Iguana is a fantastic-looking creature. With a ridge along the back and tail, a variety of skin textures, and a scaly “beard”. The animal looks like a small dragon. And although it’s called the Green Iguana, it doesn’t always have greenish skin tones. The coloration can be blue-green, bright green, reddish, gray, and yellow to pale pink and lavender. In some places, Iguanas are even blue at a young age, but gradually change color as they age.
Origin of the Species
This species was first formally described by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1758. Many subspecies have been identified over the two centuries since, but later, after genetic research, they were classified as simple regional variants of the same species, except for the Caribbean Iguana.
Using nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequence data to study the phylogenic history of the Iguana, the scientists studied animals collected from 17 different countries. The topology of phylogeny showed that this species originated in South America and eventually moved through Central America and the Caribbean. The study did not identify unique mitochondrial DNA haplotypes for subspecies status but indicated deep lineage divergence between Central and South American populations. There are two subspecies of Green Iguana:
- iguana iguana is distributed in the Lesser Antilles and South America;
- iguana iguana rhinolopha – This form is native primarily to Central America.
Both taxa can be fairly safely distinguished by the two or three small “horns” on the face. The word “iguana” comes from the Spanish form of the name in the language of the Taíno people who lived in the Caribbean islands before the arrival of the conquistadors and sounded like “iwana”. Over time, the Spanish version of the name passed into the scientific name of this species.
Appearance and Features
After hatching, Iguanas range in length from 16 to 25 cm. Most mature Iguanas weigh between 4 and 6 kg, but some can reach 8 kg with proper nutrition. These large lizards are about 2 m long. Although these animals are called Green Iguanas, their coloration is different. Adults become more uniform in color with age, while young ones may appear more spotty or striped between green and brown. An individual’s color can also vary depending on its mood, temperature, health, or social status. This color change can help these animals with thermoregulation.
In the morning, when the body temperature is low, the skin color will be darker, helping the lizard to absorb heat from sunlight. However, when the hot midday sun is shining on them, these animals become lighter or paler, helping to reflect the sun’s rays and minimizing the heat absorbed. Active dominant Iguanas tend to be darker in color than lower-rated Iguanas living in the same environment. Most of the color variation seen in this species occurs in males and can be attributed in part to steroids.
Fun Fact: Six to eight weeks before and during courtship, males may take on a bright orange or gold hue, although coloration is still associated with dominance status. Mature females for the most part retain their green color.
Other distinctive features of this species include a pouch under the throat, a dorsal ridge consisting of dermal spines running from the middle of the neck to the base of the tail, and a long tapering flat tail. The extensions of the hyoid bones stiffen and support the leading edge of this structure, which is used in territorial defense or when the animal is frightened. This fleshy structure also serves to absorb and dissipate heat as it expands.
The lateral eyes are protected mainly by the immobile eyelid and the freely movable lower eyelid. The parietal ocellus is located on the dorsal midline of the skull behind the eyes. This sense organ, although not a real “eye”, serves as a solar energy meter and promotes the maturation of the genitals, thyroid, and endocrine glands. The visual effect of this “eye” is mainly limited to detecting predatory shadows from above.
Green Iguana is found throughout Central and South America, from Sinaloa and Veracruz, Mexico, south to Paraguay and southeastern Brazil. This large lizard also lives on many islands throughout the Caribbean and the coastal eastern Pacific and has been introduced to southern Florida and Hawaii. In addition, the Green Iguanas colonized the island of Anguilla in 1995 after being washed ashore after a hurricane.
Green Iguanas live in rainforests:
- Northern Mexico;
- Central America;
- in the Caribbean;
- in the Southern part of Brazil.
Although not native to Martinique, a small wild colony of released or escaped Green Iguanas inhabit the historic Fort St. Louis. Iguanas are arboreal lizards that live high in the tops of trees. Juveniles set up areas lower in the canopies, while older mature Iguanas reside above. This habit of tree-dwelling allows them to bask in the sun, rarely going down, except when females dig holes to lay eggs.
Although the animal prefers a woody (forest) environment, it can adapt well to more open areas. No matter where they live, Iguanas prefer to have water nearby, as they are excellent swimmers who dive underwater to avoid predators.
Features of Character and Lifestyle
In the wild, most of the debate among Iguanas is about where to heat the body. These herbivorous lizards usually have enough food. Bathing is important for raising body temperature and improving digestion. During the breeding season, males demonstrate territorial claims through head bouncing and color changes. They bite each other. Injuries in the wild are rare as males have plenty of room to retreat when threatened. However, in captivity, where space is limited, injuries are more common.
