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.

"Hello, Cutie."

"Hello, Cutie."

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.

Blue-faced Iguana in Tall Grass

Blue-faced Iguana in Tall Grass

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.

"You called?"

"You called?"

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.

On the Move

On the Move

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!

It's Easy Being Green

It's Easy Being Green

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.

Iguana Friends

Iguana Buddies

5 thoughts on “iguana go green

  1. Very well written article! And nice pics to boot.. a couple of comments… Iguanas dont drop their tails at command.. it has to be broken off, however its designed to break easily and at the joints if grabbed forcefully.. please dont try this! never grab one by the tail (unless its the very very base near their hips). Iguanas will grow a new tail, but it will never look or function the same, they are usually skinny, ugly, and all black.. not to mention a slow painful rehab. But its better to loose a tail than be eaten by a hawk etc. As far as habitat destruction, the only damage they can do (other than eating your ornamental plants) is that they can unsettle foundations as they like to burrow at river banks to lay eggs. If their population gets too crazy it can weaken bridges at canals, etc. No big deal if well managed.
    If an iguana approaches you, no need to fear unless its making obvious aggressive posturing.. its probably just curious and wants to lick you (thats how they feel the world), it may also be a previous pet that is friendly to humans.. just dont make any sudden moves to scare it. I own a giant 25yr old male, and he is my best friend living free in my house. You can check him out, and more info on iguanas at my blog http://greeniguanapets.com
    Keep up the good work 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Leo. I found your comment interesting and informative. Knowledge is power. I could have had the experience of being licked by an iguana, but missed the experience. Most of the iguanas I photographed were in a public park near the ocean, so they are probably used to human admirers. I look forward to exploring your blog and meeting your best friend.

  2. very nice pictures.
    I live in panama city (central america) and i’ve taste iguana stou if you know what i mean…
    in mexico, they do a special tamal wich is basically made of iguana.

    I also owned a male iguana as pet; but i gave him away as i had some conflicts since my wife got pregnant and i didn’t want my child to be injured; I had him for 4 years

    I’m holding myself until my daughter get’s older to get another male.

    • Thanks you for your comment. I’ve never eaten iguana, but understand it’s tasty. Must have been difficult to give away a pet that you had for four years, but it sounds like it was time.

      It’s been cold this winter in Florida and many of our iguanas have died. I visited the spot where the photos for this blog were taken and couldn’t find even one. I’m sure some survived and that the iguana population will build up again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: