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The Green Iguana in Puerto Vallarta

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The Green Iguana, (Iguana iguana) was once encountered regularly in lower level semi-deciduous or tropical forests near rivers, arroyos, lagoons and mangroves. Mainly due to the massive hunting of this species for sale as pets and the loss of its habitat, their numbers have dramatically declined. They are now considered endangered and are protected by most countries where they live. In some areas, “bamboo chicken”, a meal prepared from green iguanas is still being served.

Green Iguanas come in a variety of shades ranging from gray / green to bronze or even brown / orange. Males have large Female green iguana sunning herself on a tree vertical stripes along their sides as well as higher and more branch. Photo Monachí pronounced spines along their backs and a much larger dewlap (flap of skin under their chin). Tails of both males and females are banded with light and dark thick rings. They can be found from Mexico to Brazil, Paraguay and the Caribbean Islands. They have also been introduced in parts of Florida by pet owners who either lost them or just let them go because they didn’t want to take care of them anymore.

These cold blooded reptiles (called exothermic) need plenty of sun to regulate their own body temperatures. As a matter of fact, they spend up to 98% of their time quietly perched on a tree branch. The other 2% is spent feeding, and some studies have shown that they did so between the hours of 12:00 and 3:00 pm.

Their diet is entirely vegetarian. It is possible that very small juveniles eat insects as they have been observed doing so and the study of their stomach contents show minimal amounts of what could be animal matter. But if so, they do become entirely vegetarian very early on and for the remaining part of their lives. They tend to prefer, in this order: mature leaves, flowers and fruits. The diets of Green Iguanas may vary depending on their habitat. Their preference is perhaps dictated by the nutritional value and taste of certain plants and is related to the abundance of such plants in any given area. As an example, here in our bay, studies demonstrate that they tend to prefer plants of the Ficus family while in La Mancha in Veracruz, They prefer Pink Primavera (Tabebuia rosea) leaves and flowers.

These reptiles are also pretty good at camouflage. They tend to choose trees in which they blend in and more often than not, will pick a branch over water so they may jump in and swim to safety should they be threatened. When very young, Green iguanas and Black spiny iguanas look almost identical. They have a lime green body and tail. As they gradually take on the color of mature adults. To tell the difference between a baby Green iguana and a baby Black spiny iguana, one has to look at the tail. The black spiny iguana will have a spiny ridge along the tail while the Green iguana’s is smooth.

Iguanas may congregate together while resting and soaking up the sun’s rays. But too many males put together will end up in aggressive fights that may lead to death for some, especially during the reproductive season. At the end of the rainy season, males establish a territory of about 5 meters and begin to court the females by nodding their heads up and down while expanding their dewlap. This behavior is also noted during male to male aggression and their thick, strong tail is often used as a weapon. If the tail is pulled off during a fight, it will grow back, although it will never be as pretty as the original one.

In certain areas, Green Iguana farms have been created to help save this species from extinction. There, Green iguanas are raised in order to either be released back into their habitat or to supply the pet trade demand and hence avoid their depletion in nature.

As with many other species, giving them space, quiet and respect will go a long way into restoring the natural balance of our environment.

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