Invasive Species Compendium

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Datasheet

Iguana iguana
(iguana)

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Datasheet

Iguana iguana (iguana)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 04 September 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Iguana iguana
  • Preferred Common Name
  • iguana
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Reptilia
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • I. iguana is native to Central America, the tropical parts of South America and some eastern Caribbean islands. Populations of I. iguana may in fact be comprised of more than one...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Iguana iguana (iguana); the iguana pictured was a medium-sized female (1.2 kg, 300 mm snout-vent length, 565 mm tail length). Thought to be an escaped pet, which was eventually retrieved and dealt with by Queensland Government. Ross River, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. April 2011.
TitleAdult
CaptionIguana iguana (iguana); the iguana pictured was a medium-sized female (1.2 kg, 300 mm snout-vent length, 565 mm tail length). Thought to be an escaped pet, which was eventually retrieved and dealt with by Queensland Government. Ross River, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. April 2011.
Copyright©Elizabeth A. Rosnik
Iguana iguana (iguana); the iguana pictured was a medium-sized female (1.2 kg, 300 mm snout-vent length, 565 mm tail length). Thought to be an escaped pet, which was eventually retrieved and dealt with by Queensland Government. Ross River, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. April 2011.
AdultIguana iguana (iguana); the iguana pictured was a medium-sized female (1.2 kg, 300 mm snout-vent length, 565 mm tail length). Thought to be an escaped pet, which was eventually retrieved and dealt with by Queensland Government. Ross River, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. April 2011.©Elizabeth A. Rosnik
Iguana iguana (iguana); the iguana pictured was a medium-sized female (1.2 kg, 300mm snout-vent length, 565 mm tail length). Thought to be an escaped pet, which was eventually retrieved and dealt with by Queensland Government. Ross River, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. April 2011.
TitleAdult
CaptionIguana iguana (iguana); the iguana pictured was a medium-sized female (1.2 kg, 300mm snout-vent length, 565 mm tail length). Thought to be an escaped pet, which was eventually retrieved and dealt with by Queensland Government. Ross River, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. April 2011.
Copyright©Elizabeth A. Rosnik
Iguana iguana (iguana); the iguana pictured was a medium-sized female (1.2 kg, 300mm snout-vent length, 565 mm tail length). Thought to be an escaped pet, which was eventually retrieved and dealt with by Queensland Government. Ross River, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. April 2011.
AdultIguana iguana (iguana); the iguana pictured was a medium-sized female (1.2 kg, 300mm snout-vent length, 565 mm tail length). Thought to be an escaped pet, which was eventually retrieved and dealt with by Queensland Government. Ross River, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. April 2011.©Elizabeth A. Rosnik

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Iguana iguana (Linnaeus, 1758)

Preferred Common Name

  • iguana

Other Scientific Names

  • Hypsilophus tuberculatus Fitzinger 1843
  • Hypsilophus tuberculatus Wagler 1830
  • Iguana coerulea Daudin 1802
  • Iguana coerulea Spix (non Daudin) 1825
  • Iguana emarginata Spix 1825
  • Iguana Hernandessi JAN 1857 (nomen nudum fide Smith & Taylor 1950)
  • Iguana iguana Conant & Collins 1991: 95
  • Iguana iguana Liner 1994
  • Iguana iguana Schwartz & Henderson 1991: 419
  • Iguana lophryoides Spix 1825
  • Iguana minima Laurenti 1768
  • Iguana sapidissima Merrem 1820
  • Iguana sapidissima Wied 1824
  • Iguana squamosa Spix 1825
  • Iguana tuberculata Boulenger 1885: 189
  • Iguana tuberculata Cope 1886: 270
  • Iguana tuberculata Dumeril & Bibron 1837: 203
  • Iguana tuberculata Gunther 1885: 56
  • Iguana tuberculata Laurenti 1768
  • Iguana viridis Spix 1825
  • Iguana vulgaris Link 1806
  • Lacerta Igvana Linnaeus 1758: 206
  • Prionodus iguana Wagler 1828

International Common Names

  • English: common iguana; green iguana
  • Spanish: gallina de palo; iguana; iguana comun; iguana verde
  • French: iguane; iguane commun; iguane vert

Local Common Names

  • Fiji: American iguana
  • Germany: Grüner Leguan
  • Netherlands: groen leguaan
  • Saint Lucia: gwo zandoli; léza
  • Sweden: grön leguan

Summary of Invasiveness

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I. iguana is native to Central America, the tropical parts of South America and some eastern Caribbean islands. Populations of I. iguana may in fact be comprised of more than one species (Malone and Davis 2004; Henderson and Powell 2009). For example, conservationists on Saint Lucia are referring to the native population as Iguana cf iguana (meaning similar to but not confirmed to be the same as Iguana iguana) to distinguish it from introduced iguanas believed to be of Central American origin (Morton and Krauss, 2011).

