Published November 21, 2021. Updated November 26, 2023. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Cuenca Sticklizard (Pholidobolus macbrydei)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gymnophthalmidae | Pholidobolus macbrydei

English common names: Cuenca Sticklizard, MacBryde’s Sticklizard, Red-striped Sticklizard.

Spanish common names: Cuilanpalo de Cuenca, cuilán de franja roja.

Recognition: ♂♂ 19.5 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=5.6 cm. ♀♀ 13.8 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=5.6 cm..13 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.1,4 The presence of six-sided finely wrinkled dorsal scales distinguishes Pholidobolus from other co-occurring small brownish lizards such as those in the genera Macropholidus and Riama.5 Towards the north of its range, the Cuenca Sticklizard (P. macbrydei) can be confused with P. prefrontalis; to the south, with P. dolichoderes. From these, it differs by lacking prefrontal scales and by having a red lateral stripe in males (stripe absent in the other species).1,6 Males of P. macbrydei differ from females by having a broader head and a red stripe from the opening of the ear to the forearm.1,7

Figure showing variation among individuals of Pholidobolus macbrydei

Figure 1: Individuals of Pholidobolus macbrydei from Dos Chorreras, Azuay province, Ecuador. j=juvenile.

Natural history: Pholidobolus macbrydei is a small lizard that occurs in high densities in the interior, border, and clearings of high evergreen montane forest (including Polylepis forests), humid highland shrublands, and paramos.3,8 The species also occupies disturbed areas such as pastures, crops, planted forests (pine and eucalyptus), rural gardens, and roadsides.2 Cuenca Sticklizards are diurnal and forage mainly on the ground.2 At night or during cloudy days, individuals can be found hidden under rocks, logs, piles of stones, and trash, or in the axils of Puya plants.1,2 During sunny days, they can be seen basking on Agave or Puya leaves, stones, rocky outcrops, or ground-level surfaces near grass tussocks.1,2 When threatened, Cuenca Sticklizards flee under stones, logs, or into tall grass. If handled, they may shed the tail or bite.2,3 There are records of egrets9 and lizards (Stenocercus festae)2 preying upon individuals of P. macbrydei. Some individuals carry parasites externally (mites) and internally (cestodes).10 The diet of P. macbrydei includes insects, earthworms, and spiders.3 Pholidobolus lizards in general usually deposit two eggs per clutch, but P. macbrydei lays clutches of up to four eggs.2 A communal nest with 15 eggs was found under a rock,2 and the nesting sites can be used repeatedly.1 During mating, males typically approach the female from the side, licking her body; if the female is receptive, the male bites her neck, surrounds her dorsal region with the hind limbs, and copulates; if the female is not receptive, she drags her body and twists her tail.1

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Conservation: Vulnerable Considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the mid-term future..11 Pholidobolus macbrydei is proposed to be included in this category, instead of Least Concern,8 following IUCN criteria,12 because the species’ extent of occurrence is small (~5,837 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 2012,13 ~42% of the species’ potential distribution is now devoid of native vegetation. Despite being considered common, the species is experiencing a decrease in population size, particularly in urban areas where it does not sustain high densities for extended periods.2 Habitat destruction is the most important threat to the long-term survival of the species.8 Although found in protected areas (Cajas National Park, Aguarongo Protected Forest, and Mazán Protected Forest), less than 3% of the species’ total potential area of distribution is inside these areas, and the remaining populations are in a fragmented landscape mosaic rather than in connected suitable habitats.

Distribution: Pholidobolus macbrydei is endemic to an estimated 5,837 km2 area in the Andes of southern Ecuador, provinces Azuay, Cañar, and Loja (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Pholidobolus macbrydei in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Pholidobolus macbrydei in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Hacienda Oeste, Cañar province. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Pholidobolus comes from the Greek words pholidos (=scale) and bolos (=lump),14 and probably refers to the imbricated or mounted scales. The specific epithet macbrydei honors Dr. Bruce MacBryde, former professor of Universidad Católica del Ecuador, who collaborated in the field phase and description of this species.1

See it in the wild: Cuenca Sticklizards can be observed with almost complete certainty during a short, targeted day visit to the outskirts of Cuenca, especially west of the city along the lush farmlands irrigated by the rivers Tomebamba and Yanuncay. The lizards can be found by searching under rocks and logs in pastures nearby remnants of native vegetation or simply by looking along stone walls and fences during sunny days.

