Reptile and Amphibian Diversity in Guatemala
Guatemala is known by many experts as a megadiverse country, meaning that it is home to a great many species of both animals and plants. This is all the more impressive given its small size – approximately half the land mass of England.
To illustrate just how diverse Guatemala is compared to England, the latter is home to just 12 native species of amphibians (7 species) and reptiles (5 species), where as Guatemala is home to 154 amphibians and 242 reptiles in half the geographic area – and new species continue to be described. And that’s just the amphibian and reptile diversity in Guatemala.
So, what has led to Guatemala being home to so many species? As with many things, it is a combination of characteristics, rather than a single particular one. Guatemala is uniquely positioned on three tectonic plates and this has led to three biological phenomena converging in one small country.
Many species that have evolved in North American reach the southernmost part of their distribution in region of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Equally, many species that evolved in South American reach their northernmost distribution in the same region.
The movements of the tectonic plates on which Guatemala sits have created large mountain ranges that have led to the speciation of many species that are endemic to Guatemala and not found anywhere else in the world.
It’s the combination of these three characters that have led to Guatemala being so biodiverse.
Let’s explore some of my favourite reptile and amphibian diversity found in Guatemala.
1 Red-eyed treefrog
One of the most common frogs in Central America is the charismatic red-eyed treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas). They can be found in great numbers around pools and ponds throughout the lowlands of Guatemala and Central America.
2 Half-coral snake
The harmless half-coral snake (Scaphiodontophis annulatus) is so-called due to the fact that often its colouration mimics a true coral on the front part of its body, the rear part of the snake is usually brown and very well camouflaged. They spend their time cruising through the leaf litter looking for small forest skinks to eat. Every now and then they raise their heads above the leaf litter to have a look around. The conspicuous colouration on their heads and neck serve to confuse would-be predators into thinking they are venomous.
3 Keeled helmeted iguana
Keeled helmeted iguana
Adding to the reptile and amphibian diversity in Guatemala, keeled helmeted iguana (Corytophanes cristatus) are specialists of the Guatemalan cloud forests. Unlike other members of their genus, they give live birth instead of laying eggs, a possible adaptation to control the temperature of their embryos in the cooler climate in the mountains.
4 Morelet’s crocodile
Morelet’s crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) are found in the lagoons and slow moving rivers of Northern Guatemala. They are generalist feeders and have been seen eating everything from fish to turtles, and birds to deer. In parts of their range they were hunted almost to extinction for the leather trade. Since that practice was made illegal, populations have thankfully bounced back.
5 Western jumping pitviper
Western jumping pitviper
Western jumping pitvipers (Metlapilcoatlus occiduus) are found in the pine-oak forests of Central and Western Guatemala. They are often found at the bottom of trees or grass tussocks where they wait in ambush for small mammals to eat.
6 Black-eyed treefrog
Black-eyed treefrogs (Agalychnis moreletii) enigmatic inhabitants of the Guatemalan cloud forests. They are often found around pools of standing water that have overhanging vegetation. They lay their eggs on the leaves so that when the tadpoles hatch they drop into the water where they feed until the metamorphose into tiny replicas of their parents.
7 Guatemalan beaded lizard
Guatemalan beaded lizard
There are four species of beaded lizard. The Guatemalan beaded lizard (Heloderma charlesbogerti) is the only species to occur outside of Mexico. Its range is restricted to the dry thorn scrub of the Motagua Valley. It is estimated that only 1000 adults survive in the wild and due to human pressure their habitat is disappearing at a dramatic rate. Helping to protect this species will help maintain the reptile and amphibian diversity in Guatemala
8 Yucatán casque-headed treefrog
Yucatán casque-headed treefrog
In the tropical humid forests of northern Guatemala, the availability of water is a limiting factor for amphibians. Yucatán casque-headed treefrogs (Triprion petasatus) solve this problem by hiding in the hollows of trees, and blocking themselves in with their strange bony heads during the driest parts of the year.
9 Rax bolay
Rax bolay (Bothriechis aurifer) is a medium sized snake that spends most of its time in the canopy of the cloud forests of Guatemala. Populations seem to be declining, most likely due to loss of their favoured habitat, and declines in the frog populations upon which they feed. Rax bolay is a target species for Indigo Research in Alta Verapaz.
10 Alta Verapaz spikethumb frog
Alta Verapaz spikethumb frog
The cloud forests of Guatemala’s highlands are a hotspot of amphibian diversity. Many species that are found here only occur in a few mountain ranges. Some, like this Alta Verapaz spikethumb frog (Plectrohyla teuchestes) are only known from a few locations, and their conservation is critical to the survival of the species.
The Alta Verapaz spikethumb frog is one of the most endangered frogs in Central America, and is the flagship species of Indigo Expeditions conservation work in Alta Verapaz.
11 Tiger ratsnake
Tiger ratsnakes (Spilotes pullatus) are large constricting snakes of lowland forests. They hunt birds and mammals by actively searching for them both on the forest floor and in the trees. They are fast, highly visual animals making them effective hunters in Central America’s forests.
12 Red-eyed mossy frog
Red-eyed mossy frog
Last, but not least, on my list of reptile and amphibian diversity in Guatemala, is the red-eyed mossy frogs (Duellmanohyla soralia) are endemic to a single region on the Guatemalan / Honduran border known as the Merendon Mountains. They are found along fast flowing streams in premontane forests and are classed as Endangered with extinction due to habitat loss.
This blog is intended solely to discuss in an anecdotal fashion some of my experiences with reptiles and amphibians in the field.
It is not intended to be used either as an identification guide, or a guide to reptile or amphibian handling.
Indigo Expeditions will not be held responsible for any harm sustained by anyone who handles reptiles and amphibians in an attempt to identify them.
Please ask a professional to help!