Published September 4, 2021. Updated November 26, 2023. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Montane Sticklizard (Pholidobolus montium)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gymnophthalmidae | Pholidobolus montium

English common names: Montane Sticklizard, Mountain Pholidobolus.

Spanish common names: Cuilanpalo montañero, lagartija de jardines de Quito, cuilán de montaña.

Recognition: ♂♂ 13.5 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=5.6 cm. ♀♀ 15.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=6.6 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 Montane Sticklizard differs from other members of its genus in northern Ecuador by lacking prefrontal scales.1,3 This species can be found living alongside P. affinis,5 but differs from this other lizard by having stripes along the flanks. Pholidobolus montium exhibits minor sexual dimorphism.6 The males have broader heads, are smaller, and reach sexual maturity at smaller SVL (3.7 cm versus 4.6 cm) than females.7

Figure showing variation among individuals of Pholidobolus montium

Figure 1: Individuals of Pholidobolus montium from El Alisal, Pichincha province, Ecuador. j=juvenile.

Natural history: Pholidobolus montium is a diurnal and terrestrial lizard that occurs in high densities in disturbed areas such as grasslands, gardens, rural and urban parks, and construction sites.510 The species also occurs in undisturbed areas of high evergreen montane forest, paramo, and inter-Andean shrubland.510 Montane Sticklizards have various periods of activity throughout the day.2 They bask on stones, bromeliads, and agave leaves (which in turn provide protection)1 and forage on soil, leaf-litter, grass, and herbs.5,10 When not active, they hide under rocks, between roots, in crevices, or in earth walls.10 Lizards of this species use human infrastructures and modified environments such as living agave plant fences, stone mounds, walls, and windows.1,10 Pholidobolus montium exhibits simple social behaviors, such as arching the neck, undulating the tail, and waving the leg.2 The lack of combat behavior and striking male coloration suggests that this is not a territorial species; rather, persecution and tail-biting behaviors appear to be for maintaining the hierarchical system and not the territory.2 Mating behavior involves the male licking the female and placing his limbs on her back to later copulate.1 When threatened, Montane Sticklizards take refuge under rocks, vegetation, or in leaf-litter; if handled, they may shed the tail or bite.10 There are records of snakes (Erythrolamprus albiventris and Mastigodryas pulchriceps),11 falcons (Falco sparverius),12 and owls (Tyto alba)13 preying upon individuals of P. montium. Additionally, these lizards are parasitized by nematodes, cestodes, and by fly larvae.14 Females breed year-round,1 with clutches consisting of 1–2 eggs,15,16 which can be laid on consecutive days. There are records of communal nests of up to 21 eggs under stone mounds,1,7 or buried among roots and soil.17

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Conservation: Vulnerable Considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the mid-term future.. Pholidobolus montium is proposed to be included in this category, instead of Near Threatened,9,18 because the species’ extent of occurrence is small (~5,418 km2; Fig. 2), severely fragmented, and continues to decline in extent and quality. It is estimated19 that approximately 74% 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.9 Habitat destruction is the most important threat to the long-term survival of the species.9 Fortunately, Montane Sticklizards are present in protected areas such as Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, Los Ilinizas Ecological Reserve, Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve, and Pasochoa Wildlife Refuge.

Distribution: Pholidobolus montium is native to an estimated 5,418 km2 area in the inter-Andean valleys of northern Ecuador and southern Colombia (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Pholidobolus montium in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Pholidobolus montium in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the approximate general type locality: Quito. 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),20 and refers to the imbricated or mounted scales. The specific epithet montium comes from the Latin word montis (=mountain) and the suffix -ium (=having the nature of),20 and refers to the distribution.

