Scientific Name: Iguana iguana
Thomas Harris, Reservoir, VIC
The green iguana has a ‘third-eye’ called a parietial eye, in the middle of its forehead. This does not function in the same way as its two side eyes, but enables it to detect movement, especially from above, to help it avoid predators.
The green iguana is a fantastic looking creature. With a row of spines along its back and tail, its multitude of skin textures and its scaly beard or ‘dewlap’ under its chin, it looks like a miniature dragon. Then there’s the colour – not all green iguanas are just green. They can be blue-green, bright green, red, grey, and yellow to pale pink and lavender. In some places, the iguanas are even blue when they’re young, changing colour as they age. They have long tails that they use as whips and typically weigh 9 kilograms. They grow to 1.5 metres long from head to tail, though one as long as 2 metres has been recorded.
Green iguanas are found across northern South America and through Central America as far as Mexico and the Caribbean. They are found in tropical rain forests and spend a lot of time in the trees (they are arboreal), where they are superbly camouflaged. With their long sharp claws they are excellent climbers. They prefer areas near water and have been seen to dive straight from a tree branch into a stream. During the day, green iguanas bask in the sun to warm up.
Green iguanas are generally herbivores. They eat leaves, fruit and flowers from hundreds of species of plants. Very occasionally they will eat eggs, snails and leaf dwelling insects.
Females lay clutches of 20-70 eggs in burrows they dig in the ground. Sometimes they will dig ‘fake’ burrows and it’s thought this is to confuse potential predators. Once the eggs are buried the female leaves them without care. Sometimes she returns when they hatch, about 10 weeks later. Hatchlings are like miniature versions of the parents without the long spines. For the first year, the young stick together in groups. Green iguanas are mature at about two years.