Published July 24, 2023. Updated November 29, 2023. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Rainbow Stream-Lizard (Potamites strangulatus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gymnophthalmidae | Potamites strangulatus

English common name: Rainbow Stream-Lizard.

Spanish common name: Lagartija ribereña tornasol.

Recognition: ♂♂ 22.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=8.7 cm. ♀♀ 19.5 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=7.6 cm..1,2 The Rainbow Stream-Lizard (Potamites strangulatus) can be identified from other stream-dwelling lizards in Ecuador by the absence of dorsolateral and paravertebral rows of tubercles. This differentiates it from its congener, P. ecpleopus, as well as from species in the genus Gelanesaurus.1,3 Males have a red or orange ring around the eyes (Fig. 1),4 bluish gular region, and reddish belly; females have a light yellowish ventral coloration.5 Males are also larger than females, have a broader head, and have more femoral pores (45–59 vs 6–13).1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Potamites strangulatus

Figure 1: Individuals of Potamites strangulatus from Ecuador: Reserva Río Bigai, Orellana province (); Pitalala Reserve, Napo province, Ecuador (); Tepuy Las Orquídeas, Zamora Chinchipe province (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Potamites strangulatus is an uncommonly seen lizard that inhabits old-growth foothill rainforests, gallery forests, and cave systems,6 but may as well be found along forest borders.2,7 Rainbow Stream-Lizards are semi-aquatic and diurnal,1 although nocturnal activity has also been recorded.2,8 They are always found in association with water, usually along small streams and shallow creeks with muddy or sandy bottoms,1,8 as well as in sewage streams.2 During the day, these jittery reptiles actively forage among leaf-litter and in piles of sticks and rocks,2,7 rarely out in the open. When threatened, individuals run towards roots and leaf-litter, into holes in the banks, or directly to the water, submerging to the bottom debris.2 If captured, they usually wriggle and bite fiercely, but can also shed the tail. There are records of vipers (Bothrocophias microphthalmus) preying upon lizards of this species. Females of P. strangulatus lay clutches of three eggs.9

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..10 Potamites strangulatus is listed in this category because it has a large distribution, is present in protected areas, and occurs over an area that retains most of its forest cover.11 Therefore, the species is considered to be facing no major immediate threats of extinction. The most important threat is habitat destruction due to mining and the expansion of the agricultural frontier.10 Water pollution is also believed to be negatively impacting some populations.

Distribution: Potamites strangulatus is native to the Amazonian foothills of the Andes in Ecuador (Fig. 2) and northern Peru.

Distribution of Potamites strangulatus in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Potamites, which is a Greek noun meaning “water finder,” refers to the semi-aquatic habits of lizards in this genus.12 The specific epithet strangulatus refers to the “constriction of the neck,” a characteristic mentioned in the original description of the species.5

See it in the wild: Rainbow Stream-Lizards are uncommon throughout their range in Ecuador, with some exceptions, such as the forests around the towns Mera and Puyo. These lizards can be found during the day or at night by removing leaf-litter, logs, and rocks along shallow forest streams.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Asser Øllgaard for granting access to the Reserva Río Bigai, where the adult male of Potamites strangulatus of Fig. 1 was photographed.

Authors: Amanda QuezadaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: Laboratorio de Herpetología, Universidad del Azuay, Cuenca, Ecuador. and Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Academic reviewer: Jeffrey D CampercAffiliation: Department of Biology, Francis Marion University, Florence, USA.

Photographers: Jose VieiradAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,eAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Amanda QuezadaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: Laboratorio de Herpetología, Universidad del Azuay, Cuenca, Ecuador.

