Overview

Brief Summary

Ameiva 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 clearings.

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Distribution

Giant ameivas are found in Central and South America. They are found from the eastern coast of Brazil through the interior portions of central South America, to the west coasts of Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru. They are found as far south as the northern portions of Argentina, through Bolivia and Paraguay and as far north as French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad, Tobago, and Panama. Recently they have been introduced to areas of Florida.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); neotropical (Native )

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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: Native to Central America and northern South America. Introduced and established in southeastern Florida (Krysko et al. 2005).

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Continent: Middle-America Caribbean South-America North-America
Distribution: USA (introduced to Florida) Panama, Trinidad, Tobago, Brazil (Bahia, Paraná [HR 27: 216], Minas Gerais, Goias, Pernambuco), Colombia, Surinam, French Guiana, Guyana, Venezuela (Trujillo, Cojedes), Bolivia (Beni, Cochabamba, La Paz, Pando, Santa Cruz, Tarija), Ecuador, Peru,  Argentina (Salta, Jujuy, Santiago del Estero, Formosa, Chaco, Corrientes, Danta Fe, Entre Ríos), Paraguay, Lesser Antilles: Margarita, Swan I, Isla de la Providencia, St. Vincent, Grenadines, Grenada  melanocephala: Carabobo, Zulia  praesignis: Venezuela (Trujillo etc. [Esqueda & La Marca 1999])   fulginosa: Providencia etc.  
Type locality: “America”; Brazil (fide SCHWARTZ & HENDERSON 1991: 181); restricted to “confluence of Cottica River and Preica Creek, Suriname” by HOOGMOED 1973.
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Ameiva ameiva 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.

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Physical Description

Morphology

Giant ameivas are medium-sized lizards with a body mass of about 60 g and a typical snout to vent length of 120 to 130 mm. Snout-vent lengths have been recorded as high as 160 mm in females and 180 mm in males. Cranial width averages 18 mm. Giant ameivas have femoral pores on the ventral side of the hind legs. Pore size is similar in both males and females, at about 1 mm in diameter. However, males have a single row of pores, about 17 to 23, running down the leg, whereas females have 16 to 22. Femoral pores are easy to see and the scales that hold them are specialized. This specialization helps in identifying the difference between those and other scales in the surrounding area of the hind leg. The rest of their body is covered with smooth scales. Coloration in both males and females is the same. However, juveniles differ in color from adults. Their backs have lines running the length of their body, colored yellow in adults and white in juveniles. Apart from these lines covering the dorsal portions of their body, the rest of their coloring is a dark brown. Their ventral side is ivory.

Average mass: 68 g.

Range length: 180 (high) mm.

Average length: 125 mm.

Other Physical Features: heterothermic

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

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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 Colli 1994).

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Size

Length: 64 cm

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Ameiva ameiva 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 2002).

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Diagnostic Description

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).

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Type Information

Syntype for Ameiva ameiva
Catalog Number: USNM 5519
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Amphibians & Reptiles
Preparation: Ethanol
Locality: No Further Locality Data, Chagres, Panama
  • Syntype: Baird, S. F. & Girard, C. 1852. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia. 6 (4): 129.
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Look Alikes

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).

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Ecology

Habitat

Giant ameivas are found in varied habitats, such as cerrado and northeastern caatinga in Brazil and Amazonian savannah and forests. They seem to prefer disturbed rain forests that have recently been harvested.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; rainforest

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Comments: Dry open areas in Florida (Ashton and Ashton 1985). Underground when inactive.

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Ameiva ameiva 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 otherwise.

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Giant ameivas are active foragers. Their diet varies regionally and seasonally and consists mainly of insects. The most common animals found in their diet are grasshoppers, butterflies, beetles, roaches, larvae, spiders, and termites. They have also been known to eat other species of lizards. What they eat is proportional to their snout-vent length; as they grow their prey becomes larger.

Animal Foods: reptiles; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Insectivore , Eats non-insect arthropods)

  • Boyden, T. 1976. Butterfly Palatability and Mimicry: Experiment with Ameiva Lizards. Evolution, 30: 73-81. Accessed February 03, 2010 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/2407673.
  • Magnusson, W. 1987. Reproductive Cycles of Teiid Lizards in Amazonian Savanna. Journal of Herpetology, 21: 307-316. Accessed February 04, 2010 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1563972.
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Comments: Eats insects, spiders, crustaceans, and small lizards (Behler and King 1979).