Females may also exhibit some of these behavioral skills when space for nesting is limited. Green Iguanas can travel significant distances on several occasions. Females migrate to the same nesting site for several years in a row and then return to their home territory after laying eggs. Cubs can also travel long distances.
When frightened, the Iguana usually freezes or hides. Like many other lizards, Iguanas can shed some of their tail. This gives them a chance to escape before the predator figures out what’s going on. A new tail will sprout and grow in a year, but not to the length that it was before. Animals prefer tall and dense vegetation with plenty of moisture, sun, and shade.
Maintenance and Care
It is desirable that the Iguana’s dwelling be tall enough. In the terrarium, a commensurate container (trough) with water is required, which occupies about 1/4 of the bottom of the terrarium. A container of water will keep the humidity to a minimum and allow the Iguana to quench its thirst. Given that Iguanas often defecate directly into the water, it should be changed as it gets dirty, preferably daily. It will not hurt if you place a flat rock on the bottom of the terrarium on which the Iguana will spend part of the time. When cleaning the terrarium, it will be useful if you bathe the Iguana in the bathroom. Remember to place a branch in the bathroom when bathing so that the Iguana can get out of the water when needed.
The temperature should be maintained at 28-30 degrees during the day and 22 degrees at night. This temperature should be shown by a thermometer located on the side opposite the heating lamps. The temperature will be higher under the lamp and this is normal. However, at a distance of 10-15cm from the heating lamp, the temperature should not be higher than 35-38C. The night temperature can be maintained, especially in winter, with a lamp, thermal mat, or a heater. When installing climbing branches and other items in the terrarium, make sure that the Iguana cannot crawl to the heating lamp for a distance of less than 10-15cm.
Humidity should be approximately 80% and is achieved by spraying moderately water inside the enclosure using a conventional flower or ironing sprayer or by installing a water tray. You can put a fountain with a filter. Humidity is measured with a hygrometer. It is highly undesirable to create high humidity inside the terrarium. This will inevitably lead to the multiplication of bacteria, and as a result, to infection of the Iguana with fungus. Less moisture is always better than excess moisture.
Once, or even twice a day, it is necessary to clean up the terrarium – clean the rug or straw mat, change the water in the aquarium, rinse the feeder with clean running water – an ordinary bowl, like a cat’s. Bathing is a very important part of keeping these animals. After bathing, Iguanas with even greater pleasure climb their picturesque trees, with which you will provide them, in order to warm themselves to their fullest under the lamps, closing their eyes with pleasure.
Iguana is a true vegetarian. Proper nutrition is a very important part of an Iguana’s health. Previously, for decades, it was believed that they are not only herbivores but sometimes feast on insects and small mammals. These statements can be found in the works of many herpetologists, based on the observation of some individuals in nature, mainly young Iguanas. But new studies in various populations in nature show that eating insects is more unusual than typical. In the wild, the Iguana’s diet is mostly young foliage, fruits, and flowers. Of course, they can eat insects on these leaves, but they will not do it on purpose.
From plant foods, Iguanas eat almost all greens – apples, carrots, cabbage, turnips, parsley, dandelion, beans in pods, green (sweet) peppers, raspberries, leeks, peas, blackberries, grapes, radishes, peas, parsnips, spinach, turnip tops, cucumber, green beans, dill. The latter should be given infrequently and in moderation, as large quantities of dill are harmful to Iguanas. It will be great if 2-3 times a month you finely put eggshells into the feed and give some low-fat cottage cheese.
An important rule is the maximum variety of the Iguana’s diet, i.e. do not feed the same product for, say, a week.
Features of Choice When Buying
Pet shops offer their customers not only young individuals. It is not uncommon to find Iguanas there who have visited more than one owner. They can be sick because not everyone is responsible for caring for animals. Therefore, you need to carefully choose an individual when buying. A young Iguana with no health problems has the following characteristics:
- The skin is clean, without wounds or other damage.
- The abdomen is clean, without traces of soil and feces.
- The anal opening is dry and without discharge.
- Bruises and swelling are unacceptable on the trunk.
- The animal steps on all legs.
- The limbs are the same size.
- The eyes are clean and clear.
- No discharge.
- The mucous membrane of the mouth is pink.
A trained Iguana is friendly to humans. She actively communicates with the person. But in a healthy lizard, aggressive behavior is often observed. In this case, the animal will not sit on its hands, in an attempt to escape, it may even hit with its tail.