Published December 10, 2021. Updated January 5, 2024. Open access.

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Common Bush-Anole (Polychrus marmoratus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Polychrotidae | Polychrus marmoratus

English common names: Common Bush-Anole, Common Monkey Lizard, Many-colored Bush Anole.

Spanish common names: Falso camaleón común, lagarto mono común (Ecuador); camaleón sudamericano (Colombia); falso camaleón (Perú).

Recognition: ♂♂ 50.4 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=12.6 cm. ♀♀ 54.7 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=14.4 cm..1 The Common Bush-Anole (Polychrus marmoratus) is a medium-sized lizard with a slender laterally compressed body, black oral cavity, and extremely long and semi-prehensile tail.2 This species lacks major sexual dimorphism in color patterns. Femoral pores are present in both sexes, but these are more pronounced in males.1,3 The dorsal coloration is a marbled combination of yellow, dark green, and gray on a predominantly lime green background.15 Under stress, Common Bush-Anoles can acquire a predominantly brown or dark gray coloration, which explains why these lizards are popularly known as “chameleons.”3,4 Polychrus marmoratus can be distinguished from other arboreal medium-sized green lizards (particularly Enyalioides laticeps, Iguana iguana, and Plica umbra) by lacking a vertebral crest. From its congener P. liogaster, it differs by having thin postocular dark stripes that reach only to the level of the tympanum, instead of all the way to the level of the shoulder.1,3 Neonates have a white coloration between the bands of the eyes, which helps differentiate this species from small green lizards such as Anolis punctatus and A. transversalis.

Figure showing variation among individuals of Polychrus marmoratus

Figure 1: Individuals of Polychrus marmoratus: Yasuní Scientific Station, Orellana province, Ecuador (); Leticia, Amazonas department, Colombia (). sa=subadult, j=juvenile.

Natural history: Polychrus marmoratus is a rarely seen lizard due to its arboreal habits.6,7 It inhabits old-growth to moderately disturbed rainforests, which may be seasonally flooded or terra-firme.5 It also occurs in swamps, plantations,1 and in gardens8 in urban areas near the forest edge.5 Common Bush-Anoles often use forest borders along water bodies,2 roads, and crops, where individuals perch and bask on branches and tree trunks in the canopy.16 Like a chameleon, the movements of the bush anole through the foliage are slow. Most activity occurs during rainless days between 7:00 am and 4:00 pm and primarily on the upper forest stratum, although these lizards may occasionally dwell at ground level.1,2 At night, Common Bush-Anoles sleep on lower (0.4–5 m above the ground) perches, which may be grass blades, twigs, vines, and branches.4,6,8 Polychrus marmoratus is an omnivorous lizard that hunts using a passive strategy. Its diet is composed of flowers, fruit seeds, and arthropods, including spiders, cicadas, beetles, mantids, ants, moths, and grasshoppers.1,2,4,9 The cryptic coloration and twig-like motion are the primary defense mechanisms.2 When threatened, they usually climb towards the treetops or move to the opposite side of the perch.3 If cornered, they extend the dewlap and open the mouth aggressively, exposing the dark palate.26 Confirmed predators of this species include domestic cats, marsupials (Caluromys lanatus),10 primates (Callithrix geoffroyi, Cebus robustus, Sapajus robustus, and S. xanthosternoslas),1113 raptors (Buteo albonotatus and Pseudastur albicollis),3,14 and colubrid snakes (Chironius multiventris,3 Leptophis ahaetulla,15 L. coeruloedorsus, Rhinobothryum lentiginosum,16 Siphlophis cervinus,17 and S. compressus).18 Individuals of P. marmoratus are hosts to a variety of nematode worms.19 The Common Bush-Anole is an oviparous lizard in which copulation takes place on trees. Breeding seems to take place year-round2 and females deposit 4–13 elliptical eggs that measure 10–13 mm in diameter.4,5,7 During copulation, the male rides the female while biting her neck, a process that can last more than an hour. The eggs are laid in crevices in the trees or in the leaf-litter.7,20

