Published December 18, 2023. Open access.

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Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Iguanidae | Iguana iguana

English common name: Green Iguana.

Spanish common name: Iguana verde.

Recognition: ♂♂ 201 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=58 cm. ♀♀ 144 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=41.1 cm..1,2 The Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) can easily be identified from other similar-sized saurians in the Pacific lowlands of Ecuador by having a large, flat, round scale below the ear-opening (the subtympanic plate).2 Adult Green Iguanas are also unmistakable by their large size, high vertebral crest, and their long, whiplike tail.1,2 In the breeding season, the largest males adopt a red-orange hue, while juveniles display a vibrant green dorsal coloration (Fig. 1).1,2

Figure showing variation among individuals of Iguana iguana

Figure 1: Individuals of Iguana iguana: Reserva Las Balsas, Santa Elena province, Ecuador (); Hato La Aurora, Casanare department, Colombia (); Bucaramanga, Santander department, Colombia (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Iguana iguana is an extremely common species that inhabits a wide range of habitats, from rainforests to seasonally dry forests and xeric shrublands, especially along rivers.1,2 It also occurs in heavily modified habitats such as rural gardens and plantations.3 Individuals of all age categories are arboreal, but adults in particular spend most of their time at or near the canopy up to 30 m above the ground.1,2 During the day, Green Iguanas are active on branches and vegetation, but also forage at ground level.3 At night, they roost on shrubs and trees and tend to form aggregations.1,3 If disturbed and if above water, they can plunge and dive to the bottom.2 Green Iguanas are skilled swimmers, venturing far from the shore and even into the ocean.1,2 Although typically solitary, they occasionally form groups of up to 20 individuals, with a single large male and many smaller males and females.1 There is a clear hierarchy among males based on size.1 While predominantly herbivorous, feeding on leaves, flowers, and fruits, adults occasionally consume bird eggs and carrion,4 and young iguanas also incorporate insects and snails into their diet.1,2,4 During the breeding season, large males establish large (up to 9,000 m2)4 territories and engage in elaborate courtship rituals before copulating with multiple females.1,2 Females lay clutches of 9–71 eggs in nest burrows in banks or beaches along rivers,4 with an incubation period of approximately 65–115 days.1,2 Juveniles routinely fall prey to fish, birds, mammalian carnivores,1,3 lizards (including Ameiva ameiva),4 and snakes (Oxybelis aeneus1); adults are preyed upon by jaguars,2 monkeys,3 crocodilians (Caiman crocodilus and Crocodylus acutus),1,2 and boids (including Boa constrictor,5 Boa imperator,3 and Eunectes murinus6).

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..7 Iguana iguana is listed in this category because the species is widely-distributed, thrives in human-modified environments, and has high population densities.7 The range of I. iguana is actually increasing as a result of its introduction into Florida, Japan, and numerous tropical islands across the globe.7

Distribution: Iguana iguana is native to the lowlands of Central America and northern South America, from México to Paraguay and southeastern Brazil. Green Iguanas occur naturally in numerous Caribbean islands, but have been introduced into many more tropical islands as well as into mainland United States (Florida). In Ecuador, the species is known only from the Pacific lowlands (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Iguana iguana in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Iguana iguana in Ecuador. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The name Iguana is thought to have originated from Cariban languages, specifically from the word iwana, which is the name Arawak peoples may have used to refer to this group of lizards.8

See it in the wild: Green Iguanas can be seen with almost complete certainty in semi-open riparian habitats throughout their area of distribution in Ecuador. They are particularly abundant at Jorupe Reserve, Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco, and in urban parks of Guayaquil.

Special thanks to Emmanuel Van Heygen for symbolically adopting the Green Iguana and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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Author: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Photographer: Jose VieirabAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2023) Green Iguana (Iguana iguana). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/LFLP3990

Literature cited:

