Published September 19, 2023. Updated January 5, 2024. Open access.

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Canopy Bush-Anole (Polychrus gutturosus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Polychrotidae | Polychrus gutturosus

English common names: Canopy Bush-Anole, Berthold’s Bush Anoles, Berthold’s Monkey Lizard Canopy Lizard.

Spanish common names: Falso camaleón de dosel, falso camaleón de Berthold.

Recognition: ♂♂ 60 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=12.2 cm. ♀♀ 69.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=15.2 cm..1 The Canopy Bush-Anole (Polychrus gutturosus) is a medium-sized lizard characterized by its slender, laterally compressed body, leaf-green coloration, chameleon-like eyes, and exceptionally long, semi-prehensile tail.1,2 Its dorsal coloration typically ranges from green to pale grayish brown, occasionally featuring contrasting black and white blotches. When stressed or depending on the substrate, the Canopy Bush-Anole can adopt a dull brown coloration (top two lizards in Fig. 1 are the same individual), which explains why these lizards are commonly referred to as “chameleons.” The only other monkey lizard in coastal Ecuador is P. femoralis, a reptile with a different coloration and restricted to xeric habitats in southwestern Ecuador. Unlike iguanas (Iguana iguana), bush anoles have no vertebral crest and no large, flat, round scale below ear opening.3 From species in the genus Anolis, monkey lizards differ by being larger, having a much longer tail, and lacking expanded digital pads.3

Figure showing variation among individuals of Polychrus gutturosus

Figure 1: Individuals of Polychrus gutturosus from Morromico Reserve, Chocó department, Colombia.

Natural history: Polychrus gutturosus is a rarely spotted lizard with chameleon-like characteristics, often overlooked due to its arboreal habits. This species inhabits pristine rainforests as well as rural gardens and living fences in agricultural areas.2,4 Canopy Bush-Anoles are diurnal and arboreal creatures, typically foraging on trees and bushes at heights ranging from 3.4 to 40 meters above the ground on sunny or cloudy days.2,4 Occasionally, they may be observed moving on the forest floor or crossing roads in wooded areas.4 Their movement through foliage is slow and reminiscent of a twig swaying in the wind, similar to chameleons.4,5 During nighttime, these lizards roost on twigs, branches, and leaves at heights of 1.5 to 6 meters above the ground.4 Canopy Monkey Lizards are omnivorous foragers that employ a passive hunting strategy.2 They feed primarily on large insects, but also consume leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds.2 Their primary defense mechanisms, akin to chameleons, include cryptic coloration and twig-like motion.5 When threatened, individuals typically ascend towards the treetops or move to the opposite side of their perch.4 If cornered, they extend their dewlap and open their mouths in an aggressive display.4 There are documented instances of predation on individuals of this species by the snake Leptophis bocourti and by birds of prey.6,7 This species is oviparous, with females laying clutches of 2–9 eggs in leaf-litter.2,8

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..9 Polychrus gutturosus is included in this category because the species is widely distributed, especially in areas that have not been heavily affected by deforestation, such as the Colombian Pacific coast. The species appears to have stable populations, occurs in protected areas, and persists in some human-modified environments. Therefore, P. gutturosus is considered to be facing no major immediate extinction threats.

Distribution: Polychrus gutturosus is widely distributed throughout the lowlands of Mesoamerica, the Chocó, and Río Magdalena valley regions. The species occurs from Honduras to northwestern Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Polychrus gutturosus in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Polychrus gutturosus in Ecuador. 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),10 and refers to the variegated dorsal coloration. The specific epithet gutturosus is a Latin word meaning “goitered.”10 It refers to the extensible sacklike gular appendage.

See it in the wild: Canopy Bush-Anoles are located at a rate of about once every weeks in forest areas throughout the species’ area of distribution in Ecuador. Some prime locations for observing these lizards include Canandé Reserve and Otongachi 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.

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

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

How to cite? Arteaga A (2023) Canopy Bush-Anole (Polychrus gutturosus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/PKRC7266

Literature cited:

  1. Koch C, Venegas PJ, Garcia-Bravo A, Böhme W (2011) A new bush anole (Iguanidae, Polychrotinae, Polychrus) from the upper Marañon basin, Peru, with a redescription of P. peruvianus (Noble, 1924) and additional information on P. gutturosus Berthold, 1845. ZooKeys 141: 79–107. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.141.1678
  2. Savage JM (2002) The amphibians and reptiles of Costa Rica, a herpetofauna between two continents, between two seas. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 934 pp.
  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. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. Pérez-Martínez CA, Kamath A, Herrel A, Losos JB (2021) The anoles of La Selva: niche partitioning and ecological morphology in a mainland community of Anolis lizards. Breviora 570: 1–27.
  6. Gómez-Hoyos DA, Escobar-Lasso S, Suarez-Joaqui T, Velasco JA (2015) Predation on the bush anole Polychrus gutturosus by the parrot snake Leptophis ahaetulla, with a new record of the bush anole for the Gorgona Island National Natural Park, Colombia. Herpetology Notes 8: 297–301.
  7. Leenders T (2019) Reptiles of Costa Rica: a field guide. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 625 pp.
  8. MECN (2010) Serie herpetofauna del Ecuador: El Chocó esmeraldeño. Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales, Quito, 232 pp.
  9. Acosta Chaves V, Ballestero E, Batista A, Chaves G, Ibáñez R, Ines Hladki A, Jaramillo C, Lamar W, Ramírez Pinilla M, Renjifo J, Solórzano A, Urbina N (2017) Polychrus gutturosus. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T203161A2761248.en
  10. 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 Polychrus gutturosus in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaNariñoVía San Jorge–TumacoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCarchiComunidad El BabosoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorChimborazoRecinto La VictoriaGuerra-Correa 2018
EcuadorCotopaxiLas Pampas, environs ofMHNG 2437.028; collection database
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological StationOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque Protector La PerlaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasComunidad Selva AlegreGuerra-Correa 2018
EcuadorEsmeraldasGualpiReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasItapoa ReservePhoto by Rául Nieto
EcuadorEsmeraldasRoad Caimito–QuingueTorres-Carvajal et al. 2017
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan LorenzoPeters 1959
EcuadorImbaburaComunidad CachacoSebastián Valverde, pers. comm.
EcuadorImbaburaLitaMHNG 2531.062; collection database
EcuadorImbaburaParambaMNHN 1898.295; collection database
EcuadorLos RíosQuevedo, 2 km N ofUSNM 285771; VertNet
EcuadorManabíCerro Pata de PájaroPhoto by Carlos Robles
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi ReserveMedina 2021
EcuadorPichinchaMashpi ShungoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaPuerto QuitoMCZ 166546; VertNet
EcuadorPichinchaVía La SextaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanto DomingoReserva OtongachiReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasEl EsfuerzoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSan Miguel de los ColoradosUSNM 204243; VertNet
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo de los ColoradosMHNG 1117.036; collection database
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 6 km S ofTorres-Carvajal et al. 2017