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..21,22 Polychrus marmoratus is listed in this category because it is a widely distributed species that tolerates disturbed habitats and is present in several major protected areas throughout its range.21 Furthermore, nearly half (49%) of the occurrence area of P. marmoratus in Brazil is within protected areas and about 84% of this same area is forested.23 Based on maps of Ecuador’s vegetation cover published in 2012,24 the majority (~88%) of the species’ potential distribution in this country still holds large continuous forest habitat and ~20% of this area is inside national parks. The most important threat to the long-term survival of some populations of this arboreal reptile is large-scale habitat destruction.25,26

Distribution: Polychrus marmoratus is widely distributed throughout the Neotropical lowlands of northern South America. East of the Andes the species has been recorded in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador (Fig. 2), French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. In Brazil, P. marmoratus also occurs throughout the Atlantic Forest. In Colombia, this species has been recorded west of the Andes along the drainages of the rivers Magdalena and Cauca. There is a record of a member of this species in Florida, United States, but whether this represents an isolated individual or part of an established population is uncertain.27

Distribution of Polychrus marmoratus in Ecuador

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

Etymology: The generic name Polychrus comes from the Greek words poly (=many) and chroma (=color),28 and refers to the varied dorsal coloration.29 The specific epithet marmoratus comes from the Latin word marmor (=marble) and the prefix -atus (=provided with),28 and refers to the striking dorsal coloration.8

See it in the wild: Common Bush-Anoles can be located at a rate of about once every few months in forested areas throughout the species’ area of distribution in Ecuador. Some of the best localities to find these lizards are Yasuní Scientific Station, Napo Wildlife Center, Sacha Lodge, Sani Lodge, and La Selva Lodge. Although individuals can be spotted active on tree trunks and tall branches during the day, they are much more easily found and approached at night, when they are sleeping on twigs and leaves closer to the ground.

Special thanks to Roy Arthur Blodgett for symbolically adopting the Common Bush-Anole and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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Authors: Andrés Sierra-Rueda,aAffiliation: Semillero de Investigación BioHerp, Universidad de los Llanos, Villavicencio, Colombia. Andrés F. Aponte-Gutiérrez,bAffiliation: Grupo de Biodiversidad y Recursos Genéticos, Instituto de Genética, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia.,cAffiliation: Fundación Biodiversa Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia. and Juan Acosta-OrtizaAffiliation: Semillero de Investigación BioHerp, Universidad de los Llanos, Villavicencio, Colombia.

Editor: Alejandro ArteagadAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographers: Jose Vieira,eAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,fAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. Sebastián Di Doménico,gAffiliation: Keeping Nature, Bogotá, Colombia. and Alejandro ArteagadAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Sierra-Rueda A, Aponte-Gutiérrez AF, Acosta-Ortiz J (2021) Common Bush-Anole (Polychrus marmoratus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/HNOJ7209

Literature cited:

