Published January 19, 2023. Updated March 19, 2024. Open access.

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Cuzco Tegu (Tupinambis cuzcoensis)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Teiidae | Tupinambis cuzcoensis

English common name: Cuzco Tegu.

Spanish common name: Lobo pollero.

Recognition: ♂♂ 94.9 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=32.2 cm. ♀♀ 90.5 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=30.7 cm..1,2 The Cuzco Tegu (Tupinambis cuzcoensis) differs from other Amazonian whiptails by its large size, smooth rectangular ventral scales, and unique coloration.13 The dorsal surfaces are black with irregular golden markings and spots.13 Juveniles tend to have black flanks and a dorsal coloration consisting of alternating black and golden bars (Fig. 1). Adults of this species can only be confused with Dracaena guianensis, a lizard characterized by having body tubercles and a laterally compressed tail bearing paired dorsal crests.4

Figure showing variation among individuals of Tupinambis cuzcoensis

Figure 1: Individuals of Tupinambis cuzcoensis from Pastaza province, Ecuador: Zoo de Tarqui (); Río Curaray (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Tupinambis cuzcoensis is a large diurnal macroteiid most commonly heard crashing though the undergrowth in old growth to moderately disturbed rainforests, which may be terra-firme or seasonally flooded.1,3 The species prefers semi-open habitats, being found mostly on clearings, tree-fall areas, forest edges, plantations, and peri-urban areas.1,5 Cuzco Tegus require extended periods of direct sunlight to become active,5 typically being out between 11:00 am and 3:30 pm.3 At night, Cuzco Tegus seek shelter in burrows or holes under fallen logs or among roots.5 Despite being primarily terrestrial, these lizards are good swimmers and climbers, commonly seen basking on logs up to 3 m above the water’s edge1,6 or on vegetation islands during the flood season.7 The majority of their active time is spent basking on filtered sunlight or frantically foraging, essentially never stopping as they noisily scratch in search for food.5 Their diet is opportunistic and includes insects and their larvae, spiders, mollusks, earthworms, centipedes, frogs, lizards, small mammals, birds, fruits, and leaves.1,38 A preferred prey item is eggs of turtles (Podocnemis unifilis3) and crocodilians (Caiman crocodilus and Melanosuchus niger).9 Tegus are infamous for their tendency to attack poultry, especially young chicks, and to rob chicken nests of eggs.7 There are documented instances of predation on members of this species by snakes (Eunectes murinus10 and Pseudoboa coronata6). Clutches consists of 5 eggs deposited in arboreal termite nests up to 3 m above the ground.5,7

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances.. Tupinambis cuzcoensis is a recently described species; therefore, its conservation status has not yet been formally evaluated by the IUCN. Here, it is proposed to be included in the Least Concern category mainly on the basis of the species’ wide distribution, presence in protected areas, and presumed large stable populations. Observations in Ecuador indicate a growing abundance of this species as a response to the conversion of dense-canopy rainforests into selectively logged semi-open environments.1 In some areas of the Amazon, the meat and eggs of T. cuzcoensis are consumed and the skin is used as material for handicrafts and various garments.7

Distribution: Tupinambis cuzcoensis is widely distributed throughout the western Amazon basin of Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador (Fig. 2), and Peru.

Distribution of Tupinambis cuzcoensis in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Tupinambis refers to the Tupinambá indigenous tribe, one of several Tupi ethnic groups that inhabited Brazil at the time of European arrival.11 The specific epithet cuzcoensis refers to the type locality: Cusco.2

See it in the wild: Cuzco Tegus are comparatively easy sightings within their distribution range in Ecuador, especially in Yasuní Scientific Station and along the Río Cuyabeno. These jittery reptiles are more easily observed sunning on logs at the river’s edge.

