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ameiva is a relatively large teiid lizard that may reach
nearly 20 cm in snout-vent length and 64 cm in total length. Its snout is
characteristically pointed, and its tail is very long, comprising up to 70% of its
total length. Coloration in this species is distinctive and is described in
detail in “Morphology.” In brief, adult males have greenish to orange spots
over a green or brown background, while juveniles and adult females have
approximately 4-5 longitudinal stripes on their backs and spots on their
flanks. This species is very active, and it is most commonly found foraging for
food on or near the ground between midmorning and early afternoon. It occupies
a wide range of habitats, from rainforests to dry, open areas, and it seems to tolerate
some human habitat disturbance, thriving in certain types of plantations and
As one of the larger
lizards in its geographic range, Ameiva ameiva can eat a wide variety of
smaller animals. Its diet consists primarily of arthropods and may contain high
proportions of grasshoppers, crickets, roaches, beetles, spiders, insect
larvae, or termites. However, it may also eat smaller lizards, as well as
“aquatic insects, crawfish, frogs, and snails” (Vitt and Colli 1994). Like
other Ameiva species, the primary predators of A. ameiva are
probably snakes (Hirth 1963).
Ameiva ameiva is
active primarily during the late morning and early afternoon. Like most teiid
lizards, it is a highly active forager, and may dig into the soil or leaf
litter to reach food that would be inaccessible to a purely visually oriented
predator. This species is ectothermic, using behavioral means to maintain an
average body temperature of 37.9 ± 0.09 °C that remains relatively constant
throughout the day and over its broad geographic range (Vitt and Colli 1994).
As of January 1, 2011, the conservation status of Ameiva ameiva has not been assessed by
the IUCN Red List (IUCN 2010).
The large size and distinctive dorsal coloration of Ameiva ameiva are usually sufficient to
identify this species. Adult males have “numerous greenish yellow to orange
spots on a blue green to brown ground color” (Savage 2002) dorsally. Young
males and all females have “two narrow creamy white lateral and two
ventrolateral stripes and a broader dull gray green to brown vertebral stripe”
(Savage 2002); adult females may have light spots between these stripes.
Additionally, A. ameiva is the only
Central American macroteiid to have “five large shields in the parietal row
combined with a longitudinal ventral count of 10 to 12” (Savage 2002).
has a very wide distribution, extending from southwestern Costa Rica and the
southern Lesser Antilles through most of northern South America to northern
Argentina, Paraguay, and southeastern Brazil. Its native range includes Panama,
Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Paraguay, northern Argentina, Surinam, French
Guiana, Guyana, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Swan Island, Islas
San Andrés, Providencia, Margarita, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and Grenada (Savage
2002; Tway 2003). This species has also been introduced to Florida (Savage
2002), apparently through the pet trade.
In a phylogenetic study
using partial mitochondrial 12S and 16S rRNA sequences, Hower and Hedges (2003)
found Ameiva ameiva to be the most basal member of its genus.
Interestingly, of the remaining fifteen species examined in this study, two
other mainland species (A. festiva and A. undulata) were sister
to the remaining thirteen species, which came from the West Indies. This
pattern suggests that the Ameiva species in the West Indies are derived
from lizards that colonized the islands from the Central and South American
mainland (Hower and Hedges 2003).
occurs over a broad geographic range and in a wide variety of habitats; in
Brazil, these include caatinga, cerrado, Amazonian rain forest, and Amazonian
savanna ecosystems. It appears to be most common in open areas, including in
recently disturbed habitats such as forest edges and agricultural plantations
(Vitt and Colli 1994, Savage 2002). In fact, its apparent preference for open
habitats over woodlands has led Vitt and Colli (1994) to suggest that human
habitat alterations such as deforestation and agricultural development may
actually allow populations of this species to expand more than they might
ameiva is thought to reach sexual maturity within a year
after hatching. Its total lifespan may exceed three years, although predation
prevents many individuals from reaching this age (Vitt and Colli 1994).
The size and coloration of adult Ameiva ameiva, especially males, are relatively distinctive.
