Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Family: Iguanidae.

Genus/species: Iguana iguana

DISTRIBUTION: Widely distributed from Mexico to southern Brazil and Paraguay, as well as on Caribbean Islands.

HABITAT: Tropical rainforests at low altitudes. Is arboreal and spends most of its time in the low canopy, 12–15 m (40–50 ft) above ground, coming down only to mate, lay eggs, and change trees.

APPEARANCE: Green iguanas are among the largest lizards in the Americas: 2 m (6.5 ft) in length, 5 kg (11 lbs) in weight. They can be various shades of green, ranging from bright green to a dull gray-green. The skin is rough with a set of pointy scales along the back. They have long fingers and claws to help them climb and grasp branches. Males have a flap of skin, called a dewlap, on the ventral side of the neck. It can be inflated to make them seem larger, to attract females, and to adjust their body temperature. The tail is almost half their length, and can be used as a whip to drive off predators. They can detach their tail if caught, and it will grow back.

DIET: Primarily herbivores, eating plants, especially leaves and fruit.

REPRODUCTION and DEVELOPMENT: Iguanas reach sexual maturity in 2–3 years. Green iguanas breed at the onset of the dry season. A month or two later, the females lay a clutch of 14–76 eggs in burrows excavated in communal nesting sites. At the end of a three month Incubation period, the newly hatched iguanas emerge. Because hatching takes place during the rainy season, food is plentiful.

MORTALITY/LONGEVITY: Reptiles, birds and mammals prey upon the hatchlings. Less than 3% live to adulthood. Adults are highly prized for their meat, and are hunted by humans. They are also captured for the pet trade.

CONSERVATION: The green iguana has become extinct in some countries and is endangered in others because of excessive hunting and habitat loss. In Costa Rica a program is being developed to breed and raise green iguanas in semi-captivity. After successful breeding, the hatchlings are maintained for 6–10 months, then released into the surrounding area with supplemental food and protection. When they are adults, some are harvested for food and to generate income by supplying leather for handicrafts. Such programs have decreased forest destruction and helped to protected wild iguanas.

REMARKS: In parts of Central America where iguanas are eaten for food, they are called “bamboo chickens” or “chicken of the trees.”

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