iguana go green
Here is a creature that takes going green all the way. It is totally self-sustainable and does an excellent job of recycling. Meet the green iguana. Native to Central and South America and the Caribbean, iguanas have found their way into the United States, via pet stores, where they have become well established. Those who bought the cute little green lizards for a family pet may have been surprised when they grew to be over five feet long after only three short years. Apparently, some of those reluctant iguana owners living in South Florida and Hawaii released their pets into the wild where they prospered as exotics and the country’s largest lizard. It is perfectly legal to humanely catch a wild iguana, but illegal to release one into the wild, so for those of you who wish to keep a pet iguana, be prepared to keep a BIG iguana.
Fortunately, these non-natives don’t damage the environment, just the sensibilities of waterfront homeowners who must clean up their recycled matter. Iguanas are herbivorous, for the most part. When young, they eat insects, spiders, and eggs, but as adults they prefer vegetation, such as found in your garden. I have personally witnessed the fellow pictured below going after a Moorhen, but I have yet to find reference to a dietary preference for water fowl.
Iguanas possess perfect equipment for their environment. They live in trees along the water’s edge, with the older iguanas commanding the top limbs (the penthouse) while the younger generation chooses branches closer to the ground (basement apartments), a sort of pecking order. Basking on the forest canopy provides access to the sun’s rays therefore increasing body temperature and aiding digestion. It also supplies quick access to surrounding water as a speedy means of escape from predators. Iguanas dive and swim quite well.
Green iguanas vary in coloration depending on their temperature, mood, social status, or health. Call it nature’s makeup. Early risers tend to be darker in coloration, so their skin absorbs more rays. Penthouse dwellers soak up more heat making their scaly skin paler, thus reducing the amount of radiation received. About six to eight weeks before winter courtship, males begin to turn a lovely shade of neon orange, advertising to still green females that, “I’ve got the hots for you, Honey.” The brighter the orange, the more dominant the male.
Both males and females are equipped with dewlaps hanging from their necks, but males come well-endowed with this drapery. Its purpose is three-fold: to scare off territorial challengers, to flirt, and to aid in heat absorption and dissipation. On top of their heads is a small white dot, a sense organ known as a parietal eye. This “eye” can detect changes in overhead light suggesting the approach of a predator, such as a hawk or human. It also aids in the maturation of endocrine glands, the thyroid, and sex organs. Their ears are the dark spots behind and below their eyes.
Male iguanas mark their territory as well as the feminine objects of their desire, an odoriferous sign of ownership that other iguanas respect. Females dig burrows in which to lay their eggs after mating. This occurs during the dry season so that hatchlings will have abundant food when they break out of their leathery eggs during the wet season. If copulation occurs at an unsuitable time, the females can store sperm for several years and release them for fertilization at a later date. Talk about convenience!
When photographing these lawn grazing lizards, I found that I had to approach slowly and preferably on my belly, iguana style, to prevent them from bolting for the safety of mangroves and water. As with any wild animal, I avoided eye contact. In this way they became accustomed to my presence. One even approached, which made me a bit nervous. No, I was not wearing green. Iguanas are well equipped with sharp teeth, long claws, and a powerful tail. Not wanting to get into a situation where I’d have to touch one, I quickly ended my photo session. Just like other lizards, green iguanas have the ability to drop part of their tail if threatened. I did not need an attack or a dismembered tail flopping around to spoil a lovely morning.
In Central America, iguanas are farmed and prized for their white meat and hides. One U.S. author has even published a cookbook to encourage Americans to discover their culinary value, thus relieving southern coastal areas of green iguana overpopulation. I actually found a website advertising iguana meat for $59.99/ lb. Now, there’s a business opportunity.
Observing, photographing, and researching iguanas once again has given me a deep appreciation for the way God so perfectly equips each unique creature. If you are interested in knowing more about iguanas, I recommend these two sources from which I gleaned much of my information: Animal Diversity Web’s article, Iguana Iguana and the University of Florida’s article on Dealing with Iguanas in the South Florida Landscape.