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Associations

Giant ameivas are hosts for a wide variety of microorganisms. Common parasites include Plasmodium tropidury, Lainsonia, Hemolivia petit, Choleoeimeria carinii, Acroeimeria pintoi, and Isospora ameiva. Often these invasive parasites will damage organs such as the gall bladder, liver, kidneys, lungs,and spleen. Parasites also have been found in saliva and feces of this lizard. Many of the parasites found in the feces originate in the gut. Additionally, parasites invade epithelial cells.

Ecosystem Impact: parasite

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • Plasmodium tropidury
  • Lainsonia
  • Hemolivia petit
  • Choleoeimeria carinii
  • Acroeimeria pintoi
  • Isospora ameiva

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Predators of giant ameivas consist of a wide variety of birds and snakes. Unlike other species of lizards found throughout South America, they do not sit and wait for their prey. Their main method of avoiding predation is escape and their body shape is designed for rapid speed, allowing them to avoid predators in the open areas where they forage. Common predators of Ameiva ameiva include green snakes (Philodryas nattereri), roadside hawks (Buteo magnirostris), American kestrels (Falco sparverius), Guira cuckoos (Guira guira), chalk-browed mockingbirds (Mimus satturninus) and coral snakes (Micrurus frontalis). Giant ameivas are poorly adapted to introduced predators, such as mongooses (Herpestes javanicus) and house cats (Felis catus).

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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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).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Femoral glands located on the ventral underside of the hind legs of Ameiva ameiva play a role in establishing territory size. Femoral glands also play a role in various sexual behaviors. These femoral glands produce semiochemicals which influence inter- and intra-specific communication. Although these semiochemicals are not well understood in Ameiva ameiva, they affect defense of territory and self, predation, territorial markings, and parental care.

Communication Channels: chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; vibrations ; chemical

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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).

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Life Cycle

Females carry their eggs for a short period of time and tend to stay in their burrows during this time. Once eggs are laid, incubation time is about 5 months, with offspring usually hatching at the beginning of the rainy season. Juvenile males tend to grow faster than their female counterparts. Maturity is acheived when snout-vent length reaches 100 mm, occurring at about 8 months after hatching for both males and females.

  • Vitt, L. 1982. Reproductive tactics of Ameiva ameiva (Lacertilia: Teiidae) in a seasonally fluctuating tropical habitat. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 60: 3113-3120.
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Ameiva 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).

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Life Expectancy

No data exist about the lifespan of Ameiva ameiva in the wild. However, based on small sample sizes, individuals are known survive up to 4.6 years. The Index of Scientific Binomials indicate their observed specimen lived up to 2.8 years in captivity.

Typical lifespan

Status: captivity:
2.8 to 4.6 years.

  • 2002. "Index of Scientific Binominals" (On-line). Accessed April 09, 2010 at http://www.demogr.mpg.de/longevityrecords/index1.htm.
  • Bowler, J. 1975. Longevity of Reptiles and Amphibians in N. American Collections as of 1 November, 1975.. Herpetological Circular, 6: 1-32.
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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 4.6 years (captivity)
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Reproduction

There is little information on mating systems of Ameiva ameiva. The Ameiva plei mating system has been observed. This species is similiar to Ameiva ameiva in size and the environments in which they live, so their reproductive biology may be similar. Ameiva plei males tend to guard females during sexual encounters. However, males that did not guard females did not mate. Males in this species that were larger tended to mate more as they won over the most females.

Giant ameivas reproduce by laying eggs in clutches, which vary in size regionally. Although little data exist from most regions, data have been collected from caatinga and cerrado habitats of Brazil. Clutch size can range from 3 to 11. Clutch sizes tend to be larger in cerrado, averaging 6.4 +/- 0.2 (Colli, 1991). Clutch sizes in caatinga average 5.7 +/- 0.164 (Vitt, 1982). Clutch size is directly related to snout-vent length of the female - larger females produce more eggs per clutch. In cerrado, females can lay up to 3 clutches per reproductive season. However, in caatinga giant ameivas may reproduce throughout the year. The reproductive habits of Ameiva ameiva are based on rainfall. In areas where rainfall is constant or unpredictable throughout the year, reproduction is year-round. In areas where there is a distinct dry season, reproduction only occurs during the rainy seasons. This is thought to be the result of lack of food for both adults and juveniles during dry seasons.

