Puerto Rican Galliwasp

Photo of the Puerto Rican Galliwasp/Culebra de Cuatro Patas

Puerto Rican Galliwasp (Eng.), Culebra de Cuatro Patas (Sp.), Diploglossus pleei (Sci.) endemic species, Puerto Rico.

Photo Father Alejandro Sánchez. Information compiled by Alan Mowbray, Interpretive Media Writer, EYNF/LEF

 

General Information

Class-Reptilia (reptiles), Order-Squamata (Lizards/Snakes), Family-Anguidae (Alligator lizards), Genus-Diploglossus (Galliwasps). Species-D. pleei. Closely related to Skinks (Scincinae) this species has greatly reduced limbs and appears more “snake-like” than most other endemic or native lizard species.

Description

The Puerto Rican Galliwasp is a snake-like, elongated, flattened lizard with tiny limbs, a thick, heavy tail and almost no indentations separating the head, trunk and tail. Its primary color is a dark, shiny mahogany brown, with dusky wavy lines across the back that can only be seen under close observation. There is a dark brown line that extends from the rear of the head to the tail - a series of dark spots above the line are occasionally observed, giving the line a “scalloped” look. A series of white lines radiate from the area surrounding the eyes to the jaw. Rear flanks are yellow with dark edges. The underparts are grayish-tan and the throat and chin display darker spots.

Diploglossus can measure up to 5 inches (125 millimeters) in snout vent length (SNL), but the endemic D. pleei species are typically much smaller.

Habits

Similar to Skinks, D. pleei are an ovoviviparous species – young are fully-formed inside the egg prior to hatching, occasionally differing slightly in color from that of adults but otherwise identical in form. When threatened by predators, Galliwasps press all four rudimentary legs tight against their bodies and wriggle quickly like snakes to escape. The large, cumbersome tail is quite fragile and is autotomous – it can be cast-off when injured or under attack.

Little else is known about the habits of D. pleei – since it is very quick to disappear when threatened, disappearing into the surrounding rocks or leaf litter, it is seldom observed for any length of time.

Habitat

The Puerto Rican Galliwasp inhabits leaf litter and rocky substrate in mesic (moderately moist) lowland forests and coffee plantations across the island.

Where to look for this animal in the EYNF

If you are very lucky D. pleei can only be seen fleetingly as it darts away to hide, or scurries across a nature trail. The El Portal and Big Tree Nature Trails are possibilities for careful, observant viewers.

Additional Information

Biologist
USDA Forest Service
El Yunque National Forest
HC-01 Box 13490
Rio Grande, PR 00745
787 888 1810

 

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