Published July 20, 2023. Updated November 23, 2023. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Montanuccii’s Sticklizard (Macropholidus montanuccii)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gymnophthalmidae | Macropholidus montanuccii

English common name: Montanuccii’s Sticklizard.

Spanish common name: Cuilanpalo de Montanuccii.

Recognition: ♂♂ 16.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=5.7 cm. ♀♀ 15.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=5.6 cm..1 Species of the genus Macropholidus can be identified from other small brownish diurnal lizards by their elongate body with well-developed limbs and by having strongly overlapping sub-rhomboid scales on the sides of the body.2,3 Macropholidus differs from its sister genus Pholidobolus by the presence of a transparent palpebral disc in the lower eyelid.4 Macropholidus montanuccii can be differentiated from its congeners by having a paired series of enlarged dorsal scale rows restricted to the nape (continuous to the sacral region in M. ruthveni and not paired in M. annectens), irregular dark markings on lower lips, and conspicuous ocelli along flanks.1 Males are slightly larger than females and their ocelli are more conspicuous (Fig. 1).1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Macropholidus montanuccii

Figure 1: Individuals of Macropholidus montanuccii from Loja province, Ecuador: Utuana Reserve (); Alamor (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Macropholidus montanuccii is an uncommonly seen diurnal lizard that occurs in seasonally dry montane shrublands as well as in adjacent pastures and roadsides.1,5 Montanuccii’s Sticklizards are active during sunny mornings or sunny intervals in otherwise cloudy days.1,5 At night and during overcast or rainy days, they remain inactive under logs or rocks.1 These lizards can be seen basking or foraging on rocky surfaces along trails or in leaf-litter and herbaceous vegetation.1,5 When threatened, these shy reptiles take refuge among herbs, bushes, as well as under logs or rocks. Females lay two eggs per clutch.1 A communal nesting site containing 24 eggs was found under a rock in Utuana Reserve, Loja province.5

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Conservation: Endangered Considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the near future.. Macropholidus montanuccii is a recently described species; therefore, its conservation status has not yet been formally evaluated by the IUCN. Here, it is proposed to be included in the Endangered category following IUCN criteria6 because the species is known from only seven populations and is restricted to a small (~1,558 km2) area that has lost about 55% of its natural vegetation cover.7,8 The habitat of M. montanuccii is severely fragmented and continues to decline in extent and quality due to encroaching human activities such as agriculture, cattle grazing, and the replacement of native vegetation with eucalyptus and pine trees.5

Distribution: Macropholidus montanuccii is native to an estimated area of 1,558 km2 along the western slopes of the Andes in Loja province, southern Ecuador, and Piura department, northwestern Peru (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Macropholidus montanuccii in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Macropholidus montanuccii in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Bosque de Cuyas. 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),9 and refers to the large scales around the body of these lizards.2 The specific epithet montanuccii honors Richard R. Montanucci, who devoted his life to the study of lizards and published important works on Pholidobolus.1

See it in the wild: Montanuccii’s Sticklizards can be observed with almost complete certainty during a short targeted day visit to the Utuana Reserve in southern Ecuador. The lizards can be found by searching under rocks and logs in pastures near remnants of native vegetation or simply by looking along rocky outcrops during sunny days.

Authors: Amanda QuezadaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: Laboratorio de Herpetología, Universidad del Azuay, Cuenca, Ecuador. and Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

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

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

How to cite? Quezada A, Arteaga A (2023) Montanuccii’s Sticklizard (Macropholidus montanuccii). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/RBBL2445

Literature cited:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. Cadle JE, Chuna P (1995) A new lizard of the genus Macropholidus (Teiidae) from a relictual humid forest of northwestern Peru, and notes on Macropholidus ruthveni Noble. Breviora 501: 1–39.
  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. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. IUCN (2012) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. Second edition. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 32 pp.
  7. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  8. Vale Costa H, Finer M (2021) Agriculture and deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon. MAAP #134. Available from:
  9. 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 Macropholidus montanuccii in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

EcuadorLoja30 km N CelicaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaAlamorThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorLojaBosque de Cuyas*Torres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLojaBuenavista–Casanga roadTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLojaCelicaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLojaGuachaurcoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLojaHuajalaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
EcuadorLojaReserva UtuanaThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorLojaSozorangaiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruPiuraBosque de CuyasTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020
PeruPiuraCerro ChacasTorres-Carvajal et al. 2020