Published September 7, 2023. Updated January 5, 2024. Open access.

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Tumbesian Bush-Anole (Polychrus femoralis)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Polychrotidae | Polychrus femoralis

English common names: Tumbesian Bush-Anole, Werner’s Monkey Lizard.

Spanish common name: Falso camaleón tumbesino.

Recognition: ♂♂ 45.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=10.8 cm. ♀♀ 39.0 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=13.5 cm..1,2 The Tumbesian Bush-Anole (Polychrus femoralis) is a medium-sized lizard characterized by its slender, laterally compressed body, leaf-green coloration, chameleon-like eyes, and exceptionally long, semi-prehensile tail.3 Its dorsal coloration typically ranges from green to pale grayish brown, occasionally featuring contrasting black and white blotches (Fig. 1). When stressed or depending on the substrate, the Tumbesian Bush-Anole can adopt a predominantly brown or light gray coloration, which explains why these lizards are commonly referred to as “chameleons.” Polychrus femoralis can be distinguished from the Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) by having no vertebral crest and no large, flat, round scale below ear opening.4 From species in the genus Anolis, it differs by being larger, having a much longer tail, and lacking expanded digital pads.4

Figure showing variation among individuals of Polychrus femoralis

Figure 1: Individuals of Polychrus femoralis from Jorupe Reserve, Loja province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Polychrus femoralis is a rarely spotted lizard with chameleon-like characteristics, often overlooked due to its arboreal habits. This species inhabits seasonally dry forests, dry shrublands, rural gardens, and living fences in agricultural areas.2 Tumbesian Bush-Anoles are diurnal and arboreal creatures, typically foraging on trees and bushes at heights ranging from 3.4 to 12 meters above the ground on sunny or cloudy days.2 Occasionally, they may be observed moving on the forest floor or crossing roads in wooded areas.2 Their movement through foliage is slow and reminiscent of a twig swaying in the wind, similar to chameleons.2 During nighttime, Tumbesian Bush-Anoles roost on twigs, lianas, branches, and leaves at heights of 1.5 to 7 meters above the ground.2 Bush anoles, in general, are omnivorous lizards that employ a passive hunting strategy, although the specific prey items consumed by P. femoralis remain unknown. Their primary defense mechanisms, akin to chameleons, include cryptic coloration and twig-like motion. When threatened, individuals typically ascend towards the treetops or move to the opposite side of their perch.2 If cornered, they extend their dewlap and open their mouths in an aggressive display. This species is oviparous, with females laying clutches of 12 eggs, likely in nests dug into sandy substrates or within leaf-litter at the base of trees.1

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..5 Polychrus femoralis is listed in this category because the species persists in human-modified environments, is distributed over an area greater than 10,000 km2, and is considered to be facing no major immediate extinction threats.5 However, in Ecuador, this reptile qualifies for a Vulnerable conservation category.6 Based on maps of Ecuador’s vegetation cover published in 2012,7 approximately 51% of the species’ native dry forest habitat in the country has already been lost, largely due to cattle ranching. Fortunately, Peruvian populations seem to fare better, with a significant portion of their habitat located within the Cerros Amotape National Park and Tumbes Reserved Zone. The most important threat for the long-term survival of some populations is the loss of habitat due to large-scale deforestation. Finally, Tumbesian Bush-Anoles are frequently found dead on roads in southern Ecuador.

Distribution: Polychrus femoralis is native to the Tumbesian lowlands of western Ecuador and northwestern Peru (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Polychrus femoralis in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Polychrus femoralis in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the general type locality: Guayaquil, Guayas province. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Polychrus comes from the Greek words poly (=many) and chroma (=color),8 and refers to the variegated dorsal coloration.9 The specific epithet femoralis refers to the high (14–16) number of femoral pores in males.10

See it in the wild: Tumbesian Bush-Anoles are located at a rate of about once every few days in forest areas throughout the species’ area of distribution in Ecuador. Some prime locations for observing these lizards include the Jorupe Reserve and Cerro Seco Biological Reserve. While these lizards can be seen actively perched on tree trunks and high branches during the day, they are more readily located and approached at night when they rest on twigs and leaves closer to the ground.

Special thanks to Joaquin Lozano for symbolically adopting the Tumbesian Bush-Anole and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

Click here to adopt a species.

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) Tumbesian Bush-Anole (Polychrus femoralis). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/SUOP3729

Literature cited:

  1. Schlüter U (2013) Buntleguane: Lebensweise, Pflege und Fortpflanzung. Kirschner & Seufer, 77 pp.
  2. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  3. Hoogmoed MS (1973) Notes on the herpetofauna of Surinam. IV. The lizards and amphisbaenians of Surinam. Biogeographica 4: 1–419.
  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. Venegas P, Yánez-Muñoz M, Cisneros-Heredia DF (2016) Polychrus femoralis. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T203160A2761241.en
  6. 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.
  7. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  8. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  9. Linnaeus C (1758) Systema Naturae. Editio Decima, Reformata. Impensis Laurentii Salvii, Stockholm, 824 pp.
  10. Werner F (1910) Über neue oder seltene Reptilien des Naturhistorischen Museums in Hamburg. Mitteilungen aus dem Naturhistorischen Museum in Hamburg 27: 1–46.

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

EcuadorEl OroPiñas, camino a las antenasReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEl OroPortovelo, 4.5 km S ofKU 142682; VertNet
EcuadorEl OroReserva Militar ArenillasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEl OroReserva Militar Arenillas, interseccióniNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasBosque Protector Cerro BlancoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2017
EcuadorGuayasCapeiraPhoto by Eduardo Zavala
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquil*Werner 1910
EcuadorGuayasIsla PunáNavarrete 2011
EcuadorGuayasQuinta GerardyiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasTanque de agua ESPOLiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaAroma SantoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaBella MaríaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2017
EcuadorLojaBolaspambaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaBosque Protector PuyangoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2017
EcuadorLojaCanguracaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaCatamayoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaCatamayo-Gonzanamá, km 6MHNG 2437.03; collection database
EcuadorLojaEl IngenioiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaJorupe ReserveThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorLojaPozuliNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaSabanillaMHNG 2240.017; collection database
EcuadorLojaVía Cariamanga–AmaluzaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaY de BalsonesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíAeropuerto Internacional Eloy AlfaroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíAgua BlancaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíBosque Protector Cerro SecoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2017
EcuadorManabíEl AromoTorres-Carvajal et al. 2017
EcuadorManabíParque Nacional MachalillaAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorManabíPuerto Cayo, 1.5 km S ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2017
EcuadorManabíPuerto LópezReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíPuerto López, 2 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíReserva Natural Punta GordaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíRocafuerteiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíSan PedroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíSan VicenteiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanta ElenaEcuasal poolsTorres-Carvajal et al. 2017
EcuadorSanta ElenaReserva Las BalsasReptiles of Ecuador book database
PeruCajamarcaRío ZañaFMNH 232598; VertNet
PeruPiuraChigña AltaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2017
PeruPiuraHacienda San MartíniNaturalist; photo examined
PeruTumbesQuebrada FaicalTorres-Carvajal et al. 2017
PeruTumbesQuebrada Huarapal-AngosturaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2017
PeruTumbesQuebrada Los NaranjosTello 1998