How to cite? Quezada A, Arteaga A (2023) Rainbow Stream-Lizard (Potamites strangulatus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/CJZA1821

Literature cited:

  1. Uzzell TM (1966) Teid Lizards of the genus Neusticurus (Reptilia, Sauria). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 132: 279–327.
  2. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  3. Altamirano-Benavides M, Zaher H, Lobo L, Grazziotin FG, Sales Nunes PM, Rodrigues MT (2013) A new species of lizard genus Potamites from Ecuador (Squamata, Gymnophthalmidae). Zootaxa 3717: 345–358. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3717.3.4
  4. Chávez G, Catenazzi A (2014) A new Andean lizard of the genus Potamites (Sauria, Gymnophthalmidae) from Manu National Park, southeastern Peru. Zootaxa 3774: 45–56. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3774.1.3
  5. Cope ED (1868) An examination of the Reptilia and Batrachia obtained by the Orton Expedition to Equador and the Upper Amazon, with notes on other species. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 20: 96–140.
  6. García T, Prémel V, Torres-Carvajal O (2021) Reptiles de la Reserva Biológica del Río Bigal, Amazonía del Ecuador. Fundación Ecológica Sumac Muyu, Quito, 94 pp.
  7. Whitworth A, Beirne C (2011) Reptiles of the Yachana Reserve. Global Vision International, Exeter, 130 pp.
  8. Catenazzi AC, Venegas PJ (2012) Amphibians and reptiles. In: Pitman N, Ruelas E, Alvira D, Vriesendorp C, Moskovits DK, del Campo A, Wachter T, Stotz DF, Noningo S, Tuesta E, Smith CR (Eds) Perú: Cerros de Kampankis. The Field Museum, Chicago, 106–117.
  9. Mármol-Guijarro A, Rodríguez-Guerra A (2020) Potamites strangulatus. In: Torres-Carvajal O, Pazmiño-Otamendi G, Ayala-Varela F, Salazar-Valenzuela D (Eds) Reptiles del Ecuador. Museo de Zoología, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. Available from:
  10. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Yánez-Muñoz M, Brito J (2017) Potamites strangulatus. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T44578730A44578738.en
  11. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  12. Doan TM, Castoe TA (2005) Phylogenetic taxonomy of the Cercosaurini (Squamata: Gymnophthalmidae), with new genera for species of Neusticurus and Proctoporus. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 143: 405–416. DOI: 10.1111/j.1096-3642.2005.00145.x