  1. Savage JM (2002) The amphibians and reptiles of Costa Rica, a herpetofauna between two continents, between two seas. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 934 pp.
  2. Avila-Pires TCS (1995) Lizards of Brazilian Amazonia (Reptilia: Squamata). Zoologische Verhandelingen 299: 1–706.
  3. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  4. Krysko KL, Enge KM, Donlan EM, Seitz JC, Golden EA (2007) Distribution, natural history, and impacts of the introduced Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) in Florida. Iguana 14: 1–11.
  5. Photo by Edison Rivero.
  6. Rivas JA (2000) The life history of the Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus), with emphasis of its reproductive biology. PhD thesis, The University of Tennessee, 155 pp.
  7. Bock B, Malone CL, Knapp C, Aparicio J, Avila-Pires TCS, Cacciali P, Caicedo JR, Chaves G, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Gutiérrez-Cárdenas P, Lamar W, Moravec J, Perez P, Porras LW, Rivas G, Scott N, Solórzano A, Sunyer J (2020) Iguana iguana. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2022-2.RLTS.T174481A218317281.en
  8. Allsopp R (1996) Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 776 pp.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Iguana iguana in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaNariñoCORPOICAPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoDirección General Marítima (DIMAR)Pinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoRío GuaguíiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaNariñoTumacoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorAzuayPonce ErníqueziNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorAzuayRío RircayReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorBolívarEcheandíaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCañarLa TroncalReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorCañarManta RealGuerra-Correa & Rodríguez-Guerra 2020
EcuadorChimborazoLa IslaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorCotopaxiBosque Privado JDLSPellet 2017
EcuadorCotopaxiYakusinchiPhoto by Jane Sloan
EcuadorEl OroCascadas de Manuel Garzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroChorro ViringoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEl OroHumedal La TembladeraGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroLa PuntillaGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroRepresa TahuinGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroReserva Militar ArenillasGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorEl OroZaruma, 9 mi S ofTCWC 24095; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveOrtega-Andrade et al. 2010
EcuadorEsmeraldasBoca de OstionesiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque Protector La ChiquitaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque Protector La PerlaPhoto by Plácido Palacios
EcuadorEsmeraldasCamarones, 2 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasChucaple, 2 km N ofReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa CucarachaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasMoreno VeraReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasMuisneiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasPlaya EscondidaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasPueblo NuevoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan AndrésReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan LorenzoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasSúaKU 142681; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasTaticaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasTonsupaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasBosque Protector Cerro BlancoAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorGuayasCaliza GuayasReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasCIPORTMZUA.Re.0067; examined
EcuadorGuayasDaule, 3 km N ofUSNM 200733; VertNet
EcuadorGuayasEl MangoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasEstero de AcumbeCuadrado et al. 2020
EcuadorGuayasGuayaquil, La BahíaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasHacienda Las HabrasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasIsla Puná, Subida AltaNavarrete 2011
EcuadorGuayasIsla SantayCruz-García et al. 2023
EcuadorGuayasMilagroUSNM 200731; VertNet
EcuadorGuayasNaranjalReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasPedro CarboiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasRepresa Daule-PeripaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGuayasRío DauleReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorGuayasSanta Lucía, 7 km N ofUSNM 200732; VertNet
EcuadorGuayasVilla LomaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaBosque Petrificado PuyangoGarzón-Santomaro et al. 2019
EcuadorLojaCabeza de Toro, 5 km W ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLojaGuanábanaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaJorupe ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLojaMangahurcoPhoto by Fausto Siavichay
EcuadorLojaRío BoquerónAlmendariz & Brito 2011
EcuadorLojaRío CatamayoPhoto by Pablo Loaiza
EcuadorLojaRío CochurcoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueMiyata 1976
EcuadorLos RíosJaunecheAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorLos RíosMontalvoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorLos RíosOutskirts of BabahoyoThis work
EcuadorLos RíosRío San PaulReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorLos RíosVincesUSNM 200729; VertNet
EcuadorManabíBoca de ChilaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíBosque Seco Lalo LoorHamilton et al. 2005
EcuadorManabíCañaveralReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíCharapotóGuerra-Correa & Rodríguez-Guerra 2020
EcuadorManabíDon JuanHamilton et al. 2005
EcuadorManabíEl Carmen, 1 km E ofReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíHotel Punta AzulReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíJama CampayReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíLa CrespaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíLos Senderos de TachilaPhoto by Tina Swan
EcuadorManabíMachalillaAlmendariz & Carr 2007
EcuadorManabíMantaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíPlaya DoradaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíPortoviejoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíReserva Jama CoaqueLynch et al. 2016
EcuadorManabíRío CanutoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíRío JamaPhoto by Lisa Brunetti
EcuadorManabíRocafuerte, 1 km E ofReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíSucre, 4 km N ofUSNM 200728; VertNet
EcuadorManabíTito SantosHamilton et a. 2005
EcuadorPichinchaEl Monte LodgePhoto by Tom Quesenberry
EcuadorPichinchaKapari LodgeReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaRancho SuamoxPhoto by Rafael Ferro
EcuadorSanta ElenaComuna Loma AltaReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorSanta ElenaSanta ElenaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanta ElenaValdiviaiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruPiuraEmbalse PoechosiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruPiuraLobitosiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruPiuraMalingasiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruPiuraMáncoraiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruPiuraPiuraAMNH 66658; VertNet
PeruPiuraPocitasiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruPiuraTalaraROM 42484; VertNet
PeruPiuraTambogrande, 6 km N ofLSUMZ 35246; VertNet
PeruTumbesCabo IngaTello 1998
PeruTumbesMatapaloKU219831; VertNet
PeruTumbesRica PlayaiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruTumbesTumbesiNaturalist; photo examined
PeruTumbesZorritosiNaturalist; photo examined