Green Iguanas are native to Central America, South America and the Caribbean. They are both arboreal and terrestrial, their preferred habitat is shaded trees along rivers, lakes and mangrove swamps. However, they will live in relatively open, arid areas if food resources are sufficient. They also prefer to have water around as they are excellent swimmers and will dive beneath the water to avoid predators. When swimming, an iguana remains submerged, letting its four legs hang limply against its side. They propel through the water with powerful tail strokes. Although called green iguanas, these animals can vary from a uniform green colour to a mottled green and brown colour. This colour can vary according to their age, mood, temperature, health or even social status.
They can live up to 20 years, weigh around 8 kg and can reach a length of seven feet. They have a long body covered with soft leathery scales, a long tail and short legs. The tail is used as a weapon and for balance when climbing. They possess 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 when grabbed by the tail, the iguana can allow it to break, so it can escape and eventually regenerate a new one.
They have excellent vision, enabling them to detect shapes and motions at long distances. Green iguanas have very sharp teeth that are capable of shredding leaves and even human skin. They tend to breed in the dry season, ensuring that young hatch in the wet season when food is more readily available. During the mating season the male becomes more aggressive and conflicts between males are not uncommon. Courtship behaviour of males includes head bobbing, extending and retraction of the dewlap (the flap of skin under the chin), and nuzzling or biting a female’s neck.
Females lay their eggs around 65 days after mating and over the course of three days they can lay over 60 eggs. The eggs are deposited into shallow nests and incubation lasts up to 120 days. Once they have hatched the young iguanas are independent and disperse rapidly in order to survive from being eaten by predators.
Green Iguanas are primarily herbivorous, eating green leafy plants or ripe fruits, but they will occasionally eat small amounts of insects and spiders. This is particularly important for juveniles who require higher amounts of protein in their first two to three years to ensure fast growth.
Although they are found in the wild throughout Costa Rica, we feature a number of hotels where it is possible to get up close and personal to some resident Iguanas!