Published June 2, 2021. Updated January 25, 2024. Open access.

Gallery ❯

Blue-lipped Tree-Runner (Plica umbra)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Tropiduridae | Plica umbra

English common names: Blue-lipped Tree-Runner, Blue-lipped Tree Lizard, Harlequin Racerunner, Olive Treerunner.

Spanish common names: Trepatroncos de labios azules (Ecuador), lagartija zanquera (Colombia).

Recognition: ♂♂ 32.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=10 cm. ♀♀ 29.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=9.4 cm..1 The Blue-lipped Tree-Runner (Plica umbra) can be identified from other Amazonian lizards by having the following combination of features: keeled imbricate dorsal scales, a conspicuously enlarged interparietal scale, a long non-spinose tail, and a cylindrical body (not depressed) without tufts of spiny scales on the neck.24 The Blue-lipped Tree-Runner is further characterized by having a vertebral ridge from the nape to the middle of the body.5 Males differ from females by being larger, having a broader head, larger crest, and a brighter green coloration with dark dorsolateral blotches and a bright yellow throat blotch.1,6 Their ventral area is reddish brown. Females have an olive green to olive tan dorsum and a light pinkish belly.2 The epithelial lining of the mouth is blue.1,4 Plica umbra differs from P. plica because the latter has a dorsoventrally compressed body, spiny scales on the neck, a black collar, and a different color pattern consisting of blackish bands and spots on a green background.4 Plica umbra can also be confused with lizards of the genus Enyaloides, but the scales on the head of these other saurians are not plate-like.3

Figure showing variation among individuals of Plica umbra

Figure 1: Individuals of Plica umbra from Amazonian Ecuador: Río Yasuní, Orellana province (); Suchipakari Lodge, Napo province (); Huella Verde Lodge, Pastaza province ().

Natural history: Plica umbra is an arboreal lizard that inhabits lowland seasonally-flooded forests,6 terra-firme forests,2,7 swamps,8 and forest patches in areas of savanna,7 but may as well be found in plantations9 and parks inside cities.2 Individuals are more abundant during the rainiest months (April–July in Amazonian Ecuador).6 These lizards are diurnal, active between 8:00 am and 6:00 pm2 on tree trunks and branches from ground level to 6 m above the ground,7,10 but they may occur at heights up to 20 m.11 It seems like the preference for large trees corresponds to P. plica, with P. umbra often choosing trees smaller in diameter (20–40 cm).2,6 On rare occasions is the species observed on fallen tree trunks, palm stems, lianas, or on the ground.7 At night, individuals sleep on horizontal branches, vines, or lianas less than 0.7–4 meters above the ground, usually with their body pressed against the perch.4 If disturbed, they jump and disappear into the dark.4,12 Blue-lipped Tree-Runners are ambush predators that feed primarily on ants,1315 but complement their diet with wasps, beetles, grasshoppers, katydids, roaches, assassin bugs, butterflies, insect larvae, millepedes, centipedes, and isopods.8,1618 However, the diet of the species varies geographically.19 When threatened, individuals of P. umbra tend to move to the opposite side of the trunk. If grabbed, they can flatten their body and remain immobile, feigning death, but with the eyes open.20 There are records of P. umbra being preyed upon by birds,2123 and by snakes (Rhinobothryum lentiginosum,24 Phrynonax sexcarinatus, Chironius, Bothrops,25 and Siphlophis cervinus).26 Blue-lipped Tree-Runners can be hosts to apicomplexan parasites such as Fallisia audaciosa.27 Also, there are records of nematodes parasitizing on individuals of the species.28,29 Reproduction seems to take place year-round.4,18,23 Females reach sexual maturity when they attain 6.8–8.1 cm in total length, males at 6.4–8.9 cm.10 Females lay clutches of 2–4 (usually 2) eggs,18,30,31 sometimes in communal nests.32

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..3335 Plica umbra is listed in this category given its wide distribution, presumed stable populations, presence in protected areas, and adaptability to human-modified habitats.33 The most important threat to some populations is large-scale deforestation for agriculture and cattle ranching.33 Since P. umbra is a strictly arboreal lizard, populations are not likely to survive in areas largely devoid of trees.8

Distribution: Plica umbra is widely distributed throughout the Amazon basin in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.