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Potamites strangulatus in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorAzuaySopladora CampMZUA.Re.0311; examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoComunidad JempekatZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorMorona SantiagoComunidad ShaimeZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCusuimeOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorMorona SantiagoHuamboya, 5 km SE ofUzzell 1966
EcuadorMorona SantiagoHuamboya, 7.9 km SE ofUSNM 163426; VertNet
EcuadorMorona SantiagoLimón IndanzaUSNM 196158
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacasUSNM 196165; VertNet
EcuadorMorona SantiagoNapimiaZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorMorona SantiagoNueva PrincipalZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorMorona SantiagoNumbacaimeZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorMorona SantiagoRunahurco Municipal Ecological ReservePhoto by Alex Achig
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSan Carlos de LimóniNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSan Juan Bosco, 4 km S ofZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSan Luis de IninkisUzzell 1966
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSucúaMCZ 151576; VertNet
EcuadorMorona SantiagoWisuiChaparro et al. 2011
EcuadorNapoArchidonaTorres-Carvajal et al. 2016
EcuadorNapoArchidona, 10 km N ofMHNG 2088.036; collection database
EcuadorNapoÁvila ViejoUSNM 196170; VertNet
EcuadorNapoComunidad Guagua SumacoZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorNapoDiez de Agosto, 2 km E ofUSNM 196160; VertNet
EcuadorNapoFinca HeimatlosReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoHidroeléctrica Coca Codo SinclairCOCASINCLAIR 2013
EcuadorNapoJatun Sacha Biological StationVigle 2008
EcuadorNapoManuel Galindo, 3 km SW ofZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorNapoPanoOnline multimedia
EcuadorNapoPitalala, mesetaThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorNapoReserva Río BigaiThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorNapoRío MisahuallíUSNM 196157; VertNet
EcuadorNapoSan Vicente de los Ríos, 4 km NW ofUSNM 196169; VertNet
EcuadorNapoWild SumacoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoYachana ReserveWhitworth and Beirne 2011
EcuadorOrellanaLoreto, 10 km NW ofUzzell 1966
EcuadorOrellanaPayamino, 4 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaRío Bigal Biological ReserveGarcía et al. 2021
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de PayaminoMaynard et al. 2017
EcuadorOrellanaSumaco Napo-Galeras National ParkiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaAlto Río AnzuiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaArajuno, 3.6 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaArajuno, 8.7 km S ofUzzell 1966
EcuadorPastazaArutam Field StationSMF 90295
EcuadorPastazaCabeceras del Río BobonazaZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorPastazaCanelosAvila-Pires & Vitt 1998
EcuadorPastazaComunidad KallanaMZUTI 5082; examined
EcuadorPastazaComunidad Nuevo KurintzaZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorPastazaCuraray MedioReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaEl Triunfo, 4.6 km NE ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaFátima Agroecological Scientific StationProaño-Morales et al. 2017
EcuadorPastazaJuri Juri Kawsay field station UCEiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaMera, 3.5 km W ofKU 146675; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaMera, 9 km NE ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoUSNM 196166; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaMontalvo, 300 metes W ofUzzell 1966
EcuadorPastazaPandanuque, 2 km NW ofZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorPastazaPandanuque, 6.5 km NE ofZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorPastazaPucayacu (Río Pucayacu)USNM 196162; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaPuerto Santana, 3 km N ofMcAllister et al. 2010
EcuadorPastazaRío AlpayacuUzzell 1966
EcuadorPastazaRío CopatazaUSNM 196168; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRío LipunoUSNM 196173; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRío OglánUSNM 196167; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaRosario Yaku, 2 km N ofMCZ 147198; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaSantana Field StationSMF 90298
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuAvila-Pires & Vitt 1998
EcuadorPastazaSumak Kawsay In SituBentley et al. 2021
EcuadorPastazaTambo UniónMCZ 152587; VertNet
EcuadorPastazaTzarentzaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaVillano, 2 km N ofZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorTungurahuaCerros de AbitaguaUzzell 1966
EcuadorTungurahuaRío Negro, 1.3 km NW ofKU 121209
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeAlto MachinazaAlmendáriz et al. 2014
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeLos Encuentros, 2 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeMiazi AltoZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorZamora ChinchipePalanda, 7 km N ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorZamora ChinchipePiuntza, 2 km N ofZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeProyecto MiradorZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeReserva Natural MaycuReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeRío MayoZurita-Altamirano 2015
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeTepuy Las OrquídeasThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeValle del QuimiBetancourt et al. 2018
PeruAmazonasAlfonso UgarteReynolds & Icochea 1997
PeruAmazonasComunidad AchuMVZ 163212; VertNet
PeruAmazonasComunidad KayamasUSNM 316881; VertNet
PeruAmazonasComunidad KusuMVZ 163218; VertNet
PeruAmazonasComunidad ShimpuntsUSNM 316882; VertNet
PeruAmazonasHuampamiMCZ R-182066; VertNet
PeruAmazonasKumpin EntseUSNM 316886; VertNet
PeruAmazonasQuebrada KampankisCatenazzi & Venegas 2012
PeruAmazonasQuebrada WeeChávez et al. 2021
PeruAmazonasSanta María de NievaUSNM 568959; VertNet
PeruAmazonasShaimUSNM 560532; VertNet
PeruAmazonasSua, vicinity of, on the Río CenepaUSNM 560531; VertNet
PeruAmazonasTuntanain Communal ReserveMVZ 163215; VertNet
PeruLoretoAlto Cachiyacu Venegas et al. 2014
PeruLoretoComunidad PapayacuCatenazzi & Venegas 2012
PeruLoretoPongo de MansericheUzzell 1966