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) Cuenca Sticklizard (Pholidobolus macbrydei). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/ZFVN3657

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. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  3. Arbeláez Ortiz E, Vega Toral A (2008) Guía de anfibios, reptiles, y peces del Parque Nacional Cajas. ETAPA, Cuenca, 155 pp.
  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. 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.
  6. Parra V, Sales Nunes PM, Torres-Carvajal O (2020) Systematics of Pholidobolus lizards (Squamata, Gymnophthalmidae) from southern Ecuador, with descriptions of four new species. ZooKeys 954: 109–156. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.954.50667
  7. Reeder TW (1996) A new species of Pholidobolus (Squamata: Gymnophthalmidae) from the Huancabamba depression of northern Peru. Herpetologica 52: 282–289.
  8. Cisneros-Heredia DF (2016) Pholidobolus macbrydei. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T48283361A48283372.en
  9. Anja Junghanns, pers. comm.
  10. Sánchez-Nivicela JC, Urgilés VL, Quezada AB, Timbe-Borja BT, Neira KN, Siddons DC (2018) Guía de reptiles de Cuenca: una introducción a la biología de los reptiles alto andinos y su identificación en campo. GAD del Cantón Cuenca, Comisión de Gestión Ambiental y Universidad del Azuay, Cuenca, 112 pp.
  11. Reyes-Puig C (2015) Un método integrativo para evaluar el estado de conservación de las especies y su aplicación a los reptiles del Ecuador. MSc thesis, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, 73 pp.
  12. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  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.

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

EcuadorAzuayBioparque AmaruParra et al. 2020
EcuadorAzuayBosque Protector AguarongoMZUA.RE.0193
EcuadorAzuayBosque Protector Aguarongo, San GabrieliNaturalist
EcuadorAzuayCerro NegroThis work
EcuadorAzuayCerro PatacochaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorAzuayChanludThis work
EcuadorAzuayChordeleg, 10 SE ofVenegas et al. 2006
EcuadorAzuayCochapambaParra et al. 2020
EcuadorAzuayCochapataTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorAzuayCuenca del Río MazánPhoto by Jose Caceres
EcuadorAzuayCuenca, 13 km W ofParra et al. 2020
EcuadorAzuayCuenca, 20 km NW ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorAzuayCuenca, LlacaoMZUA.Re.0443
EcuadorAzuayCumbe, 10.5 km S ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorAzuayCumbe, 21.6 km S ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorAzuayCutchil, 3.9 km S ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorAzuayCutchil, 6.2 km S ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorAzuayDos ChorrerasParra et al. 2020
EcuadorAzuayGirón, 4.4 km NE ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorAzuayGualaceoParra et al. 2020
EcuadorAzuayGualaceo–Limón roadVenegas et al. 2006
EcuadorAzuayGualaceo–Plan de Milagro roadVenegas et al. 2006
EcuadorAzuayLaguna Condor CochaMCZ 154635
EcuadorAzuayLaguna LlaviucuThis work
EcuadorAzuayMaylasTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorAzuayMaylas Collay Protected ForestOnline multimedia
EcuadorAzuayMazán Protected ForestParra et al. 2020
EcuadorAzuayOsorancho, 1.2 km E ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorAzuayPáramo de QuimsacochaVenegas et al. 2006
EcuadorAzuayParque Lineal Puertas del SolThis work
EcuadorAzuayParque MachángaraiNaturalist
EcuadorAzuayPatul roadTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorAzuayRepresa El LabradoMCZ 154632
EcuadorAzuayRío QuinoasTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorAzuayRío YanuncayThis work
EcuadorAzuaySan Antonio de Chaucha, 5 km NE ofParra et al. 2020
EcuadorAzuaySan GregorioTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorAzuaySevilla de Oro, 5 km from, on road to MéndezUSNM 196178
EcuadorAzuaySevilla de Oro, 9 km from, on road to MéndezUSNM 196192
EcuadorAzuaySigsigTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorAzuaySigsig, 12 km S ofVenegas et al. 2006
EcuadorAzuaySigsig, 7 km N ofParra et al. 2020
EcuadorAzuaySoldadosThis work
EcuadorAzuaySustagThis work
EcuadorAzuaySusudelVenegas et al. 2006
EcuadorAzuayTambilloKU 196338
EcuadorAzuayTarquiTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorAzuayTres ChorrerasTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorAzuayTres CruceVenegas et al. 2006
EcuadorCañarBiblián, 14.2 km N ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorCañarBiblián, 6 km N ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorCañarBiblián, 9.1 km N and 2.3 km W of*Montanucci 1973
EcuadorCañarBueránMontanucci 1973
EcuadorCañarCañar, 2 km S ofThis work
EcuadorCañarIngapircaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorCañarJuncal, 1.6 km NE ofThis work
EcuadorCañarLaguna de Nudpud, 1.6 km SE ofThis work
EcuadorLojaBosque Nativo WashapambaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorLojaFierro UrcoVenegas et al. 2006
EcuadorLojaGurudel, 6 km E ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorLojaSan LucasVenegas et al. 2006
EcuadorLojaSan Lucas, 6 km N ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorLojaSaraguroTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorLojaSaraguro, 6 km S ofVenegas et al. 2006
EcuadorLojaSaraguro, 9.5 km S ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorLojaUrdanetaVenegas et al. 2006
EcuadorLojaUrdaneta, 11 km NE ofMontanucci 1973