Distribution of Plica umbra in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Plica is derived from the Latin word plico (=fold).36,37 It refers to the double fold in the throat of these lizards. The specific epithet umbra is a Latin word meaning “shadow.”37 It refers to the black coloration around the neck.4

See it in the wild: Blue-lipped Tree-Runners can be located with ~2–4% certainty in forested areas throughout the species’ area of distribution in Ecuador. Some of the best localities to find these lizards are Yasuní Scientific Station, Shiripuno Lodge, Huella Verde Lodge, Jatun Sacha Biological Station, and La Selva Lodge. Although individuals can be spotted active on tree trunks during the day, they are much more easily found and approached during the night, when they are sleeping on horizontal branches closer to the ground.

Authors: Alexandra Montoya-Cruz,aAffiliation: Semillero de Investigación BioHerp, Universidad de los Llanos, Villavicencio, Colombia. Andrés F. Aponte-Gutiérrez,bAffiliation: Grupo de Biodiversidad y Recursos Genéticos, Instituto de Genética, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia.,cAffiliation: Fundación Biodiversa Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia. and Juan Acosta-OrtizaAffiliation: Semillero de Investigación BioHerp, Universidad de los Llanos, Villavicencio, Colombia.

Editor: Alejandro ArteagadAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

Photographers: Alejandro Arteaga,dAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador. Jose Vieira,eAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,fAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Sebastián Di DoménicogAffiliation: Keeping Nature, Bogotá, Colombia.

How to cite? Montoya-Cruz A, Aponte-Gutiérrez AF, Acosta-Ortiz J (2024) Blue-lipped Tree-Runner (Plica umbra). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/YVCP1548

Literature cited:

