The largest lizard species in Central America, the adult green iguana (Iguana iguana) can reach up to six feet in length and weighs up to twelve pounds. The species is well known for its long, whip-like long tail that accounts for more than half its total length. Like many lizards, green iguanas have devised an ingenious defence mechanism where they can quickly drop their tails if caught by a predator. Although painful to the animal, the tail re-grows without too much damage to the iguana.
Full grown green iguanas range in color from grayish-green to a dull, reddish hue while the younger are bright green in color. Adult males have a special coat of skin called the dewlap hanging loose from their chin. By extending the dewlap they can appear larger in order to impress females, or to scare off potential predators like hawks. Males also have long, soft spines that run the length of their bodies. Interesting, tattered spines are an indication of a male with a lowly position in the mating hierarchy.
Green iguanas are diurnal and arboreal, which simply means they are active during the day and live in trees. Adults are almost exclusively herbivorous, dining on leaves, flowers, fruits, and the occasional small vertebrate or insect. Iguanas are extremely proficient swimmers, and it is not rare for them to venture in deep water or far from shore, at times even swimming out into the ocean.
Green iguanas mostly inhabit lowland rainforests, both deep within vegetation and along the forest peripherals, where ground cover is less deciduous. The species is also common in lowland dry forests. Green iguanas are generally solitary creatures, and are usually found near water bodies. They tend to thrive mostly in the forest canopies, approximately 65-100 feet above the ground, and are capable of surviving a 50-foot fall unhurt. During cold, moist weather, green iguanas regularly climb down from the treetops in search of warmth.
They are easy to spot due to their bottle green colour. Including their famous tail, they can grow longer than 2 metres and weigh up to 10 kg. Green iguanas spend most of their lethargic lives on trees, but are also excellent swimmers. The spines along their back and tails evoke memories of a long lost mystical dinosaur era. In contrast to their razor sharp teeth, these reptiles are harmless herbivores, but young green iguanas are also known to feed on insects. Owing to the spiky claws on their hind legs, iguanas are skilled climbers.
Each mating territory is competitively inhabited by four mature females. Male iguanas court all four females throughout the mating season and generally lasts one month before copulation. During this time males will extend their dewlaps, bob their heads, and even experience dramatic color changes due to sex hormones. Two weeks prior to mating, the male will bond with one specific female.
Breeding occurs during dry season, when the female lays clutches of 40 eggs. After 11-15 weeks of incubation the hatchlings come out. As they lack dorsal spines, the young end up looking more like the female than the male species.
Like many lizards, they discard most or part of their tail, a process known as autonomy. They do not do this however as often as some other lizards and only as a last resort for protection. Some lizards do this themselves. Autonomy is an aid for defence; the lizard makes its escape while the predator deals with its wriggling tail under the illusion that they’ve got them. Both sexes can turned aggressive when provoked and the males turn into a special shade of orange in particular seasons.
Green Iguanas are often kept as household pets owing to their non aggressive nature towards humans and bright colors. They make for excellent exotic pets as they aren’t innately attacking or carnivores. All the care they need is to have the correct lighting, temperature and space.
Where To Spot Them
The green iguana inhabits a large area, their natural habitat ranging from Mexico into the Caribbean islands and right down to the Brazilian rainforests. The species was initially found in southern Florida, where it is now a feral creature (domestic-turned-wild). In Costa Rica, the green iguana is found along the Pacific and Caribbean Coasts, as well as in north-central Costa Rica. Visitors will have plenty of luck spotting these large lizards near Arenal, Tortuguero, around the Osa Peninsula, Manuel Antonio, Montezuma and along Guanacaste’s Gold Coast. Our guests can spot these iguanas scamperring around the Anamaya property while they are blissfully laying in the savahasana at our yoga deck. They can also be spotted along the beaches (Montezuma) since they have a penchant for being in the vicinity of water bodies.
Green iguanas are considered endangered in Costa Rica, and are not traded commercially. Scientists are also required to obtain special permission from Costa Rican government agencies to collect specimens. Though it was once a regular practice, today it is unlawful to kill and eat wild green iguanas. Many green iguana conservation projects exist in Costa Rica; the Pro Iguana Verde Foundation is perhaps the most widely recognized.
Iguana Park, which is established by FPIV near Oratina in Costa Rica is an eco-tourism facility and has been designed as a region to demonstrate and undertake further research on the sustainable utilization of Costa Rica’s forest resources. Dr Dagmar Werner, the founder and spearheading force behind the project, hopes that iguana farming can become part of Central American farming systems whilst also providing an incentive for reforestation. This in turn is believed to combat erosion, conserve water resources and boost soil fertility. Although Costa Rica, Panama and Guatemala are the current target areas of the project, the potential for iguana farming could disperse from tropical forested areas in Mexico right down to northern areas of Brazil and Peru, and to a number of Caribbean islands.
The green iguana is often confused with the Cnetasaur, also called the black iguana. This lizard doesn’t grow as large as the green iguana, and it’s omnivorous. They are much more common, and can be green as well. The easiest way to tell if it’s the green or black is by looking for the red frills behind the head, which indicate it’s the green iguana.