Iguana. One long, crusty, greenish lizard. Yes, maybe you, like Darwin, are not very much impressed with the sight of this long lizard. Upon meeting the Galapagos land iguanas Darwin said about them:
“…they are ugly animals … from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance.”
Well alright, but don’t we all look a bit stupid from a certain angle? Luckily, we can make up for it with our extravagant personality. So, just like us, iguanas deserve a second look.
Three different species
Three species of land iguanas live in the Galapagos:
- The mustard yellowish iguana, also known as the Galapagos Land iguana, is empress among land iguanas ruling over six islands of the archipelago. Resembling the mythical dragon Conolophus subcristatus looks intimidating with its spiky crest, heavy body, and long claws. In reality, C. subcristatus is a harmless reptile with a love of sunlight and a dashing yellow and brown attire.
- Next in line is the less pompous Conolophus pallidus iguana. As its name implies it is a rather pale greenish fellow. Do not be fooled by its lack of color, C. Pallidus is a formidable, heavyweight reptile that needs no decorations to impress visitors with its regal poise. Less well-known than its yellow cousin, it is found exclusively in the Santa Fe island. Hence, its title as the Santa Fe iguana.
- Last but not least, is the most reclusive and exquisite iguana of all. Conolophus marthae, better known as iguana ‘rosada’ or pink iguana, is a magnificent creature endemic only to Wolf Volcano north of Isabela island. Under the scorching sun glowing from within its scales can be appreciated the color of fresh pink lemonade. Indeed, C. marthae is a refreshing sight to behold as it reminds any visitor of the soothing effect of beauty. What makes C. marthae special is its fight for survival. As a critically endangered species the pink iguana reminds its visitors of the fragility and great value of life.
Where to find them?
Not much different from humans iguanas’ life aspirations include lying under the sun, eating tasty fruit, prove their worth, meet love, and avoid extinction.
Cold-blooded as they are, iguanas seek sunlight like bees nectar. Not a difficult task in the ever sunny Galapagos. But, don’t iguanas get sunburn? An understandable question from a human. The reality is that iguanas have evolved a tough skin that can resist the powerful equatorial sunlight.
Because iguanas are cold-blooded they have a slow metabolism that enables them to survive with very little food. Only the most resilient animals colonized and made this volcanic archipelago a home. Today, iguanas enjoy the tasty delights offered by prickly cactus fruit and its spiny pads, insects, and carcasses if given no choice. Water is as scarce as food, so when it isn’t available they will survive with the moisture provided by their cacti diet.
Generally, iguanas are social and take to groups. Male iguanas, however, will threaten any opponent that gets too close to its territory which is typically populated by more than one female. To defend its territory the male iguana will aggressively nod its head, and sometimes a biting and tail-thrashing battle may break out.
Female iguanas are not as aggressive as their male counterparts but they compensate by being picky. They are known to not settle for just any spot to make a nest. To secure an ideal spot to lay their eggs female land iguanas are determined to travel great distances — most times ending in sandy beaches and very rarely in ashy dormant volcano craters.
Young iguanas have a hard beginning. They have to dig their way out of the nest and once out they must adapt the new dry environment while avoiding larger predators. In general, land iguanas are considered a vulnerable species likely to become endangered unless its conditions improve.
True fighters, the Galapagos land iguanas were recently given a chance to fight even harder for their survival by being reintroduced to their old home, Santiago island. New home, new life, new visitors — the land iguana has a promising 2019.
5 amazing facts about the Galapagos land iguana:
- For iguanas, 55 years is as old as you can get.
- If you do weight lifting, don’t worry. The average iguana weights 13 kilograms.
- Iguanas can stretch up to 1.5 meters.
- Female land iguana + male marine iguana = a hybrid iguana!
- There have been no iguanas in Santiago island for centuries. Find out why.