  1. Etheridge R (1970) A review of the South-American iguanid lizard genus Plica. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) 19: 237–256. DOI: 10.5962/bhl.part.24087
  2. Avila-Pires TCS (1995) Lizards of Brazilian Amazonia (Reptilia: Squamata). Zoologische Verhandelingen 299: 1–706.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Boulenger GA (1885) Catalogue of the lizards in the British Museum. Taylor & Francis, London, 497 pp.
  6. Duellman WE (2005) Cusco amazónico: the lives of amphibians and reptiles in an Amazonian rainforest. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 433 pp.
  7. Ribeiro-Junior MA (2015) Catalogue of distribution of lizards (Reptilia: Squamata) from the Brazilian Amazonia. I. Dactyloidae, Hoplocercidae, Iguanidae, Leiosauridae, Polychrotidae, Tropiduridae. Zootaxa 3983: 001–110. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3983.1.1
  8. Vitt LJ, Zani PA, Avila-Pires TCS (1997) Ecology of the arboreal tropidurid lizard Tropidurus (=Plica) umbra in the Amazon region. Canadian Journal of Zoology 75: 1876–1882.
  9. Whitworth A, Beirne C (2011) Reptiles of the Yachana Reserve. Global Vision International, Exeter, 130 pp.
  10. Dixon JR, Soini P (1986) The reptiles of the upper Amazon Basin, Iquitos region, Peru. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 154 pp.
  11. Vitt LJ, Magnusson WE, Avila-Pires TCS, Pimentel Lima A (2008) Guide to the lizards of Reserva Adolpho Ducke, Central Amazonia. Áttema Design Editorial, Manaus, 176 pp.
  12. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  13. Vitt LJ, Zani PA (1996) Organization of a taxonomically diverse lizard assemblage in Amazonian Ecuador. Canadian Journal of Zoology 74: 1313–1335.
  14. Vitt LJ (2000) Ecological consequences of body size in neonatal and small-bodied lizards in the neotropics. Herpetological Monographs 14: 288–400. DOI: 10.2307/1467053
  15. Vitt LJ, Pianka ER (2004) Historical patterns in lizard ecology: what teiids can tell us about lacertids. In: Pérez-Mellado V, Riera N, Perera A (Eds) The biology of lacertid lizards: evolutionary and ecological perspectives. Institut Menorqui d’ Estudis, Recerca, 139–157.
  16. Harvey MB, Gutberlet Jr RL (1998) Lizards of the genus Tropidurus (Iguania : Tropiduridae) from the Serrania de Huanchaca, Bolivia: new species, natural history, and a key to the genus. Herpetologica 54: 492–520.
  17. Gasnier TR, Magnusson WE, Lima AP (2011) Foraging activity and diet of four sympatric lizard species in a tropical rainforest. Journal of Herpetology 28: 187–192.
  18. Beebe W (1944) Field notes on the lizards of Kartabo, British Guiana, and Caripito, Venezuela. Part 2. Iguanidae. Zoologica 29: 195–216.
  19. de Oliveira DP, de Carvalho VT, Hrbek T (2016) Cryptic diversity in the lizard genus Plica (Squamata): phylogenetic diversity and Amazonian biogeography. Zoologica Scripta 45: 630–641. DOI: 10.1111/zsc.12172
  20. Melo-Sampaio PR (2017) Plica umbra ochrocollaris (Blue-lipped Tree Lizard). Defensive behavior. Herpetological Review 48: 657.
  21. Vieira P, Bustamante C, Santana A, dos Santos L, Dantas M (2011) Plica umbra (Linnaeus, 1758) (Squamata: Tropiduridae) como item alimentar de Philydor erythrocercum (Pelzeln, 1859) (Aves: Furnariidae). Ornithologia 4: 126.
  22. de Souza Omena Junior R, dos Santos JL (2010) Dieta de galos-da-serra Rupicola rupicola Linnaeus 1766 durante o período reprodutivo ao Norte de Manaus, Amazonas. Ornithologia 4: 66–73.
  23. Hoogmoed MS (1973) Notes on the herpetofauna of Surinam. IV. The lizards and amphisbaenians of Surinam. Biogeographica 4: 1–419.
  24. de Arruda LAG, de Carvalho MA, Kawashita-Ribeiro RA (2015) New records of the amazon banded snake Rhinobothryum lentiginosum (Serpentes: Colubridae) from Mato Grosso State, Brazil, with natural history notes. Salamandra 51: 199–205.
  25. 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.
  26. Gaiarsa MP, Alencar LR, Martins M (2013) Natural history of pseudoboine snakes. Papéis Avulsos de Zoologia 53: 261–283. DOI: 10.1590/S0031-10492013001900001
  27. Silva EO, Diniz JAP, Lainson R, DaMatta RA, de Souza W (2006) Ultrastructural study of the gametocytes and merogonic stages of Fallisia audaciosa (Haemosporina: Garniidae) that infect neutrophils of the lizard Plica umbra (Reptilia: Iguanidae). Protist 157: 13–19. DOI: 10.1016/j.protis.2005.10.003
  28. Slimane B, Durette-Desset MC (1996) Four new species of Oswaldocruzia (Nematoda: Trichostrongylina, Molineoidea) parasitizing amphibians and lizards from Ecuador. Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz 91: 317–328. DOI: 10.1590/S0074-02761996000300012
  29. Ávila RW, da Silva RJ (2011) Helminths of lizards (Reptilia: squamata) from Mato Grosso State, Brazil. Comparative Parasitology 78: 129–139. DOI: 10.1654/4473.1
  30. Vitt LJ, De la Torre S (1996) A research guide to the lizards of Cuyabeno. Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Quito, 165 pp.
  31. Rand S (1982) Clutch and egg size in Brazilian iguanid lizards. Herpetologica 38: 171–178.
  32. Magnusson WE, Lima AP (1987) Plica umbra: nesting. Herpetological Review 1: 15–18.
  33. Almendáriz A, Aparicio J, Avila-Pires TCS, Perez P (2019) Plica umbra. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T44579859A44579870.en
  34. 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.
  35. Morales-Betancourt MA, Lasso CA, Páez VP, Bock BC (2005) Libro rojo de reptiles de Colombia. Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt, Bogotá, 257 pp.
  36. Keane M, O’Toole MT (2005) Miller-Keane encyclopedia and dictionary of medicine, nursing, and allied health. W.B. Saunders, Philadelphia, 2272 pp.
  37. 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 umbra in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

