Bolitoglossa compacta is a robust, moderately-sized salamander (Savage 2002). Adult males are 44 - 53 mm in standard length and females are 68 - 74 mm in standard length (Savage 2002). The tail is about 44 - 50% of the total length (100 - 143 mm) (Savage 2002). Head width is 14 - 16% of the standard length (Savage 2002). Eyes are large and protruding (Savage 2002). Below the eye a deep unpigmented groove is present; posterior to the eye, a well-defind postorbital groove extends (Wake et al. 1973). The canthus rostralis is moderately short and slightly arched (Wake et al. 1973). A gular fold is present (Wake et al. 1973). Adults have 11 - 50 maxillary teeth and 19 - 33 vomerine teeth (Savage 2002). Vomerine teeth are arranged in two single rows, one on each side and near the midline, angling sharply towards the parasphenoid tooth patches (Wake et al. 1973). There are 1.5 - 2.5 costal folds between adpressed limbs (Savage 2002). Male leg length is 22 - 24% of the standard length, while in females, the leg length is 25 - 28% of the specimen's standard length (Savage 2002). The tail is compressed laterally (Wake et al. 1973). A pale crescent-shaped postiliac gland is present (Wake et al. 1973). Hands and feet are moderately webbed (Savage 2002). Digit tips are broad and truncated (Wake et al. 1973). Finger lengths are 3>2>4>1 and toe lengths are 3>4>2>5>1 (Wake et al. 1973). At least two phalanges on the longest digits lack webbing (Savage 2002). Males are generally smaller but have broader heads, longer hind limbs, and larger feet (Wake et al. 1973).
In life, it is brown (Savage 2002) or black (Wake et al. 1973) with red or orange markings on the dorsal surface (blotches, indistinct paired dorsolateral stripes, or a mid-dorsal field). The venter is a uniform brown. The iris is pale brown (Savage 2002).
In preservative, the dorsum and venter are black with orange to yellowish markings. The ventral surface is almost as dark as the dorsal surface and it is very uniform. A few large orange splotches are seen near the base of the tail, along with some spots on the top of the head and behind the eyes. The eyelids are black and orange, mottled. The limbs are black with one small lighter spot on the left hind limb above the ankle (on the holotype). The palms are graym (Wake et al. 1973).
This species is similar to Bolitoglossa cerroensis except that B. cerroensis has yellow to green markings, a narrower head, and longer limbs (Savage 2002). It is also similar to B. pesrubra and B. subpalmata, but but B. compacta has a longer standard length and has fewer maxillary teeth (Savage 2002). It can be distinguished from B. marmorea and B. sooyorum because it has smaller hands and feet, and because it has fewer teeth (Wake et al. 1973). Compared to other species of this genus, this species has relatively weak and poorly developed upper and lower jaws for its size (Wake et al. 1973).
A Spanish-language species account can be found at the website of Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio).
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