See it in the wild: Montane Sticklizard can easily be observed in Pasochoa Wildlife Refuge, Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve, and in the surroundings of cities such as Quito, Latacunga, and Ibarra. Lizards of this species 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) Montane Sticklizard (Pholidobolus montium). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/KOTQ3074

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. Poma Soto F (2018) Manejo ex-situ y comportamiento de Pholidobolus montium: efecto del contexto social sobre el despliegue de señales visuales. BSc thesis, Quito, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, 53 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. 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
  6. Venegas PJ, Echevarría LY, Lobos SE, Sales Nunes PM, Torres-Carvajal O (2016) A new species of Andean microteiid lizard (Gymnophthalmidae: Cercosaurinae: Pholidobolus) from Peru, with comments on P. vertebralis. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation 10: 21–33.
  7. Goldberg SR (2009) Note on reproduction of Pholidobolus (Squamata: Gymnophthalmidae) from Ecuador. Bulletin of the Chicago Herpetological Society 44: 167–168. DOI: 10.26807/remcb.v37i1.10
  8. Yánez-Muñoz M, Meza-Ramos P, Ramírez S, Reyes-Puig J, Oyagata L (2009) Anfibios y reptiles del Distrito Metropolitano de Quito (DMQ). In: Yánez-Muñoz MH, Moreno-Cárdenas PA, Mena-Valenzuela P (Eds) Guía de campo de los pequeños vertebrados del Distrito Metropolitano de Quito (DMQ). Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales (MECN), Quito, 9–52.
  9. Cisneros-Heredia DF (2015) Pholidobolus montium. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T44578680A44578689.en
  10. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  11. Mafla-Endara P, Ayala-Varela F (2012) Pholidobolus montium (lagartija minadora). Predation. Herpetological Review 43: 137.
  12. Ramírez-Jaramillo S, Allan-Miranda A, Salazar M, Jácome-Chiriboga N, Robayo J, Marcayata A, Reyes-Puig J, Yánez-Muñoz MH (2018) Revisión de las presas vertebradas consumidas por Falco sparverius en América del sur y nuevos registros para Ecuador. Hornero 33: 51–57.
  13. Cadena-Ortiz H, Pozo-Zamora GM, Brito J, Barriocanal C (2019) Diet of Barn Owls (Tyto alba) in two ecuadorian dry forest locations. Ornitología Colombiana 17: eNB03.
  14. Bursey CR, Goldberg SR (2011) Helminths of Pholidobous montium (Sauria: Gynophthalmidae) from Ecuador with description of a new species of Skrjabinodon (Nematoda: Oxyuroidea: Pharyngodonidae). Journal of Parasitology 97: 94–96. DOI: 10.1645/GE-2591.1
  15. Diego Piñán, pers. comm.
  16. Valencia JA, Garzón K (2011) Guía de anfibios y reptiles en ambientes cercanos a las estaciones del OCP. Fundación Herpetológica Gustavo Orcés, Quito, 268 pp.
  17. Ramírez-Jaramillo S (2016) Nidos de Pholidobolus montium en un área intervenida de Mulaló, Cotopaxi, Ecuador. Revista Ecuatoriana de Medicina y Ciencias Biológicas 37: 29–33. DOI: 10.26807/remcb.v37i1.10
  18. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  19. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  20. 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 montium in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaNariñoBoquerónGEOCOL 2017
ColombiaNariñoFinca La QuintaAMNH 131232
ColombiaNariñoSan Juan–Pedregal roadGEOCOL 2017
EcuadorCotopaxiChugchilánTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorCotopaxiHacienda RafaelitoMontanucci 1973
EcuadorCotopaxiIlliniza SurTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorCotopaxiLatacungaKU 180273
EcuadorCotopaxiLatacunga 7 km N ofDoan 2003
EcuadorCotopaxiLatacunga, PatutánTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorCotopaxiMulalóTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorCotopaxiMulaló 3.5 km W ofKU 196366
EcuadorCotopaxiMulaló, 2 km N ofThis work
EcuadorCotopaxiRoad to MulalóMontanucci 1973
EcuadorCotopaxiSan Juan de PastocalleTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorCotopaxiSan Juan de Pastocalle, 6 km NW ofiNaturalist
EcuadorCotopaxiToacazo, 2 km E ofiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaAtuntaqui Torres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorImbaburaCahuasquíPhoto by Diego Piñán
EcuadorImbaburaCotacachi 4.6 km E ofiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaCotacachi, 1.5 km NW ofiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaCuicocha, south shoreKU 196344
EcuadorImbaburaCuicocha, Yerovi IsletTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorImbaburaEl Juncal Torres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorImbaburaIbarra, Parque Pedro MoncayoMCZ R-7441
EcuadorImbaburaIbarra, Redondel de la MadreiNaturalist
EcuadorImbaburaOtavaloMontanucci 1973
EcuadorImbaburaOtavalo, Quebrada San MiguelMontanucci 1973
EcuadorImbaburaParador CosinMCZ R-156954
EcuadorPichinchaAlambi Torres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaAlangasíTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaAlaspungoMCZ R-8403
EcuadorPichinchaAloag, 16 km E ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorPichinchaAloag, 5 km W ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorPichinchaAmaguañaThis work
EcuadorPichinchaCalacalí Stadium Torres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaCalacalí, 1.7 km N ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaCalacalí, 4 km S ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaCalacalí, nearbyThis work
EcuadorPichinchaCangahuaMontanucci 1973
EcuadorPichinchaCayambeMontanucci 1973