ColombiaCaquetáRío CaquetáFMNH 69671; VertNet
ColombiaCaquetáVereda PaujilitoiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaPutumayoBajo Río GuamuézFMNH 165209; VertNet
ColombiaPutumayoReserva La Isla EscondidaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCusuimeOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorMorona SantiagoRio CusuimeOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSawastianOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorNapoÁvila HuirunoCAS SUR 8269; VertNet
EcuadorNapoJatun Sacha ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoLago AgrioKU 126776; VertNet
EcuadorNapoLimoncochaLACM 74519; VertNet
EcuadorNapoMisahuallí, 6.5 km ESE ofMCZ 171933; VertNet
EcuadorNapoRío TenaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoRío VillanoOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorNapoSanta Rosa de OtasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoSuchipakari LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoYachana LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaApaica, 16.6 km SE ofPhoto by Óscar Pérez
EcuadorOrellanaCocayaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaComunidad El EdénTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaComunidad SinchichictaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2019
EcuadorOrellanaHacienda PrimaveraMCZ 154582; VertNet
EcuadorOrellanaNenkepareReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaPuerto Francisco de OrellanaMCZ 163954; VertNet
EcuadorOrellanaRío Bigal ReservePhoto by Thierry García
EcuadorOrellanaRío ObeparePhoto by Morley Read
EcuadorOrellanaRío Yasuní, near Lake JatuncochaThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de PayaminoMaynard et al. 2016
EcuadorOrellanaShiripuno LodgePhoto by Fernando Vaca
EcuadorOrellanaTaracoa Online multimedia
EcuadorOrellanaTigüinoUSNM 321086; VertNet
EcuadorOrellanaTiputiní Biological StationCisneros-Heredia 2003
EcuadorOrellanaVía Pompeya Sur–Iro, km 38Carvajal-Campos & Torres-Carvajal 2018
EcuadorOrellanaVía Pompeya Sur–Iro, km 96Photo by Morley Read
EcuadorOrellanaYasuní Scientific StationThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorPastazaArajunoUSNM 201123; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaBalsauraOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaBataburo LodgeOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaCampo OglánPhoto by Jorge Valencia
EcuadorPastazaCanelosOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaChichirotaUSNM 204266; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaComunidad PaparawuaCarla Rodríguez, pers. comm.
EcuadorPastazaConambo USNM 201118; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaGuache Ortega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaHuella Verde LodgePhoto by Christof Tonini
EcuadorPastazaJuyuintzaOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaKallanaMZUTI 5088; examined
EcuadorPastazaKapawi LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaKurintzaOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoOnline multimedia
EcuadorPastazaOglán RiverUSNM 204272; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaPintoyacuiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaPucayacu (Río Pucayacu)USNM 204271; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRío Bobonaza USNM 204270; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRío BufeoOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaRío Capahuari Ortega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaRío ChichirotaUSNM 204265; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRío HuiyayacuOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaRío Rutuno USNM 204273; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaTeresa MamaUSNM 204274; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaTributario Rio ConamboUSNM 204269; VertNet
EcuadorSucumbíosAguas NegrasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosAmazon Dolphin LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosEstación PUCE CuyabenoOnline multimedia
EcuadorSucumbíosGarzacochaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosLa Selva LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosLago AgrioDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosLas PizarrasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosReserva Ecológica Cofán BermejoBorman et al. 2007
EcuadorSucumbíosSani LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta CeciliaDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosSector Blanca AiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosShushufindiiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosTipishcaCarvajal-Campos & Torres-Carvajal 2018
PeruAmazonasKayamasUSNM 316745; VertNet
PeruAmazonasRío KagkaUSNM 316747; VertNet
PeruAmazonas La Poza MVZ 175400; VertNet
PeruAmazonas Río Cenepa MVZ 163069; VertNet
PeruAmazonas Río Conaima MVZ 163070; VertNet
PeruAmazonas Río SantiagoMVZ 174841; VertNet
PeruAmazonas Shiringa USNM 568599; VertNet
PeruAmazonas YutipisMVZ 174839; VertNet
PeruLoretoRedondocochaFMNH 2008; VertNet