Published September 3, 2020. Updated November 30, 2023. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Speckled Lightbulb-Lizard (Riama meleagris)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gymnophthalmidae | Riama meleagris

English common names: Speckled Lightbulb-Lizard, Brown Lightbulb-Lizard.

Spanish common names: Lagartija minadora manchada.

Recognition: ♂♂ 18.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=8.5 cm. ♀♀ 15.2 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=7.5 cm..1,2 Lightbulb-lizards are easily distinguishable from other lizards by their fossorial habits and extremities so short that the front and hind limbs cannot reach each other.3 Riama meleagris differs from other members of the genus by having smooth dorsal scales and a color pattern consisting of a blackish dorsum with numerous white speckles.1 This is one of two members of its genus known to occur around the slopes of Tungurahua volcano. The other is R. balneator, a lizard having a complete series of supraciliary scales.1 Adult males of R. meleagris are more robust than females and are easily recognizable by their broad heads and more numerous yellowish spots along the flanks (Fig. 1).1

Variation among individuals of Riama meleagris

Figure 1: Individuals of Riama meleagris from the northern slope of Tungurahua volcano () and Mucubí (), Tungurahua province, Ecuador.

Natural history: Riama meleagris is a rarely seen fossorial lizard that nevertheless occurs in high densities in some select microhabitats. The species inhabits old-growth to heavily disturbed high evergreen montane forest and humid highland shrublands. It also occurs in areas containing a mixture of pastures, crops (corn, potato, and naranjilla), and remnants of native vegetation.2 Lizards of this species spend most of their lives in tunnels they excavate in areas of soft soil or under rocks, rotten logs, and debris.2 When threatened, Speckled Lightbulb-Lizards flee into crevices or under rocks, readily shedding the tail if captured.

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Conservation: Endangered Considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the near future..4 Riama meleagris is listed in this category, instead of Near Threatened,5 because the species is known from less than ten populations and is restricted to a small (here estimated to be around 587 km2) area that has lost about 86.8% of its natural vegetation cover.6 The habitat of R. meleagris is severely fragmented and continues to decline in extent and quality due to encroaching human activities such as agriculture and rural-urban development. Volcanic eruptions may also pose a threat to the long-term survival of the populations of R. meleagris along the slopes of Tungurahua volcano.5

Distribution: Riama meleagris is endemic to an area of approximately 587 km2 in the Amazonian slopes of the Andes along the upper Pastaza river watershed in central Ecuador (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Riama meleagris in Ecuador

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

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 meleagris is a Greek word meaning “guinea fowl.” It probably refers to the speckled color pattern characteristic to males of this species.1

See it in the wild: Speckled Lightbulbs are recorded rarely unless actively searched for by digging in areas of soft soil or by turning over rocks and logs in pastures along remnants of native vegetation. Prime locations for finding these shy lizards include the environs of Mucubí and El Triunfo, where individuals can be uncovered at a rate of about 4–12 per day of sampling.

Acknowledgments: This account was published with the support of Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior Ciencia y Tecnología (programa INEDITA; project: Respuestas a la crisis de biodiversidad: la descripción de especies como herramienta de conservación; No 00110378), Programa de las Naciones Unidas (PNUD), and Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ).

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

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

Photographer: Jose VieiracAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2023) Speckled Lightbulb-Lizard (Riama meleagris). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/VXYO9446

Literature cited:

  1. 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
  2. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  3. 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
  4. Carrillo E, Aldás A, Altamirano M, Ayala F, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Endara A, Márquez C, Morales M, Nogales F, Salvador P, Torres ML, Valencia J, Villamarín F, Yánez-Muñoz M, Zárate P (2005) Lista roja de los reptiles del Ecuador. Fundación Novum Millenium, Quito, 46 pp.
  5. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Yánez-Muñoz MH, Reyes-Puig C (2017) Riama meleagris. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T44578798A44578807.en
  6. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  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.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Riama meleagris in Ecuador (Fig. 2).

EcuadorTungurahuaCascada PalitahuaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorTungurahuaChorrera El BatánReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorTungurahuaCotalóAguirre et al. 2014
EcuadorTungurahuaCotalóAguirre et al. 2014
EcuadorTungurahuaEl CalvarioAguirre et al. 2014
EcuadorTungurahuaReserva NaturetrekFundacion EcoMinga
EcuadorTungurahuaSan Antonio mountainsReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorTungurahuaTungurahua volcanoThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorTungurahuaVicinities of MucubíThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorTungurahuaWay to El CopeteReptiles of Ecuador book database