Iguanas are an interesting family of reptiles, most notably for the fact that despite their fearsome appearance, they are actually herbivores. Although native to the tropical areas of the Caribbean and Central America, there are several different types of iguana, based primarily on the type of habitat they live in. Sadly, no matter what the nature of their habitat is, some iguana species are facing endangerment and even extinction through the destruction of forests and natural landscapes for commercial development, introduction of non-native predators, hunting and poaching, domestic animal predation, and even loss of habitat and food sources to livestock. Let’s take a closer look at the various species within the iguana family.
West Indian (Rock) Iguana – Caribbean, Bahamas, Greater Antilles
There are 16 recognizable types of West Indian, or Rock iguanas in this group, every one of which is considered endangered, and is protected by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). West Indian iguanas are land-dwellers.
Marine Iguana – Galapagos Islands
The marine iguana is indigenous to the Galapagos Islands, and is the only modern lizard in the world to have adapted to a marine life, foraging for food and living in the sea. Some of these marine iguanas develop bright teal and red hues on their skin as a result of a certain seaweed that blooms during their breeding season. Marine iguanas deliberately raise their body temperature and lower their heart rates before dives to save energy and heat, and can remain on a dive for up to half an hour.
Desert Iguana – Mojave & Sonora Deserts, Gulf of California
Just as its name implies, this species of iguana was made for the brutal climes of the deserts of the southwest. Desert iguanas are capable of changing their skin color as the day progresses as a way of managing rising temperatures from sunrise to noon. Even as other desert creatures seek refuge from the heat in burrows, the desert iguana can remain active in temperatures as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit. When crossing roads, they will often run upright on their hind legs.
Spiny Tail Iguana – Mexico, Central America
Looking like something out of a Super Mario Bros. video game, the spiny tail iguana is unmistakable for any other iguana. Although many people enjoy them as pets, these iguanas are known to be of rather nasty temperament. Spiny tail iguanas begin their lives eating insects, and gradually mature into herbivores. Juveniles are almost entirely green in color; they only develop their red and black coloring as they mature into their first year.
Land Iguana – Galapagos Islands
Just like the marine iguana, the land iguana can only be found on the Galapagos Islands. Brightly colored and dragon-like, the land iguana subsists almost entirely on the fruit and pads of the Opuntia cactus, which helps to hydrate the reptile in addition to providing nourishment. In a mating frenzy, marine iguana males have mated with land iguanas, resulting in a hybrid of the two. Darwin’s theory of evolution continues on the Galapagos!