Published September 3, 2020. Open access.

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Speckled Lightbulb-Lizard (Riama meleagris)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Gymnophthalmidae | Riama | 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.. 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 Speckled Lightbulb-Lizard (Riama meleagris) 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.2 Adult males of R. meleagris are more robust than females and are easily recognizable by their broad heads and numerous yellowish spots on the dorsal surfaces (Fig. 1).2

Variation among individuals of Riama meleagris

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

Natural history: Locally commonRecorded weekly in densities above five individuals per locality.. Riama meleagris is a fossorial lizard that 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.3 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.3 When threatened, Speckled Lightbulb-Lizards flee into crevices. If captured, they may bite or readily shed the tail.

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Conservation: Endangered Considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the near future..5 Riama meleagris is proposed to be assigned in this category, instead of Near Threatened,4 following IUCN criteria5 because the species is known from only four 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, mostly due to encroaching human activities such as agriculture and 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.4

Distribution: Riama meleagris is endemic to an estimated ~587 km2 area in the Amazonian slopes of the Andes along the upper Pastaza river watershed in central Ecuador (Fig. 2). The species occurs at elevations between 2406 and 2801 m.

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.2

See it in the wild: Speckled Lightbulb-Lizards are recorded rarely unless they are actively searched for by digging in areas of soft soil or by turning over rocks and logs. In the town Mucubí and along the northern slope of Tungurahua volcano, they can be found with ~20–40% certainty if the search is targeted and carried out for a period of at least four hours.

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.

Photographer: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2020) Speckled Lightbulb-Lizard (Riama meleagris). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/VXYO9446

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. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  4. 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
  5. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  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).

EcuadorTungurahuaCotalóAguirre et al. 2014
EcuadorTungurahuaEl CalvarioAguirre et al. 2014
EcuadorTungurahuaNaturetrek ReserveFundación EcoMinga
EcuadorTungurahuaVicinity of MucubíThis work
EcuadorTungurahuaTungurahua volcanoThis work