Turniptail Lightbulb-Lizard

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gymnophthalmidae | Riama | Riama cashcaensis

English common names: Turniptail Lightbulb-Lizard, Kizirian's Lightbulb-Lizard.

Spanish common names: Riama cola de nabo, palo.

Recognition: ♂♂ 14.3 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 14.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail.. Riamas or lightbulb-lizards are easily distinguishable from other lizards by their fossorial (living underground) habits and extremities so short that the front and hind limbs cannot reach each other.1,2 The Turniptail Lightbulb-Lizard (Riama cashcanesis) is the only member of its genus known from its area of distribution.

Natural history: Locally commonRecorded weekly in densities above five individuals per locality.. Riama cashcaensis is a fossorial lizard that inhabits old-growth to heavily disturbed high evergreen montane forests, cloudforests, forest borders, corn fields, pastures, and rural gardens.3,4 Lizards of this species spend most of their lives in tunnels they excavate in areas of soft soil or under rocks, rotten logs, and leaf-litter.35 Their diet includes beetles and their larvae, hemipterans, leafhoppers, ants, moth larvae, grasshoppers, and other insects.3 When threatened, Turniptail Lightbulb-Lizards flee into crevices. If captured, they may bite or readily shed the tail.4,5

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Conservation: EndangeredConsidered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the near future..6 Riama cashcaensis is listed in this category because only about 693 km2 of the species’ area of distribution holds remnants of native vegetation. The species occurs as fragmented populations and there is continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat,6 mostly from encroaching human activities such as agriculture, cattle grazing, and the replacement of native vegetation with eucalyptus and pine trees.5 Another threat faced by the species is direct killing: Turniptail Lightbulb-Lizards are usually killed on sight by humans alleging precautionary reasons.4 Riama cashcaensis occurs in one protected area: Cashca Totoras Protected Forest.5

Distribution: Riama cashcaensis is endemic to an estimated ~1,658 km2 area in the western slopes of the Andes in central Ecuador.

Distribution of Riama cashcaensis in Ecuador

Etymology: The generic name Riama does not appear to be a reference to any feature of this group of lizards, but a matter of personal taste. John Edward Gray usually selected girl’s names to use on reptiles.710 The specific epithet cashcaensis is an adjective derived from the Quechua word cashca, which is a species of tree of the genus Weinmannia that occurs in the habitat of R. cashcaensis.3

See it in the wild: Turniptail Lightbulb-Lizards are recorded rarely unless they are actively searched for by turning over rocks and logs in areas of soft soil. They are particularly abundant along the border between agricultural fields and remnants of native forest in the outskirts of cities and towns such as Guaranda, Guanujo, and Salinas.

Special thanks to James Baker for symbolically adopting the Turniptail Lightbulb-Lizard and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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

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

How to cite? Arteaga A (2020) Riama cashcaensis. In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: www.reptilesofecuador.com

Literature cited:

  1. 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
  2. Kizirian DA (1996) A review of Ecuadorian Proctoporus (Squamata: Gymnophthalmidae) with descriptions of nine new species. Herpetological Monographs 10: 85–155. DOI: 10.2307/1466981
  3. Kizirian DA, Coloma LA (1991) A new species of Proctoporus (Squamata: Gymnophthalmidae) from Ecuador. Herpetologica 47: 420–429.
  4. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  5. Lewis TR (2002) Threats facing endemic herpetofauna in the cloud forest reserves of Ecuador. Herpetological Bulletin 79: 18–26. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.3744655
  6. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Yánez-Muñoz M, Brito J (2019) Riama cashcaensis. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from: www.iucnredlist.org. DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T50950469A50950478.en
  7. Gray JE (1831) Description of a new genus of ophisaurean animal, discovered by the late James Hunter in New Holland. Treuttel, Würtz & Co., London, 40 pp.
  8. Gray JE (1831) A synopsis of the species of the class Reptilia. In: Griffith E, Pidgeon E (Eds) The animal kingdom arranged in conformity with its organization. Whittaker, Treacher, & Co., London, 1–110.
  9. Gray JE (1838) Catalogue of the slender-tongued saurians, with descriptions of many new genera and species. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 1: 274–283.
  10. Gray JE (1845) Catalogue of the specimens of lizards in the collection of the British Museum. Trustees of the British Museum, London, 289 pp.