EcuadorPichinchaCayambe, 0.5 km N ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorPichinchaCerro Pichincha, eastern slopeMontanucci 1973
EcuadorPichinchaChillogallo Torres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaChillogallo, 16 km W ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaChillogallo, Av. Luis Francisco LópezTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaCochasquí Archaeological ParkiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaCondor MachayiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaConocotoThis work
EcuadorPichinchaCumbayá, centroiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaCumbayá, La Primavera Torres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaCumbayá, ReservorioiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaEl QuincheKU 164204
EcuadorPichinchaEl Quinche, 1 km SE ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaEstación IzobambaCardno 2014
EcuadorPichinchaFinca NelpoiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaGuayllabamba, Parque CentralTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaGuayllabamba, Zoo de QuitoiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda La Merced de NonoYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorPichinchaHacienda San Ignacio Torres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaHipódromo Dos HemisferiosiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaIlalóYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorPichinchaIlaló Volcano, northern slopeiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaLa Merced 5.5 km SE ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaLloa Torres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaLloa, estadioTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaMachachiTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaMachachi, 13 km E ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaMachachi, Planta TesaliaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaNono Torres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaNono School Torres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaPambamarca, 2 km NE ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaPasochoa Volcano ForestMCZ R-175059
EcuadorPichinchaPetrocomercial de PifoThis work
EcuadorPichinchaPifo, 2 km SE ofKU 142871
EcuadorPichinchaPifo, 4.5 km N ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaPifo, 5 km E ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaPomasqui iNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaPomasqui, PlazaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaPuéllaro, 2 km S ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaPulhulahua, CaspigasiThis work
EcuadorPichinchaQuebrada CartagenaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaQuebrada CuchicorralRamírez-Jaramillo et al. 2018
EcuadorPichinchaQuinche, 19 km N ofLACM 58765
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Av. Amaru ÑaniNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Av. Pedro Vicente MaldonadoiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, BellavistaiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, BellavistaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, CarapungoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Colegio Fernández MadridiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, El PanecilloiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, ItchimbíaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Jardín BotánicoiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, La PrimaveraiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Parque La CarolinaMontanucci 1973
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Parque Metropolitano GuangüiltaguaYánez-Muñoz et al. 2009
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Pontificia Universidad Católica del EcuadorTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, San SebastiániNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Universidad Central del EcuadorTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaQuito, Urb. Ribera de la HaciendaiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaRefugio de Vida Silvestre Pasochoa Torres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaReserva Geobotánica PululahuaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaRio Chiche, 2.5 km E ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorPichinchaRoad to Molinuco, estadioTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaRuta CollasMafla-Endara y Ayala-Varela 2012
EcuadorPichinchaSan AntonioMontanucci 1973
EcuadorPichinchaSan Antonio de Pichincha Torres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaSan Antonio de Pichincha, Calle Pablo HerreraiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaSan Antonio, 4 km W ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorPichinchaSan Juan, 4.7 km SW ofMontanucci 1973
EcuadorPichinchaSangolquí, 7 km E ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaSangolquí, calle Andrade MaríniNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaSangolquí, centroiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaSangolquí, Pinar de la SierraiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaTababela, AeropuertoMafla-Endara y Ayala-Varela 2012
EcuadorPichinchaTabacundo, 3 km N ofThis work
EcuadorPichinchaTumbacoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2014
EcuadorPichinchaTumbaco, 1.5 km E ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaTumbaco, 1.7 km N ofiNaturalist
EcuadorPichinchaUyumbicho Torres-Carvajal et al. 2014