Published September 20, 2023. Updated January 6, 2024. Open access.

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Peruvian Bush-Anole (Polychrus peruvianus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Polychrotidae | Polychrus peruvianus

English common names: Peruvian Bush-Anole, Peruvian Monkey Lizard.

Spanish common name: Falso camaleón peruano.

Recognition: ♂♂ 44.2 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=15.2 cm. ♀♀ 42.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=14.7 cm..1 The Peruvian Bush-Anole (Polychrus peruvianus) is a medium-sized lizard characterized by its slender, laterally compressed body, pronounced dorsal crest, chameleon-like eyes, and exceptionally long, semi-prehensile tail.1,2 Its dorsal coloration is typically bright green with V-shaped black blotches (Fig. 1). When stressed or depending on the substrate, the Peruvian Bush-Anole can adopt a predominantly brown dorsal coloration, which explains why these lizards are commonly referred to as “chameleons.”1 Polychrus peruvianus can be distinguished from the Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) by having no large, flat, round scale below ear opening.3 From species in the genus Anolis, it differs by being larger, having a much longer tail, and lacking expanded digital pads.3

Figure showing variation among individuals of Polychrus peruvianus

Figure 1: Individuals of Polychrus peruvianus from Pedro Ruiz, Amazonas department, Peru.

Natural history: Polychrus peruvianus is a chameleon-like lizard that is often overlooked due to its camouflage and arboreal habits.1 While rare in Ecuador, this species can be abundant in Peru, with up to 27 specimens found on 22 trees along a 2 km path.1,4 Peruvian Bush-Anoles inhabit seasonally dry forests, dry shrublands, rural gardens, and living fences in agricultural areas.5 Diurnal and arboreal, these creatures typically forage on trees and shrubs at heights ranging from 1.5 to 7 meters above the ground.1,5 Individuals are active at ambient temperatures between 28.7°C and 35.9°C and are regularly spotted alongside roads, paths, streams, and rivers.1,5 Their movement through foliage is slow and reminiscent of a twig swaying in the wind, similar to chameleons.5 During nighttime, these saurians roost on twigs, branches, and leaves at heights of 4 to 5 meters above the ground.5 Although 2–3 specimens may share the same tree, they are generally considered solitary.1,5 Males exhibit pronounced territorial behavior, which includes chasing, fighting, and even killing other males.1,5 Peruvian Monkey Lizards are omnivorous foragers that employ a passive hunting strategy. They primarily consume large leaves, flowers, fruits, and occasionally mobile arboreal insects and arachnids.1,4,5 Their primary defense mechanisms, akin to chameleons, include cryptic coloration and twig-like motion. When cornered, individuals extend their dewlap and open their mouths in an aggressive display.1 This species is oviparous, with females laying clutches of 4–8 eggs in nests dug into sandy substrates or within leaf-litter.57

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Conservation: Vulnerable Considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the mid-term future..8 Polychrus peruvianus is listed in this category due to its extent of occurrence, which is smaller than 12,000 km2, is significantly fragmented, and is experiencing a continuous decline in both extent and quality of its dry forest habitat.8 The regions where this species is found are confronted with numerous intricate threats, including logging, agricultural expansion, mining, and hydroelectric projects.4

Distribution: Polychrus peruvianus is native to the xeric Río Marañón basin biome. In Ecuador, the species is restricted to the drainage of the Río Mayo in Zamora Chinchipe province (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Polychrus peruvianus in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Polychrus, which comes from the Greek words poly (=many) and chroma (=color),9 refers to the variegated dorsal coloration.10 The specific epithet peruvianus refers to the type locality: Peru.

See it in the wild: Peruvian Bush-Anoles are rarely spotted in extreme southern Ecuador, with sightings occurring approximately once a month. Most observations are concentrated around riparian vegetation along the Río Mayo. While these lizards can be seen actively perched on trees and bushes during the day, they are more easily located and approached at night when they are asleep on branches.

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

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Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Roy Arthur Blodgett and Philip Tremper for providing information about the clutch size in this species.

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

Photographer: Frank PichardobAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2023) Peruvian Bush-Anole (Polychrus peruvianus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/GKMY8379

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 Polychrus peruvianus (Noble, 1924) and additional information on P. gutturosus Berthold, 1845. ZooKeys 141: 79–107. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.141.1678
  2. Yánez-Muñoz M, Ortiz F, Altamirano M (2006) Reptilia, Polychrotidae, Polychrus peruvianus: new country record, Ecuador. Check List 2: 63–64. DOI: 10.15560/2.2.63
  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. Beuttner A, Koch C (2019) Analysis of diet composition and morphological characters of the little-known Peruvian bush anole Polychrus peruvianus (Noble, 1924) in a northern Peruvian dry forest. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation 13: 111–121.
  5. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  6. Philip Tremper, pers. comm.
  7. Roy Arthur Blodgett, pers. comm.
  8. Venegas P, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Yánez-Muñoz M (2017) Polychrus peruvianus. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T178288A50867293.en
  9. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  10. Linnaeus C (1758) Systema Naturae. Editio Decima, Reformata. Impensis Laurentii Salvii, Stockholm, 824 pp.

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

EcuadorZamora ChinchipeEl PiteGuerra-Correa 2019
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeEl ProgresoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeLa Guayusa, 4 km SW ofYánez-Muñoz et al. 2006
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeValladolidPhoto by Darwin Núñez
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeVía Zumba–La BalsaGuerra-Correa 2019
PeruAmazonasBagua GrandeKoch et al. 2011
PeruAmazonasCumbaKoch et al. 2011
PeruAmazonasPedro RuizThis work; Fig. 1
PeruAmazonasPuerto MalletaKoch et al. 2011
PeruAmazonasZapatalgoKoch et al. 2011
PeruCajamarcaBellavistaYánez-Muñoz et al. 2006
PeruCajamarcaEl ArenalMVZ 82834; VertNet
PeruCajamarcaGota de AguaKoch et al. 2011
PeruCajamarcaLucumaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2017
PeruCajamarcaPericoKoch et al. 2011
PeruCajamarcaPucaráKoch et al. 2011
PeruCajamarcaPuerto Tamborapa, 5 mi S ofMVZ 92866; VertNet
PeruCajamarcaQuerocotillo*Koch et al. 2011
PeruCajamarcaQuiracas, 4 km N ofMCZ 183609; VertNet
PeruCajamarcaSanta RosaKoch et al. 2011
PeruCajamarcaVía a HuahuayaGuerra-Correa 2019