September 9th means one thing: National Iguana Awareness Day! Are you aware of iguanas? Maybe you think you are, but how much do you really know about these lovable lizards? If the answer is “not much”, never fear: we’re here to beef up your igua-knowledge.
First things first: what is an iguana? Well, depends on who you ask. The word “iguana” comes from “iwana”, the word used by the indigenous Taino people of the Caribbean to describe the lizards. It was then used as the genus name for two lizards: The green iguana (Iguana iguana) and the Lesser Antillean Iguana (Iguana delicatissima). These lizards are large (up to six feet long), with long tails, a row of spines down their backs, and a large flap of skin hanging from the neck that’s known as a dewlap.
However, the word iguana is also used to refer to many members of the Iguanidae family, which includes the genus Iguana and many other related lizards. This includes the iguanas of the Galapagos Islands: the land iguanas in the genus Conolophus and the marine iguanas of the genus Amblyrhynchus. Marine iguanas are the only species of lizard able to search for its food in the sea, making it one of the few marine reptiles in existence. Other marine reptiles include sea snakes, sea turtles, and the saltwater crocodile.
The family Iguanidae also includes other lizard types, including collared lizards and horned lizards. While they aren’t commonly referred as iguanas, they are closely related. Unlike true iguanas which prefer tropical environments, the horned and collared lizards are found most commonly in the deserts of the southwestern United States.
The Lesser Antillean Iguana is only found on a small group of islands in the Caribbean, and is considered endangered due to habitat destruction. The green iguana, conversely, is quite common and widespread throughout its range in Central and South America. In fact, the green iguana’s popularity as a pet has actually made it an invasive species in many areas, including Hawaii, Texas, Florida and the islands of Fiji. Captive animals escape into the wild, where they form breeding populations and cause harm to the local ecosystem. While extensive studies on the impact of non-native green iguanas have not been undertaken, it is known that they can quickly become a nuisance, eating large amounts of vegetation and digging burrows that can disrupt sidewalks and sea walls.
So, before you get that pet iguana, ask yourself if you’re prepared for the responsibility. And remember, if you’re not ready to care for a real iguana, you can always get yourself some of our Incredible Creatures iguanas, which are so lifelike it’s almost like having the real thing, but without all the obligation!