  1. Avila-Pires TCS (1995) Lizards of Brazilian Amazonia (Reptilia: Squamata). Zoologische Verhandelingen 299: 1–706.
  2. Hoogmoed MS (1973) Notes on the herpetofauna of Surinam. IV. The lizards and amphisbaenians of Surinam. Biogeographica 4: 1–419.
  3. Sierra-Rueda AS, Montoya-Cruz A (2020) Polychrus marmoratus. Catálogo de Anfibios y Reptiles de Colombia 6: 36–42.
  4. Vitt LJ, De la Torre S (1996) A research guide to the lizards of Cuyabeno. Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Quito, 165 pp.
  5. 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.
  6. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  7. Vitt LJ, Magnusson WE, Avila-Pires TCS, Pimentel Lima A (2008) Guide to the lizards of Reserva Adolpho Ducke, Central Amazonia. Áttema Design Editorial, Manaus, 176 pp.
  8. Dixon JR, Soini P (1986) The reptiles of the upper Amazon Basin, Iquitos region, Peru. Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, 154 pp.
  9. Medina-Rangel GF, Cárdenas-Arévalo G, Castaño-Mora OV (2011) Anfibios y reptiles de los alrededores del complejo cenagoso de Zapatosa, departamento del Cesar, Colombia. In: Rangel-Ch JO (Ed) Colombia diversidad biótica. Grupo de Biodiversidad y Conservación, Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, 1–97.
  10. Zúñiga-Baos JA, Vera-Pérez LE (2017) Natural history notes: Polychrus marmoratus (Common Monkey Lizard, False Chameleon): predation. Herpetological Review 48: 668.
  11. Canale GR, Freitas MA, Andrade LL (2013) Predation of lizards by a critically-endangered primate (Sapajus xanthosternos) in a tropical biodiversity hotspot in Brazil. Herpetology Notes 6: 323–326.
  12. Cassimiro J, Martins WP (2011) Polychrus marmoratus (Common Monkey Lizard, False Chameleon): predation. Herpetological Review 42: 432–433.
  13. Koski DA, Valadares-Koski AP (2017) Polychrus marmoratus (Common Monkey Lizard, False Chameleon): predation. Herpetological Review 48: 200.
  14. Koski DA, Valadares-Koski AP, Barreto-Lima AF (2016) Predation of Polychrus marmoratus (Squamata: Polychrotidae) by Buteo albonotatus (Accipitriformes: Accipitridae) in southeastern Brazil. Boletim do Museu de Biologia Mello Leita 38: 23–30.
  15. Neto-Silva DA, Gouveia RV, Trindade IT, Novelli IA (2013) Natural history notes: Leptophis ahaetulla (Swordsnake): diet. Herpetological Review 44: 154.
  16. Oliveira ME, Martins M (1998) Rhynobothryum lentiginosum (NCN): diet. Herpetological Review 29: 105.
  17. Gaiarsa MP, Alencar LR, Martins M (2013) Natural history of pseudoboine snakes. Papéis Avulsos de Zoologia 53: 261–283. DOI: 10.1590/S0031-10492013001900001
  18. Solé M, Dias LR (2017) Siphlophis compressus (Serpentes: Dipsadidae) scavenging on a road-killed Polychrus marmoratus (Sauria: Polychrotidae). Herpetology Notes 10: 267–270.
  19. Ávila RW, Silva RJ (2010) Checklist of helminths from lizards and amphisbaenians (Reptilia, Squamata) of South America. Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins Including Tropical Diseases 16: 543–572. DOI: 10.1590/S1678-91992010000400005
  20. Carvalho-Junior EAR, Campello MLCB (2008) Polychrus marmoratus (NCN): mating. Herpetological Review 39: 93.
  21. Caicedo J, Gutiérrez-Cárdenas P, Rivas G, Perez P, Avila-Pires TCS, Aparicio J, Moravec J, Murphy J (2019) Polychrus marmoratus. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-2.RLTS.T203164A2761325.en
  22. 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.
  23. Ribeiro-Júnior MA, Amaral S (2016) Diversity, distribution, and conservation of lizards (Reptilia: Squamata) in the Brazilian Amazonia. Neotropical Biodiversity 2: 195–421. DOI: 10.1080/23766808.2016.1236769
  24. MAE (2012) Línea base de deforestación del Ecuador continental. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador, Quito, 30 pp.
  25. Costa PAL, Magalhães F, Menks A, Sarmento MJF (2013) Checklist of lizards of the Juruti, state of Pará, Brazil. Check List 9: 42–50. DOI: 10.15560/9.1.42
  26. Sinervo B, Méndez F, Miles D, Heulin B, Bastiaans E, Villagrán M, Lara R, Martínez N, Calderón ML, Meza RM, Gadsden H, Ávila LJ, Morando M, De la Riva IJ, Victoriano P, Rocha CFD, Ibargüengoytía N, Aguilar C, Massot C, Lepetz V, Oksanen TA, Chapple DG, Bauer AM, Branch WR, Clobert J, Sites JW (2010) Erosion of lizard diversity by climate change and altered thermal niches. Science 328: 894–899. DOI: 10.1126/science.1184695
  27. Stroud JT, Alexander P, Powell IV, Krysko KL (2017) First record of a Polychrotid lizard, the Many-colored Bush Anole (Polychrus marmoratus), in Florida, USA. IRCF Reptiles & Amphibians 24: 148–149. DOI: 10.17161/randa.v24i2.14173
  28. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C., 882 pp.
  29. Linnaeus C (1758) Systema Naturae. Editio Decima, Reformata. Impensis Laurentii Salvii, Stockholm, 824 pp.

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

ColombiaCaquetáFlorenciaMLS 92
ColombiaCaquetáRío La YucaKU 169856
EcuadorMorona SantiagoComunidad YukutaisRibeiro-Júnior 2015
EcuadorMorona SantiagoEl IdealTorres-Carvajal et al. 2017
EcuadorMorona SantiagoGualaquiza, 13 km S ofThis work
EcuadorMorona SantiagoMacumaUIMNH 91711
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSan Juan BoscoPhoto by Juan Carlos Sánchez
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSiete Iglesias ReserveJungle Dave’s Tours
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSucúaRibeiro-Júnior 2015
EcuadorMorona SantiagoSuritiakThis work
EcuadorMorona SantiagoTaishaRibeiro-Júnior 2015
EcuadorMorona SantiagoVía Macas–LimónRamírez-Jaramillo 2016
EcuadorNapoAllpa MamaiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoChontapuntaRibeiro-Júnior 2015
EcuadorNapoJatun Sacha Biological StationThis work
EcuadorNapoMuyuna, 2 km E ofiNaturalist
EcuadorNapoRío NapoRibeiro-Júnior 2015
EcuadorOrellanaCampo NPFThis work
EcuadorOrellanaCocaMHNG 2239.088
EcuadorOrellanaCoca, 3 km W ofiNaturalist
EcuadorOrellanaLoretoRibeiro-Júnior 2015
EcuadorOrellanaRío Bigal Biological ReservePhoto by Thierry García
EcuadorOrellanaSan José de PayaminoMaynard et al. 2017
EcuadorOrellanaTiputini Biodiversity Station Ribeiro-Júnior 2015
EcuadorOrellanaYasuní Scientific StationThis work
EcuadorPastazaCabeceras del BobonazaRibeiro-Júnior 2015
EcuadorPastazaKapawi LodgeThis work
EcuadorPastazaMontalvoRibeiro-Júnior 2015
EcuadorPastazaRío ArajunoRibeiro-Júnior 2015
EcuadorPastazaRío Pastaza Ribeiro-Júnior 2015
EcuadorPastazaSarayacuPeters 1959
EcuadorSucumbíosDurenoDuellman 1978
EcuadorSucumbíosLa Selva LodgeThis work
EcuadorSucumbíosLimoncochaKU 98945
EcuadorSucumbíosNapo Wildlife CenterThis work
EcuadorSucumbíosSan Pablo de KantesiyaMHNG 2266.054
EcuadorSucumbíosSani LodgeThis work
EcuadorSucumbíosSanta CeciliaDuellman 1978
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeFinca YantzaiNaturalist
EcuadorZamora ChinchipePerma TreePhoto by Yago Veith
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeTundaymeRamírez-Jaramillo 2016
EcuadorZamora ChinchipeValle del QuimiBetancourt et al. 2018
PerúAmazonasAintamiRamírez-Jaramillo 2015
PerúAmazonasChévez ValdiviaMVZ 176524
PerúAmazonasHuampamiRamírez-Jaramillo 2015
PerúAmazonasLa PozaMVZ 174842
PerúAmazonasPaagatRamírez-Jaramillo 2015
PerúAmazonasRío CenepaMVZ 163071
PerúLoretoCordillera EscaleraRamírez-Jaramillo 2016
PerúLoretoPongo de MansericheMVZ 16903
PerúLoretoRío YuvinetoMNHN 1978.2411