Breeding interval: Breeding interval is based on location however females may lay up to 3 clutches per cycle in the Cerrado of Brazil.

Breeding season: Breeding seasons are based on environment.

Average number of offspring: 6.

Average gestation period: 5 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 8 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 8 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; sexual ; oviparous

There is little information on parental investment in this species. However, females invest heavily in supplying their eggs with nutrients before they are laid and males invest energy in mate guarding during mating.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female)

  • Colli, G. 1991. Reproductive Ecology of Ameiva ameiva (Sauria, Teiidae) in the Cerrado of Central Brazil. Copeia, 4: 1002-1012. Accessed February 03, 2010 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1446095?seq=1.
  • Vitt, L. 1982. Reproductive tactics of Ameiva ameiva (Lacertilia: Teiidae) in a seasonally fluctuating tropical habitat. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 60: 3113-3120.
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In the Cerrado of Brazil, reproduction is reduced in the dry season in areas of seasonal climate, continuous where rainfall is abundant all year (Colli 1991). In the Caatinga of Brazil, most oviposition occurs in the dry months (see Colli 1991). In Brazil, clutch size averages about 6 (Colli 1991).

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Ameiva ameiva 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).

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Evolution and Systematics

Evolution

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).

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Conservation

Conservation Status

Currently giant ameivas are not considered threatened. There are no efforts at this time to actively conserve this species.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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As of January 1, 2011, the conservation status of Ameiva ameiva has not been assessed by the IUCN Red List (IUCN 2010).

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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 (Savage 2002).

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Giant ameivas are known carriers of the bacteria Salmonella, including strains that can infect humans. In Grenada, according to Everard et al. (1979), half of all specimens collected carried Salmonella. In Panama, giant ameivas had the highest percentage occurrence of Salmonella of all 447 specimens examined (Kournay, 1981).

Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease); causes or carries domestic animal disease

  • Kourany, M., S. Telford. 1981. Lizards in the Ecology of Salmonellosis in Panama. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 41(5): 1248-1253. Accessed April 09, 2010 at http://aem.asm.org/cgi/reprint/41/5/1248.
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Although these species can carry disease and can be aggressive, people keep them as pets. Furthermore, giant ameivas tend to prefer cleared environments such as crop fields. Because their diet consists mainly of arthropods, they can help to keep pest populations under control.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; controls pest population

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Like many lizards, Ameiva ameiva may be sought after by hobbyists and collectors. This species is often raised in captivity.

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© Rachelle Ludwick and Lee Dietterich

Source: The Harvard University Herpetology Course - OEB 167

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Wikipedia

Giant Ameiva

The giant ameiva (Ameiva ameiva), also known as green ameiva, South American ground lizard, giant whiptail, zandoli, and Amazon racerunner, is a species of lizard in the family Teiidae found in Central and South America and some Caribbean Islands.

Geographic range[edit]

It is widespread in Central America and South America, including: Panama, Brazil, Colombia, Surinam, French Guiana, Guyana, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Paraguay. It is also found on the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, the Grenadines, Margarita, Swan Island, and Isla de la Providencia.[1] It was also once present on Saint Vincent but has since been extirpated.

Description[edit]

Ameiva ameiva has a streamlined body, pointed head, slightly forked tongue, and muscular hind legs. They grow to approximately 45–50 cm (18–20 in). Both sexes have random black specs and mottling along the sides. Females usually have much less green than males and a more dusty of a green color. Males have vibrant green coloration and more bold mottling. Males also have more expanded jowels.

Immature male

Habitat[edit]

Giant ameiva live on the forest floor, often sheltering underneath logs and in leaf litter. Captive specimens have been observed making primitive tunnels spanning out from under a log or rock when given enough soil.

Diet[edit]

The giant ameiva's diet consists of mainly insects, frogs, and spiders. In captivity mealworms are a favorite of the ameiva along with crickets.

Reproduction[edit]

The female lays several clutches of eggs from March to December.

Invasive species[edit]

This species has been introduced into the United States with thriving populations in South Florida.

Parasites[edit]

This species is infected by a number of protist parasites including:

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ameiva ameiva Reptile Database
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