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

Photographer: Jose VieirabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Cuzco Tegu (Tupinambis cuzcoensis). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/TYNF2965

Literature cited:

  1. Duellman WE (1978) The biology of an equatorial herpetofauna in Amazonian Ecuador. Publications of the Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas 65: 1–352.
  2. Murphy JC, Jowers MJ, Lehtinen RM, Charles SP, Colli GR, Peres Jr AK, Hendry CR, Pyron RA (2016) Cryptic, sympatric diversity in tegu lizards of the Tupinambis teguixin Group (Squamata, Sauria, Teiidae) and the description of three new species. PLoS ONE 11: e0158542. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0158542
  3. Duellman WE (2005) Cusco amazónico: the lives of amphibians and reptiles in an Amazonian rainforest. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 433 pp.
  4. Avila-Pires TCS (1995) Lizards of Brazilian Amazonia (Reptilia: Squamata). Zoologische Verhandelingen 299: 1–706.
  5. Vitt LJ, De la Torre S (1996) A research guide to the lizards of Cuyabeno. Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Quito, 165 pp.
  6. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  7. Dixon JR, Soini P (1986) The reptiles of the upper Amazon Basin, Iquitos region, Peru. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 154 pp.
  8. Castro Herrera F, Ayala SC (1988) Saurios de Colombia. Unpublished, Bogotá, 692 pp.
  9. Da Silveira R, Ramalho EE, Thorbjarnarson JB, Magnusson WE (2010) Depredation by jaguars on caimans and importance of reptiles in the diet of jaguar. Journal of Herpetology 44: 418–424. DOI: 10.1670/08-340.1
  10. Thomas O, Allain SJR (2021) A review of prey taken by anacondas (Squamata: Boidae: Eunectes). Reptiles & Amphibians 28: 329–334.
  11. Uetz P, Freed P, Hošek J (2021) The reptile database. Available from:

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

ColombiaPutumayoPlatanilloRestrepo-Isaza 2021
ColombiaPutumayoPuerto AsísCastro Herrera & Ayala (unpublished)
ColombiaPutumayoYarumoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoCusuimeOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacumaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorMorona SantiagoVilla AshuaraOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorNapoHuaorani LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoPitalala, mesetaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoRío ShiripunoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoSuchipakari LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorNapoTenaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorNapoZatzayacuRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
EcuadorOrellanaEdén, 4 km SW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaLoretoRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
EcuadorOrellanaNenkepareReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorOrellanaPozo IroPazmiño-Otamendi et al. 2018
EcuadorOrellanaRío TiputiniiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de PayaminoMaynard et al. 2016
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity Station Cisneros-Heredia 2003
EcuadorOrellanaYasuni Scientific StationReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaBalsauraOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaCanelosMurphy et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaConamboOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaJuyuintzaOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaKapawi LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaPindoyacuOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaRío CapahuariRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
EcuadorPastazaRío Curaray medioThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorPastazaRío Pastaza Murphy et al. 2016
EcuadorPastazaRío PintoyacuiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuOrtega-Andrade 2010
EcuadorPastazaUNOCAL Base CampRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
EcuadorSucumbíosComunidad ZábaloCevallos Bustos 2010
EcuadorSucumbíosCuyabeno River LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosKichwa LodgeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncocha Biological ReserveiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosNapo Wildlife CenterReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosParque de Nueva LojaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosPlayas del CuyabenoMurphy et al. 2016
EcuadorSucumbíosPozo ShuaraiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosPuente del Río Cuyabeno, 7 km E ofReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosRío BermejoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSucumbíosRío CuyabenoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosSani LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta Cecilia Duellman 1978
PeruAmazonasHuambisa VillageRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
PeruAmazonasKayamasUSNM 316907; VertNet
PeruAmazonasLa PozaRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016
PeruAmazonasShaimUSNM 316910; VertNet
PeruLoretoMoroponDixon & Soini 1986
PeruLoretoSan JacintoKU 222188; VertNet
PeruLoretoSan JuanRibeiro-Junior & Amaral 2016