Published October 14, 2023. Updated January 25, 2024. Open access.

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Collared Tree-Runner (Plica plica)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Tropiduridae | Plica plica

English common name: Collared Tree-Runner.

Spanish common names: Trepatroncos collarejo, sacha runa.

Recognition: ♂♂ 49.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=17.7 cm. ♀♀ 42.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=15.1 cm..1,2 The Collared Tree-Runner (Plica plica) is unmistakable among Amazonian lizards by having a dorsally flattened body with tufts of spiny scales on its neck.13 This flat lizard has long limbs designed for climbing, a notably enlarged interparietal scale, and a vertebral crest that is higher on neck.13 The dorsal surfaces of the body and limbs are green, olivaceous, or yellowish brown with a sinuous black collar and irregular dark bands (Fig. 1).3,4 Males can be identified by their larger size, broader heads, and more prominent crests.1,2 Plica plica differs from P. umbra by having a dorsoventrally compressed body and spiny scales on the neck,5 and from Uracentron flaviceps by having a long tail that is round in cross section.6

Figure showing variation among individuals of Plica plica

Figure 1: Individuals of Plica plica from Ecuador: Río Curaray, Pastaza province (); Gareno, Napo province (); Yasuní Scientific Station, Orellana province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Plica plica is a strictly arboreal lizard, perfectly adapted to living on tree-trunks in closed canopy lowland terra-firme forests, seasonally-flooded forests, and forest edge situations.3,7 Though abundant in some localities, these lizards can be extremely difficult to observe given their camouflage and occurrence in the upper rainforest strata, up to at least 36–40 m above the ground.2,8,9 Collared Tree-Runners inhabit broad tree trunks (typically over 50 cm in diameter)2 or boulders, with multiple individuals sometimes sharing the same surface.1,3,7 They are active during the daytime, usually between 9:10 am and 3:30 pm when the ambient temperature hovers around 27°C.13 Their activities include running along tree trunks, basking in patches of sunlight, or resting with their heads pointing downward.13 To avoid detection, these lizards flatten themselves against the tree bark and employ escape tactics such as running upward along the trunks or disappearing into tree holes.3,7 In flooded forests, they can also disappear below the water surface along the trunk, remaining up to 14 minutes submerged.10 During the night, they take refuge in tree holes, crevices of boulders, or may rest exposed on the trunk’ surface.2,11 Collared Tree-Runners are ambush predators that feed primarily on ants, but also consume various other arthropods ranging from roaches and beetles to spiders, millipedes, and scorpions.14 There are documented instances of predation on individuals of this species, including by snakes (Phrynonax sexcarinatus12, Rhinobothryum lentiginosum,13 and Siphlophis compressus14) and frogs (Ceratophrys cornuta).15 Males defend their territories by chasing other males away or by using visual displays.11,16 Reproduction typically occurs between February and August,2,3 with females laying clutches of 2–5 eggs1,2 two or three times annually.17 The eggs are typically deposited inside decaying palm trunks or leaf-litter and hatch after an incubation period of 2–3 months.1,2 The same nest can be shared by multiple clutches, not only of Plica but also of other lizards such as Gonatodes humeralis and Anolis fuscoauratus.2

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..9 Plica plica is listed in this category given its wide distribution, presence in protected areas, and presumed large and stable populations.9 In Brazil, approximately 88% of its habitat remains forested,18 while in Ecuador, this figure is closer to 95%.19 The most important threat for the long-term survival of some populations of this species is large-scale deforestation for agriculture and cattle raising.9 Given its strict arboreal nature, populations are unlikely to endure in regions largely devoid of trees.9 In eastern Brazil, the species is presumed to have disappeared from areas where only secondary forest remains.1 Unlike other arboreal lizards, P. plica does not persist in urban parks or gardens of cities in the Amazon.1

Distribution: Plica plica is distributed over an estimated area of 3,370,299 km2 throughout the Amazon basin in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.

Distribution of Plica plica in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Plica plica in Ecuador. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The name Plica is derived from the Latin word plico (=fold).20,21 It refers to the double fold in the throat of these lizards.

See it in the wild: Collared Tree-Runners can be seen almost every day on large trees at Tiputini Biodiversity Station and Yasuní Scientific Station, especially during sunny days.

