Published September 11, 2021. Updated November 24, 2023. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Reticulated Sticklizard (Pholidobolus affinis)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gymnophthalmidae | Pholidobolus affinis

English common name: Reticulated Sticklizard.

Spanish common names: Cuilanpalo reticulado, cuilán reticulado.

Recognition: ♂♂ 16.2 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=6.4 cm. ♀♀ 19.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=5.8 cm..1,2 Sticklizards differ from other lizards by having short but well-developed limbs, overlapping striated sub-hexagonal dorsal scales, and a brownish dorsal pattern with longitudinal stripes.1,3 The presence of six-sided finely wrinkled dorsal scales distinguishes Pholidobolus from other co-occurring small brownish lizards such as those in the genera Alopoglossus, Anadia, Andinosaura, Macropholidus, and Riama.4 The Reticulated Sticklizard (P. affinis) co-occurs with P. montium in the north and with P. prefrontalis in the south of its distribution. It is easily differentiated from these two species by having three, instead of two, supraocular scales.3 Males of P. affinis differ from females by having an intense yellow to orange-red coloration along the flanks and belly, instead of pale yellow or gray (Fig. 1).1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Pholidobolus affinis

Figure 1: Individuals of Pholidobolus affinis from Ecuador: Tixán, Chimborazo province (); Yaupi, Tungurahua province (), Ecuador. j=juvenile.

Natural history: Pholidobolus affinis is a common diurnal and terrestrial lizard that inhabits undisturbed open areas such as paramo and dry to humid high elevation shrubland. It also occupies disturbed areas such as roadsides, crops, pastures, rural gardens, and houses.1,5 Reticulated Sticklizards occur in tufts of grass, stone walls, living agave plant fences, and under rock mounds or piles of trash near human settlements.17 These lizards are often seen basking on rocks, agave plants, bromeliads, or wooded platforms during sunny periods.1,5 When living alongside P. montium, both species are tolerant of each other, congregating on stone walls for basking.1 When threatened, individuals take refuge in the vegetation or under stones; when handled, they can bite or readily shed the tail.5 The typical clutch size consists of two eggs.1

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Conservation: Vulnerable Considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the mid-term future.. Pholidobolus affinis is proposed to be included in this category, instead of Near Threatened,6,8 following IUCN criteria,9 because the species’ extent of occurrence is small (~3,009 km2; Fig. 2), severely fragmented, and continues to decline in extent and quality due to rural-urban expansion. Based on maps of Ecuador’s vegetation cover published in 2012,10 almost all (~92%) of the species’ potential distribution is now devoid of native vegetation. Although it is a common species, P. affinis is found in lower densities than before, probably due to the increasing anthropic activity.1,7 Furthermore, only ~0.6% of the species’ potential distribution is inside protected areas (Llanganates National Park). Habitat destruction is the most important threat to the long-term survival of the species.

Distribution: Pholidobolus affinis is native to an area of approximately 3,009 km2 in the inter-Andean valleys of central Ecuador, in the provinces Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, and Tungurahua (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Pholidobolus affinis in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Pholidobolus affinis in Ecuador. The type locality is not included as it is uncertain.

Etymology: The generic name Pholidobolus comes from the Greek words pholidos (=scale) and bolos (=lump),11 and probably refers to the imbricated or mounted scales. The specific epithet affinis is a Latin word meaning “similar.”11 It most likely refers to the row of scales immediately posterior to the parietals, which, contrary to other Pholidobolus, are similar in size to the neck scales and can barely be considered occipital scales. This is the only instance the word “similar” is used in the original description of the species.12

See it in the wild: Reticulated Sticklizards can easily be observed in areas having remnants of native shrubland vegetation around cities and towns such as Latacunga, Ambato, Pelileo, and Tixán. Lizards of this species can be found by searching under rocks and logs in pastures near remnants of native vegetation or simply by looking along stone walls and living fences during sunny days

