4 Within its range, the Lonely Sticklizard (M. annectens) can be differentiated from its congeners by having striated or weakly keeled dorsal scales (smooth dorsals in M. ruthveni), uniformly-colored lower lips, and no ocellated pattern (irregular dark marks on lower lips and conspicuous pattern of ocelli in M. montanuccii).26 Males have orange-red flecks on the sides of the neck and tail, pale bronze-orange belly, and pinkish tail underside (Fig. 1). Females have a more opaque brownish dorsal coloration with a pale gray belly. Juveniles have ocelli on the sides of neck and dark flecks on the limbs.2

Figure showing variation among individuals of Macropholidus annectens

Figure 1: Individuals of Macropholidus annectens from 2 km E of Loja, Loja province, Ecuador. j=juvenile.

Natural history: Macropholidus annectens is a diurnal lizard that occurs in high densities in open areas of highland ecosystems, including humid montane shrubland, evergreen montane forest, and shrubby paramo.1,5 The species also inhabits human-modified environments, including forest edge, pastures, roadside clearings, rural gardens, and urban areas.1,7 During sunny days, Lonely Sticklizards can be found basking or foraging at ground level or on logs, grass tussocks, rocks, Agave leaves, or bromeliads.1,2 At night and during cloudy days, individuals remain hidden under rocks, logs and other surface objects.1 There is a record of the viper Bothrops lojanus preying upon an individual of this species.8 When threatened, these jittery reptiles take refuge under vegetation or in leaf-litter; if handled, they may shed the tail or bite. Females lay clutches of two eggs under rocks.1

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Conservation: Endangered Considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the near future..7,9 Macropholidus annectens is listed in this category because the species is restricted to an extremely small (~1,030 km2) area that has lost ~51% of its original vegetation cover and continues to decline in extent and quality due to deforestation, logging, and burning.7,10 The habitat of M. annectens is under intense pressure from the expansion of the agricultural frontier and the creation of new human settlements.7 Although it occurs in protected areas (Podocarpus National Park, Reserva Privada Madrigal del Podocarpus, and Reserva Arcoiris), only about 17% of the species’ potential area of distribution is inside these areas.

Distribution: Macropholidus annectens is endemic to an area of approximately 1,030 km2 in the inter-Andean valleys and both slopes of the Andes in southern Ecuador (provinces Loja and Zamora Chinchipe; Fig. 2).

Distribution of Macropholidus annectens in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Macropholidus annectens in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the approximate general type locality: vicinity of Loja. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Macropholidus comes from the Greek words makros (=long) and pholidos (=scale),11 and refers to the large scales around the body.3 The specific epithet annectens is a Latin word meaning “linking.”11 At the time of the original description, this species was thought to be a form intermediate between Pholidobolus montium and M. ruthveni.2,12.

See it in the wild: Lonely Sticklizards can be observed with almost complete certainty during a short, targeted day visit to the outskirts of Loja, especially east of the city. The lizards can be found by searching under rocks and logs in pastures near remnants of native vegetation or simply by looking along stone walls and fences during sunny days.

Special thanks to Pablo Amaru Loaiza Lange for symbolically adopting the Lonely Sticklizard and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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Author: Amanda QuezadaaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: Laboratorio de Herpetología, Universidad del Azuay, Cuenca, Ecuador.

Editor: Alejandro ArteagacAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Academic reviewer: Jeffrey D CamperdAffiliation: Department of Biology, Francis Marion University, Florence, USA.

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

How to cite? Quezada A (2023) Lonely Sticklizard (Macropholidus annectens). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/WCQK9257

Literature cited:

  1. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  2. Montanucci RR (1973) Systematics and evolution of the Andean lizard genus Pholidobolus (Sauria: Teiidae). Miscellaneous Publications of the Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas 59: 1–52.
  3. Noble GK (1920) Some new lizards from northwestern Peru. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 29: 133–139. DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1920.tb55353.x
  4. Torres-Carvajal O, Venegas P, Lobos SE, Mafla-Endara P, Sales Nunes PM (2014) A new species of Pholidobolus (Squamata: Gymnophthalmidae) from the Andes of southern Ecuador. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation 8: 76–88.
  5. Torres-Carvajal O, Venegas PJ, Nunes PMS (2020) Description and phylogeny of a new species of Andean lizard (Gymnophthalmidae: Cercosaurinae) from the Huancabamba depression. South American Journal of Herpetology 18: 13–23. DOI: 10.2994/SAJH-D-18-00069.1
  6. 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.
  7. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Yánez-Muñoz M, Valencia J (2014) Macropholidus annectens. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T178645A54446958.en
  8. Kuch U, Ayala-Varela F (2004) Bothrops lojanus (Lojan Lancehead). Diet. Herpetological Review 35: 274.
  9. Carrillo E, Aldás A, Altamirano M, Ayala F, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Endara A, Márquez C, Morales M, Nogales F, Salvador P, Torres ML, Valencia J, Villamarín F, Yánez-Muñoz M, Zárate P (2005) Lista roja de los reptiles del Ecuador. Fundación Novum Millenium, Quito, 46 pp.
  10. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  11. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  12. Parker HW (1930) Two new reptiles from Southern Ecuador. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 5: 568–571. DOI: 10.1080/00222933008673167

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

EcuadorLojaChantacoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorLojaEl Capulí, 2 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaLa EsperanzaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLojaLaguna de PuntzaráiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaLas JuntasReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaLoja, 2 km E ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorLojaLoja, 3 km SW ofUSNM 220415; VertNet
EcuadorLojaLoja, 3 km W ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorLojaLoja, 4.6 km N ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorLojaLoja, 4.9 km E ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorLojaLoja, 5 km NW ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLojaLoja, 7.5 km E ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLojaLoja, 8.5 km S of Hillis 1985
EcuadorLojaLoja, calle BilbaoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaLoja, El RosaliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaLoja, MenfisMontanucci 1973
EcuadorLojaLoja, Mirador del EsteTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLojaLoja, Parque PucaráiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaLoja, Prados del BosqueiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaMadrigal del PodocarpusiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaSantiago, 4 km SE ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLojaVilcabamba, vicinity ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaYangana, 12.8 km S ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeLoja, 15 km E ofTorres-Carvajal & Mafla-Endara 2013
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeReserva ArcoirisOnline multimedia