Green iguanas are large beautiful looking lizards found in the Americas. Despite their name, Green iguanas can come in different colors and types. Their color may range from green to lavender, red, orange, black, and even reddish brown. They can also be bluish in color with bold blue markings. Green iguanas have a row of spines along their backs and along their tails, which helps to protect them from predators. Their whip-like tails can be used to deliver painful strikes and like many other lizards, when grabbed by the tail, the iguana can allow it to break, so it can escape and eventually regenerate a new one. In addition, iguanas have a well-developed dewlap, which helps regulate their body temperature. This dewlap is used in courtships and territorial displays.
The native range of Green iguanas extends from southern Mexico to central Brazil, Dominican Republic, Paraguay, and Bolivia and the Caribbean; specifically Grenada, Aruba, Curaçao, Trinidad, and Tobago, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Útila. They have been introduced to Grand Cayman, Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, Hawaii, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These lizards inhabit tropical rain forests and are often found near water. They also can be found in other types of habitat including dry forest, gallery forest, and mangroves.
Green iguanas are diurnal, arboreal lizards. They are very agile climbers, and if the lizards fall up to 50 feet (15 m) they can land unhurt (iguanas use their hind leg claws to clasp leaves and branches to break a fall). During cold, wet weather, Green iguanas prefer to stay on the ground for greater warmth. These solitary lizards usually live near water and are excellent swimmers. When swimming, an iguana remains submerged, letting its four legs hang limply against its side. They propel through the water with powerful tail strokes. When iguanas sense danger, they will usually freeze or hide.
Green iguanas are naturally herbivorous reptiles. They feed on leaves, mustard greens, dandelion greens, flowers, fruit, and growing shoots of upwards of 100 different species of plant. Wild adult Green iguanas may eat birds' eggs, grasshoppers and tree snails.
Green iguanas have a polygynandrous (promiscuous) mating system. This means that both males and females mate with multiple partners. The breeding season occurs in the dry season. During this time males tend to display more dominant behaviors, such as head bobbing and tail whipping. They also tend to develop a taller dorsal crest than females, as well as taller dorsal spines (or spikes). Females lay clutches of 20 to 71 eggs once per year during a synchronized nesting period. They give no parental protection after egg-laying, apart from defending the nesting burrow during excavation. The hatchlings emerge from the nest after 10-15 weeks of incubation. Once hatched, the young iguanas look similar to the adults in color and shape, resembling adult females more so than males and lacking dorsal spines. Juveniles stay in familial groups for the first year of their lives. Males in these groups often use their own bodies to shield and protect females from predators which makes Green iguanas to be the only species of reptile which do this. In general Green iguanas become reproductively mature when they are 2-4 years old.
Historically, Green iguana meat and eggs have been eaten as a source of protein throughout their native range, and are prized for their alleged medicinal and aphrodisiac properties. Hides of these lizards are also used producing leather. Green iguanas also suffer greatly from the international pet trade and the loss of their native habitat due to development and land conversion for grazing.
According to IUCN, the Green iguana is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
These beautiful lizards play a very important role in the ecosystem they live in. Due to their diet, Green iguanas are very important as seed dispersers. They are also a prey species to the local predators and human. Green iguanas can also indicate changes in the environment because reptiles are more sensitive to environmental changes than humans. So if to watch their responses, people can be warned about possible problems before they become too large.
Green iguanas are commonly found in captivity as a pet due to their calm disposition and bright colors. The American pet trade has put a great demand on these lizards. 800,000 iguanas were imported into the U.S. in 1995 alone, primarily originating from captive farming operations based in their native countries (Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, and Panama). However, these animals are demanding to care for properly over their lifetime, and many die within a few years of acquisition.