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

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

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

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

How to cite? Quezada A (2023) Reticulated Sticklizard (Pholidobolus affinis). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/RHRA8839

Literature cited:

  1. 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.
  2. Boulenger GA (1885) Catalogue of the lizards in the British Museum. Taylor & Francis, London, 497 pp.
  3. 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.
  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. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Muñoz G, Brito J, Valencia J (2017) Pholidobolus affinis. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T48283076A48283161.en
  7. Hillis DM, Simmons JE (1986) Dynamic change of a zone of parapatry between two species of Pholidobolus (Sauria: Gymnophthalmidae). Journal of Herpetology 20: 85–87. DOI: 10.2307/1564130
  8. 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.
  9. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 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. Peters WCH (1863) Über einige neue Arten der Saurier-Gattung Anolis. Monatsberichte der Königlichen Preussische Akademie des Wissenschaften zu Berlin 1863: 135–149.

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

EcuadorChimborazoAlausí, 10 km NW ofUSNM 521388; VertNet
EcuadorChimborazoAlausí, near Tixán, 10 km NE ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorChimborazoColtaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorChimborazoCubijies, 8.4 km N ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorChimborazoGuamoteMontanucci 1973
EcuadorChimborazoGuano, 4 km E, 1 km S ofKU 179434; VertNet
EcuadorChimborazoLicto, 8 km SE ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorChimborazoPuela, 2.6 km S ofKU 196319; VertNet
EcuadorChimborazoRiobambaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorChimborazoRiobamba, 10 km N ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorChimborazoRiobamba, 15 km E ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorChimborazoRiobamba, 6.7 km E ofKU 196317; VertNet
EcuadorChimborazoSan Juan, 4.1 km E ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorChimborazoSicalpaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorChimborazoTixán, 0.3 km S ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorChimborazoTixán, 1.5 km SW ofMZUTI 4509; examined
EcuadorChimborazoTixán, 2.9 km S ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorCotopaxiGuaytacama, 3.3 km SE ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCotopaxiLatacungaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCotopaxiLatacunga, 6 km S and 7 km E ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorCotopaxiMulaló, 0.3 km N ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorCotopaxiMulaló, 1 km NE ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorCotopaxiMulaló, 2.9 km E of Montanucci 1973
EcuadorCotopaxiSalcedo, 3.3 km S ofKU 196315; VertNet
EcuadorCotopaxiSalcedo, Río CutuchiTorres-Carvajal and Mafla-Endara 2013
EcuadorTungurahuaAmbatoMontanucci 1973
EcuadorTungurahuaAmbato, 10 km E ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorTungurahuaAya SamanaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorTungurahuaBaños de AmbatoMontanucci 1973
EcuadorTungurahuaBaños–PatateReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorTungurahuaBaños, Río BascúnPhoto by Enrique Mariño
EcuadorTungurahuaCerro LlanganateMontanucci 1973
EcuadorTungurahuaChambo Grande, 17.8 km W ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorTungurahuaChamisa, on road to GuadalupeTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorTungurahuaCotaló, on road to MucubíTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorTungurahuaLaguna de YamboiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorTungurahuaMocha, 6 km N ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorTungurahuaNuevo AmancerMZUTI 4721; examined
EcuadorTungurahuaPatateTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorTungurahuaPatate, 13 km SSE ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorTungurahuaPatate, 8.9 km SSE ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorTungurahuaPelileo, 1.1 km SW ofKU 196320; VertNet
EcuadorTungurahuaPelileo, 2 km W ofUIMNH 95172; VertNet
EcuadorTungurahuaPoatug, sector TerremotoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorTungurahuaRio Patate, 2–3 km S ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorTungurahuaSan AndrésReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorTungurahuaSan Miguelito, 3 km SSW ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorTungurahuaSan Miguelito, on road to PíllaroTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorTungurahuaSan Miguelito, on road to TeránTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorTungurahuaYaupiThis work; Fig. 1