New Lizard Species Discovered in Peru

A team of biologists has discovered a new remarkable species of Andean semiaquatic lizard in southern Peru.

An adult male Potamites montanicola (Germán Chávez / Diego Vasquez)

The team, led by Germán Chávez and Diego Vásquez, both of the Center for Ornithology and Biodiversity in Lima, Peru, discovered a lizard species of the genus Potamites during biological surveys conducted as a part of the COGA’s Diversity Monitoring Program.

In the paper, published online on Jan. 31 in the journal ZooKeys, the team says that the lizard, called Potamites montanicola, measures approximately 6 to 7 cm in body length, with a tail measuring about 10 cm, and has highly keeled scales over all its back.

“The first specimen of P. montanicola was discovered in Cajadela Native community by Karla García, a member of our team, in August 2010,” said Dr. Chávez in the interview with “This only specimen was found when the surveys was ending. One morning, when Karla García was walking back to the camp, this lizard was crossing a trail very close to a creek in a secondary forest.”

The authors also note that the species is known only from two localities in the Andes in southern Peru, both separated by 64 km air line and located at the Cordillera de Vilcabamba and Apurimac river valley.

“According to our field data, this species is very restricted to streams with fresh temperatures of 14 to 16 Celsius degrees,” Dr. Chávez explained. “The most of the specimens were observed at night, thus we believe that this species is nocturnal (active at night), but we can’t confirm this. We also found some individuals at day (some recently collected specimens). They were always spotted under rocks, probably with lower activity than at night when we found the specimens running or swimming.”

“The males have great colors on the vental region of the body. They can be light blue, electric blue with black spots or yellow with black spots, while the ventral region in females can be creamy white or light red. Males are longer than females. Although we have no records or proofs that P. montanicola is a part of the diet of some snakes, it is probably that this lizard is prey for snakes such as Bothriopsis taeniata, Chironius monticola and even juveniles of Lachesis muta, recorded in the same location.”

An adult female Potamites montanicola (Germán Chávez / Diego Vasquez)

The species name is derived from the Spanish ‘montano’, an adjective to describe something from a mountain, and the Latin suffix ‘-icola’ for ‘inhabitant’ and refers to the montane forests where P. montanicola lives.

“This species is the first Potamites recorded in mountain forests at elevation above 2,000 m, that give us an idea about an unknown diversity of Andean Potamites,” Dr. Chávez concluded. “Over the last years, many species of amphibians have been described from Peru, but very few reptiles. Thus, it is another proof of the reptiles richness in our country.”