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

Photographer: Jose VieirabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Collared Tree-Runner (Plica plica). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/OFRK6071

Literature cited:

  1. Avila-Pires TCS (1995) Lizards of Brazilian Amazonia (Reptilia: Squamata). Zoologische Verhandelingen 299: 1–706.
  2. Vitt LJ (1991) Ecology and life history of the scansorial arboreal lizard Plica plica (Iguanidae) in Amazonian Brazil. Canadian Journal of Zoology 69: 504–511. DOI: 10.1139/z91-077
  3. Hoogmoed MS (1973) Notes on the herpetofauna of Surinam. IV. The lizards and amphisbaenians of Surinam. Biogeographica 4: 1–419.
  4. Beebe W (1944) Field notes on the lizards of Kartabo, British Guiana, and Caripito, Venezuela. Part 2. Iguanidae. Zoologica 29: 195–216.
  5. Duellman WE (1978) The biology of an equatorial herpetofauna in Amazonian Ecuador. Publications of the Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas 65: 1–352.
  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. Dixon JR, Soini P (1986) The reptiles of the upper Amazon Basin, Iquitos region, Peru. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 154 pp.
  8. Photo by Morten Ross.
  9. Avila-Pires TCS, Aparicio J, Hoogmoed MS, Moravec J, Perez P (2020) Plica plica. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T44579844A44579853.en
  10. Maciel AO, Sturaro MJ, Coutinho DP, Vieira Del Peloso PL (2021) Diving to survive: a new escape behavior for the scansorial arboreal Amazonian lizard Plica plica (Squamata: Tropiduridae). Notas de História Natural & Distribuição Geográfica 10: 91–96. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.4716399
  11. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  12. Meede U (1984) Herpetologische Studien über Echsen (Sauria) in einem begrenzten Gebiet des Tropischen Regenwaldes in Peru: morphologische Kriterien, Autökologie und Zoogeographie. Artenliste der Reptilien im Untersuchungsgebiet. PhD thesis, Universitat Hamburg, 189 pp.
  13. Oliveira ME, Martins M (1998) Rhinobothryum lentiginosum: diet. Herpetological Review 29: 105.
  14. Gaiarsa MP, Alencar LR, Martins M (2013) Natural history of pseudoboine snakes. Papéis Avulsos de Zoologia 53: 261–283. DOI: 10.1590/S0031-10492013001900001
  15. Chávez G, Venegas PJ, Lescano A (2011) Two new records in the diet of Ceratophrys cornuta Linneaus, 1758 (Anura: Ceratophrydae). Herpetology Notes 4: 285–286.
  16. Debusk J, Glidewell JR (1972) Social dominance in the South American iguanid lizard Plica plica. Journal of Herpetology 6: 139–141. DOI: 10.2307/1562802
  17. Harding L, Tapley B, Gill I, Dane D, Servini F, Januszczak IS, Capon-DoyLe JS, Michaels CJ (2016) Captive husbandry and breeding of the tree-runner lizard (Plica plica) at ZSL London Zoo. The Herpetological Bulletin 138: 1–5.
  18. Ribeiro-Júnior MA, Amaral S (2016) Diversity, distribution, and conservation of lizards (Reptilia: Squamata) in the Brazilian Amazonia. Neotropical Biodiversity 2: 195–421. DOI: 10.1080/23766808.2016.1236769
  19. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  20. Keane M, O’Toole MT (2005) Miller-Keane encyclopedia and dictionary of medicine, nursing, and allied health. W.B. Saunders, Philadelphia, 2272 pp.
  21. 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 Plica plica in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorMorona SantiagoCusuimeOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorMorona SantiagoValle del Río SantiagoFMNH 42504; VertNet
EcuadorNapoGareno LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoHuaorani LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoRainfoerst nearby YuralpaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoRío ArajunoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoYachana LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaAvilaCAS 8269; VertNet
EcuadorOrellanaEdén 1iNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaEdén 2iNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaHacienda PrimaveraMCZ 154582; VertNet
EcuadorOrellanaKupiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaMandaripanga campiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaNWC Welcome CenterReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaRío YasuníReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaTerritorio HuaoraniiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity Station Cisneros-Heredia 2003
EcuadorOrellanaYarina EcoLodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaYasuni Scientific StationReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaBalsauraOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaChichirotaUSNM 201110; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaCuraray MedioReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaKapawi LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoUSNM 201106; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRío ConamboUSNM 201103; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRío CurarayiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaRío PindoUSNM 201102; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuEtheridge 1970
EcuadorPastazaShiripuno LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaUNOCAL Base CampUSNM 321085; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaVillano BCarvajal-Campos & Torres-Carvajal 2018
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncocha Biological ReserveMCZ 156853; VertNet
EcuadorSucumbíosNapo Wildlife CenterReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosSacha LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruAmazonasAguaruna VillageMVZ 163068; VertNet
PeruAmazonasBoca del Río SantiagoMVZ 16899; VertNet
PeruAmazonasCaterpizaUSNM 568581; VertNet
PeruAmazonasHuambisa VillageMVZ 174838; VertNet
PeruAmazonasHuampamiUSNM 316739; Vertnet
PeruAmazonasKusuMVZ 163066; VertNet
PeruAmazonasLa PozaMVZ 175400; VertNet