I. iguana is a popular pet, and the escape or deliberate release of unwanted pet iguanas is the pathway for their introduction outside their native range for almost all instances where the pathway has been identified. Populations of I. iguana, including introduced populations, can reach very high densities for such a large lizard; for example, Rodda (1992) reported 364 individuals per hectare in Venezuela and Lopez-Torres et al. (2012) reported 223 per hectare in Puerto Rico.

They are a fecund species, laying clutches of 14-77 eggs (Wiewandt, 1982). In native West Indian populations, clutch size tends to be at the lower end of this scale, with the larger clutches being found in mainland populations that are the source of introductions (Powell and Henderson, 2009). They can utilize a wide range of tropical and sub-tropical, xeric and mesic habitats, including urban areas (Powell and Henderson, 2005), and eat a wide variety of plant foods (Baer, 2003). Adults have home ranges of a few hectares, but newly hatched juveniles can disperse over 1.5 km in the first few weeks after hatching (Graham and Morton, 2004). Adult females may migrate up to 3 km between nesting areas and their normal home range (Montgomery et al., 1973). I. iguana is an excellent swimmer in fresh and saltwater and can remain submerged for over 4 hours (Moberley, 1968; Breuil, 2002). In Fiji, I. iguana is believed to have colonized neighbouring islands by swimming to them (Veen, 2011).

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Reptilia
  •                     Order: Sauria
  •                         Family: Iguanidae
  •                             Genus: Iguana
  •                                 Species: Iguana iguana

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The Iguanidae have undergone considerable systematic revision and debate, yet the taxonomy of Iguana iguana remains unresolved.  According to the classification of Frost and Etheridge (1989, cited by Falcón et al., 2012), the Iguaninae contain eight extant genera and approximately 35 species. The genus Iguana (Laurenti, 1768) is composed of two extant species: I. iguana and I.delicatissima (Laurenti, 1768), which share a preference for arboreal habitats. The latter species is restricted to the Lesser Antilles, whereas the native range of I. iguana covers a large area of the continental Neotropics and some of the Lesser Antilles (Falcón et al., 2012).

Various subspecies have been proposed as geographical races of I. iguana, and native Antillean populations may be sufficiently distinct genetically from continental populations to warrant recognition as distinct species (Powell, 2004). Malone and Davis (2004) conducted genetic analyses that ‘imply that at least three cryptic species may exist [within the taxon currently recognized as I. iguana] under the evolutionary and phylogenetic species concepts (Central American, South American, South American [Caribbean] plus Lesser Antillean).’ They also indicated that their data supported at least two radiations into the Lesser Antilles, ‘first onto Saint Lucia and more recently onto Saba and Montserrat.’ Conservationists on Saint Lucia are referring to the native population as Iguana cf. iguana (meaning similar to, but not confirmed to be the same as Iguana iguana) to distinguish it from introduced iguanas believed to be of Central American origin (Morton and Krauss, 2011). Powell (2004) and Powell and Henderson (2005) highlighted the importance of insular populations classified currently as I. iguana and the risks of assuming they comprise a single species.

Description

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I. iguana is a large lizard that can reach a total length of 2 m (Bosch and Werring, 1991) and weigh over 5 kg (M Morton, pers. obs.), but is typically a lot lighter, e.g. 0.4-2.15 kg (Weiwandt, 1982; Rodda, 2003). The tail is 2.5-3 times the length of the body. The toes are long, with long curved claws for climbing. There is a large dewlap of skin, with spines along its edge, under the chin, used for visual interspecific communication (Dugan, 1982) and a row of flexible spines running from the nape of the neck down the back and onto the first part of the tail. In adult I. iguana the nuchal crest spines typically measure > 15 mm and are thus larger than those of most other iguanids, with the exception of Centrosaura spp. (Falcón et al., 2012). The tail can be used defensively like a whip (Henderson and Powell, 2009).

As implied by their common name, most green iguanas are predominantly green in colour.  However, colouration is very variable, including mostly black, grey, white, bluish, green or brown individuals. During the mating season, males, and sometimes females, especially of Central American populations, may become partially or entirely orange. Colour may be largely uniform but is typically overlaid with patterning: darker spots, blotches or bands that may be solid or marbled. Dark banding on the tail is common. Iris colour varies as well, from pale orange to deep brown. Adults are sexually dimorphic, with males larger than females and having enlarged femoral pores (Rodda, 2003). Male dewlaps are more prominent and their jowls larger (Falcón et al., 2012). Juveniles are small, less than 30 cm total length, and typically a vivid green colour either with or without darker streaks or marbled bands. The dorsal row of spines in juveniles is present but much reduced compared to adults. In hatchlings and juveniles, sexual dimorphism is not apparent; however, their sex can be determined by eversion of the hemipenis or by measuring the cloacal width, and pouch depth, respectively (Falcón et al., 2012).

