Iphisa elegans

Iphisa is a genus of the lizard family Gymnophthalmidae. The genus is monotypic, meaning that it has only one species, Iphisa elegans, and its common name is the glossy shade lizard. I. elegans is native to the Amazon and is typically found in regions of South America, centrally located in the Amazon Basin. The average body length of the glossy shade lizard is 55 mm. Relatively small, these lizards rely on running as their primary form of movement and, interestingly, exhibit death-feigning behavior, which aids in protection from potential predators.


The body of the glossy shade lizard is compressed dorsoventrally, giving the lizard its elongated shape. The average body length is 55 mm; however, the length of I. elegans can reach a maximum of 62 mm. Adult glossy shade lizards exhibit sexual dichromatism as they appear antique-brown to dark yellow on their dorsal surface. The abdomen of females is a creamy grey color and the abdomen of males is an orange color. The orange color is thought to be related to the hormonal cycles of breeding males, yet more studies need to be conducted to observe if this difference in coloration offers any anti-predation advantage. Sexual dichromatism is a term that accounts for the difference in the coloration between the two sexes, between the males and the females. This can have implications on dominance and reproduction within the species. There are two longitudinal rows of scales on the dorsal side of the lizard as well as two longitudinal rows of scales on the ventral side of the lizard. As the lateral scales are smaller than the dorsal and ventral scales, each lateral side of the lizard is composed of three to five longitudinal rows of scales, with ninety percent of glossy shade lizards having four longitudinal rows of lateral scales on each side.

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I. elegans has a vestigial inner finger, which means that it poses no true function and just exists as part of the lizard's body. It also has claws, but these claws are not really visible. This can give the glossy shade lizard an advantage in protecting itself from predators since it can use its claws as weapons while the predator approaches, unsuspecting of any self-defense mechanism that I. elegans possesses. Moving more cranially, the glossy shade lizard has a lower eyelid with a transparent window, and the tympanic membrane (or ear drum) in its ear is exposed outwards. The tympanic membrane is a cavity that separates the inner ear from the outer ear. Auditory vibrations hit the tympanic membrane, which allow for sound to be heard and processed.

Although this species covers a large geographical range across the Amazon rainforest, Iphisa mostly has a broadly conserved external morphology. For this species, however, there is a lot of variation in the hemipenial morphotypes in males. This reinforces the fact that Iphisa is a cryptic species – there are high degrees of genetic and morphological differences across the lizards even though there are many instances of sympatry among the mtDNA lineages of these lizards.

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Found in the Neotropics, I. elegans originates in South America. For a long time, Iphisa has been known to inhabit the amazon basins of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia, Brazil, and Guiana Shield. Recent studies, however, have found evidence that the distribution of Iphisa is more extensive. Research has confirmed the presence of Iphisa in 10 additional locations in the North and Southwest of the state of Mato Grosso

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The population trend for the glossy shade lizard is currently stable, meaning that there is relatively the same number of I. elegans continuously as the population size is neither increasing nor decreasing. Being at a stable population state can be viewed positively since there are no harsh or immediate threats that threaten the status of the species or risk it going extinct.

The habitat in which I. elegans resides is a terrestrial one, meaning that they live on land. Terrestrial habitats can include forests, grasslands, deserts, shorelines, and wetlands. Animals that live in terrestrial habitats are influenced by the moisture in the area (i.e., the moisture that builds from rain or snow falling), the cold temperatures in the winter season, the frequency at which the land floods with water, and the nutrients present in the soil. The Neotropics specifically encompasses two lowland deserts, a high-altitude inland desert, and the coastal deserts of Atacama and Sechura, which, together, form a long arid continuum in South America. Nevertheless, in contrast to these drier habitats, the glossy shade lizard can find its home in tropical rainforests that are either completely undisturbed or moderately disturbed. They can also be found at the borders of flooded tropical rainforests or, for example, near a creek. An ecomorphological guild is a group of organisms that adapt to similar environments and ecological roles in nature, thereby causing them to share morphological traits. I. elegans is a part of the fossorial and/or ground dwelling only ecomorphological guild, implying that this species spends most of its time either underground or on the ground. Fossorial is a description that essentially illustrates the action of digging and burrowing.

A vital part of the glossy shade lizard's habitat consists of leaf litter, which is a combination of leaves, twigs, and fallen bark that compose healthy soil. When leaf litter is decomposed, healthy nutrients are absorbed into the soil, which aid in keeping the soil moist. Furthermore, leaf litter is beneficial in that it can also serve as hiding spots and/or protection from any predators. Given the relatively small size of I. elegans, it is able to hide and take shelter among leaf litter, making this part of the lizard's habitat very advantageous.

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Diet and Nutrition

Iphisa is a species with diurnal habits. This means that these lizards tend to forage just below the top layer of leaves that cover the forest floor.

Mating Habits

I. elegans sexually reproduces, meaning that the sperm from the male parent fertilizes the egg of the female parent to form the offspring. The sperm and the egg are two gametes that come together and form the zygote. This zygote and later becomes a mature lizard. Glossy shade lizards are oviparous animals. This signifies that they are animals that lay eggs and that their offspring hatch from the eggs after coming out of the mother's body. This species of lizard produces around one litter in a year.


1. Iphisa Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iphisa
2. Iphisa on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/44578602/44578607

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