However, juvenile A. ameiva may
superficially resemble the juveniles of some other teiid species. Juvenile A. ameiva can be distinguished from
juvenile Cnemidophorus by the number
of light dorsal stripes: Ameiva ameiva
has four such stripes while Cnemidophorus
has nine or ten. Cnemidophorus also
has “greatly enlarged gular collar scales” (Savage 2002) which are less
pronounced in A. ameiva. The
juveniles of A. ameiva may also
resemble those of A. quadrilineata.
However, the dorsum and flanks of A.
ameiva may have light spots which are absent in A. quadrilineata, and A.
ameiva has five enlarged parietal shields while A. quadrilineata has only three (Savage 2002).
Ameiva ameiva is
a medium- to large-sized lizard with a large head and fat belly relative to the
rest of its body. The border between the head and the neck is often difficult
to recognize, except in larger males which have a jowl-like feature due to
hypertrophied jaw muscles. In terms of scalation, the head plates are smooth
and the nostril is located in the nasal suture. The postnasal scales touch one
prefrontal, and there is only one frontal plate. There are four supraoculars,
and the supraorbital semicircles do not exceed the posterior margin of the
frontal. The inner parietal scales are “in broad contact” (Savage 2002) with
the interparietal and frontoparietals, and the parietal row contains five large
plates. The anterior gular scales are much larger than the posterior gular
scales, and the scales of the midgular patch are irregular and barely enlarged.
The posterior gular fold contains two rows of collar scales, which are smaller
or equal in size to the posterior gular scales. The scales in the center of the
posterior surface of the forearm are slightly enlarged. The ventral scales
occur in 10-12 longitudinal rows, there are 25-41 femoral pores, and there are
26-36 lamellae under the fourth toe (Savage 2002).
Juveniles have two narrow, cream- to yellow-colored
lateral and ventrolateral stripes, often in addition to a wider brown vertebral
stripe. Small, light spots are present between the lateral and vertebral
stripes and below the lateroventral stripes, and the tail is brown. Adult
females have a more pronounced spotted pattern on their flanks, as well as an
irregular pattern of incomplete dark bars in the middorsal area. Adult males
are not striped but instead have an extensive pattern of greenish to orange spots;
the upper surface of the thighs of adult males is spotted, as opposed to
mottled in juveniles and females. All members of this species have a generally
greenish ground color, a lighter (white or light blue) venter, and a light
brown iris (Savage 2002).
In addition to coloration, A. ameiva is also sexually dimorphic in size. Males generally grow
larger than females, and while members of this species have large heads in
general, the heads of males are larger relative to body size than those of
females. The heads of juveniles are even larger relative to body size, and they
decrease in relative size as the lizards mature. It has been hypothesized that
the large heads of juveniles evolved from competing for prey with sympatric
teiid lizards, while the large heads of adult males may instead be due to
sexual selection, but these ideas have yet to be rigorously tested (Vitt and
can reach 640 mm in total length, with a long tail accounting for approximately
70% of this length. In terms of snout-vent length, adult males range from
90-197 mm and females are slightly shorter, ranging from 80-157 mm (Savage
becomes sexually mature by the age of one year, and likely reproduces multiple
times during its lifetime. This species appears to prefer to nest in
“well-drained sandy soils” (Vitt and Colli 1994). Clutch sizes average between
3-6 eggs, but extremes of 1 and 11 eggs have been documented. This species
reproduces most readily when rainfall is abundant, thus, the seasonality of its
reproductive behavior varies substantially among the different climates it
inhabits. In areas such as the Amazon rain forest where rainfall is abundant
throughout the year, or in Brazilian caatinga habitats where rainfall is scarce
and unpredictable, A. ameiva
reproduces year-round. However, in habitats with more pronounced seasonality
such as Brazilian cerrado or Amazon savanna, reproduction is concentrated
during the wet season, although it may continue to occur at reduced levels
during the dry season. Significant differences in egg size and clutch size have
been observed between different populations of A. ameiva in different habitats, but these trends appear complex
and remain poorly understood (Vitt and Colli 1994).
Unlike most species, deforestation and land clearing may
actually increase the amount of suitable habitat available to Ameiva ameiva because of its tolerance
for dry and open landscapes. Thus, it may have colonized Panama and Costa Rica
only relatively recently, following the development of large banana farms
Like many lizards, Ameiva
ameiva may be sought after by hobbyists and collectors. This species is
often raised in captivity.
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