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cristatus is a slender, medium-sized lizard that occurs in
Central American rainforests and wet forests from southern Mexico to
northwestern Colombia. The specific epithet cristatus
refers to its most conspicuous anatomical feature, a prominent casque or crest
on its head. This species is colored gray, brown, and black with traces of
green, such that it blends in very well with small tree trunks, where it is
most commonly found perching vertically with its head facing upward. It is a
classic example of a sit-and-wait predator, resting immobile for long periods
of time and striking primarily at prey that venture within range. This
lifestyle is apparently adapted to help C.
cristatus escape visual detection by potential predators. Like many lizards,
this species may bite if threatened or provoked. However, rumors that it is
venomous are unfounded.
cristatus preys primarily on large insects such as
orthopterans and the larvae of lepidopterans and coleopterans, although it has
also been documented to prey on many other arthropods as well as small Anolis
lizards (Andrews 1979, Savage 2002). The most frequent predators of C.
cristatus are probably birds (Andrews 1979).
a primarily arboreal lizard, and it is commonly found perching on stems,
trunks, and branches with its head facing upward. Although it has been
documented to run bipedally, it is primarily a sit-and-wait predator, remaining
motionless for long periods of time and striking only at prey that come within
reach. If startled, this species tends to freeze, using its highly effective
camouflage to avoid detection. This relatively sedentary lifestyle has been
suggested to be a defense against visually oriented predators such as birds,
which are thought to be this species’ major predators (Andrews 1979, Savage
2002). If specifically threatened, this species may perform a display in which
it “compresses its body, erects its nuchal crest, expands its gular pouch, and
bobs its head” (Savage 2002), and it may also attack and bite. Males use
similar displays in territorial disputes (Savage 2002).
As of November 13, 2010, the conservation status of
this species had not been assessed by the IUCN (IUCN 2010).
Corytophanes cristatus is relatively distinctive-looking, and can be easily
identified by its “helmet-shaped casque with raised lateral ridges that join to
form the medial dorsal cephalic crest” (Savage 2002). It can also be
distinguished from its close relatives C.
hernandezi and C. percarinatus by
its upper head scales which are smooth rather than rough or keeled, its nuchal
crest which is continuous with its dorsal crest, and the absence of a prominent
lateral squamosal spine above the tympanum (Savage 2002).
This species is found in Mexico from Veracruz and the
western Yucatan Peninsula south through the eastern or Atlantic portions of
Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama into
northwestern Colombia. It is also found on the Pacific sides of Costa Rica and
Panama, and it may occur in El Salvador (Savage 2002, Uetz et al. 2010).
cristatus is arboreal, spending most of its time on vertical
perches in trees or other vegetation. However, this species has been observed
resting or running bipedally on the forest floor. It is thought that most of
its forays to the ground are in search of prey, although females also descend
to the ground to excavate nests and lay eggs (Savage 2002).
This species is found in premontane wet forests
and lowland and premontane rainforests between 2-1640 m asl. It apparently
prefers undisturbed areas (Savage 2002).
The karyotype of Corytophanes
cristatus is “2N = 36, with six pairs of metacentrics and twelve pairs of
microchromosomes; NF = 48” (Savage 2002).
is a slender lizard with a laterally compressed body and long limbs. Its most
striking feature is its highly developed head casque, which merges with a
median serrate nuchal crest along the back of the head. This crest in turn is
continuous with a serrate dorsal crest of large scales. The upper head scales
are small and smooth, the occipital scales are small and irregular, and the scales
of the supraorbital semicircles are smooth. There is no lateral squamosal spine
above the tympanum. The gular scales are small and keeled, and they occur in
longitudinal rows separated by granules. This species has a midgular crest
comprised of large triangular scales. It lacks a caudal crest (Savage 2002).
cristatus can reach 360 mm in total length. Mature males range from 99-120
mm in snout-vent length (SVL), and mature females range from 80-120 mm in SVL,
even though they are larger than males on average. The tail in this species
thus accounts for approximately 65-72% of the total length (Savage 2002).
Unlike most reptiles, Corytophanes cristatus is nonheliothermic, meaning that it does not
use ambient solar energy to maintain its body temperature (Savage 2002).
Andrews (1979) calculated that the daily energy usage of a mature C. cristatus is between 528-952
calories. This is substantially less than the energy content of its average
prey items (1084-1622 calories), suggesting that this species may capture prey
less than once a day (Andrews 1979).
little is known about the population structure of Corytophanes cristatus, probably owing in part to this lizard’s
highly effective camouflage and its habit of resting immobile for long periods
of time, making it very difficult to find. Andrews (1979) suggests that this
species occurs at low population densities, but Savage (2002) claims that C. cristatus is “relatively common.”
Corytophanes cristatus appears to breed throughout the year. Females lay
clutches of 6-11 eggs in shallow nests that they excavate in moist soil. They have
been suggested to use their prominent casques to dig, but this behavior has yet
to be confirmed by direct observation. Hatchlings range from 30-37 mm in
snout-vent length (Savage 2002).
cristatus occupies primary and secondary consumer positions in its local
food webs, preying primarily on large, slow-moving arthropods but also on small
lizards. Its average prey item supplies substantially more energy than C. cristatus uses in a day; thus, this
species may feed less than once per day. Its typical foraging behavior consists
of long periods of immobility punctuated by short bursts of movement in which
it strikes at nearby prey. This strategy seems to be an adaptation to high
predation pressure, allowing the lizard to minimize any activity that might make
it more easily detectable by potential predators (Andrews 1979).
Like many lizards, Corytophanes cristatus may be sought after by hobbyists and
collectors. This species is often raised in captivity.
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