In many countries where the green iguana has been introduced, native – and globally endangered – iguana populations also exist and distinguishing the two may not be straightforward. Martinique, Guadeloupe (and associated islands), Anguilla and Saint-Barthélemy all have populations of the Lesser Antillean iguana (I. delicatissima) and introduced I. iguana populations.

The Lesser Antillean iguana lacks the enlarged subtympanic (below the external eardrum) scale found in the green iguana. On Saint Lucia, the native iguana, Iguana cf iguana, can be distinguished from the introduced green iguana by the latter having more numerous and pronounced tubercles (raised conical scales) on the sides of the neck. On Grand Cayman, the blue iguana (Cyclura lewisi)has no spines along the edge of the dewlap, a thicker tail without obvious banding and no enlarged subtympanic scale (Blue Iguana Recovery Program, 2012). The same differences apply to the Lesser Caymans iguana (Cyclura nubila caymanensis) on Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, and the Mona ground iguana (Cyclura cornuta stejnegeri) in Puerto Rico, though this species is restricted to Mona Island, which has not been invaded by I. iguana like the mainland of Puerto Rico (Powell and Henderson, 2012). The three iguana species of Brachylophus on Fiji also lack enlarged subtympanic scales and spines along the dewlap edge. Furthermore, the Fijian Crested iguana (Brachylophus vitiensis), which usually has one horizontal band that runs from the tympanum to the dorsal crest fold, tend to lack the vertical stripes or only show broad light-coloured banding (Falcon et al., 2012).

Distribution

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Native Range

I. iguana is found only in the New World, where it occurs throughout the neotropics at almost all lowland locations (up to 1,000 m above sea level), from Mexico (Sinaloa and Veracruz) south to Paraguay and south-eastern Brazil (Rodda, 2003). It is also found on numerous continental islands, including Cozumel, San Andrés and Providencia, Roatán, Utila, Cayo Icacos, Trinidad and Tobago (Krysko et al., 2007), and is believed to be native on some eastern Caribbean islands: Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Montserrat and Saba (Henderson and Powell, 2009).

Known Introduced Range

In the USA, I. iguana has been introduced into, and established in, southern Florida (Krysko et al., 2007; 2011); Hawaii (on Oahu and Maui) (Hawaii Department of Agriculture, 2009), and Texas (Kraus, 2009). It has also been introduced into, but not established in, California, Indiana and Massachusetts (Kraus, 2009).

In Japan, introductions onto Ogasawara Island are reported to have not established (Kraus, 2009), while those on Ishigaki Island have (Falcón et al., 2012).

There have also been established introductions into Fiji (on Qamea, Matagi, Laucala, Taveuni and Koro Islands) (Thomas et al., 2011); the Canary Islands (Kraus, 2009) and Israel (Shacham and Nemtzov, 2008). Sightings have been reported from Italy (Arena et al., 2012).

In the West Indies it has been introduced into Martinique, Marie-Galant, Les Iles des Saintes, Guadeloupe, Antigua, Barbuda, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, Anguilla, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint Croix, US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Grand Cayman (with sightings from Little Cayman and Cayman Brac), Swan Islands, Turks and Caicos and The Bahamas (Powell and Henderson, 2012). The population on Antigua may not have established (Lindsay and Mussington, 2009).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

IsraelPresent2008Introduced1990Shacham and Nemtzov, 2008; ISSG, 2011Soreq River mouth, Hulda Forest, MevaseretZion, Kibbuz Hafez Hayyim, Elot Junction, Elat Fie
JapanPresentIntroducedPresent based on regional distribution
-Ryukyu ArchipelagoPresentIntroducedFalcón et al., 2012Ishigaki Island

Africa

Spain
-Canary IslandsPresentIntroducedKraus, 2009

North America

MexicoPresentNativeLeenders, 2001
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-FloridaPresentIntroduced Invasive Krysko et al., 2007; Kern Jr, 2009; ISSG, 2011; Krysko et al., 2011First reported breeding in 1966
-HawaiiPresent2009Introduced1950sHawaii Department of Agriculture, 2009Oahu and Maui
-TexasPresent2004Introduced1990sMeshaka et al., 2004; Wikipedia, 2012Rio Grande Valley

Central America and Caribbean

AnguillaPresent2012Introduced1995 Invasive Censky et al., 1998; ISSG, 2011Over-water dispersal
Antigua and BarbudaPresentIntroduced1990sLindsay and Mussington, 2009; Lindsay and Mussington, 2009Antigua: At sea port, 1994. Washed up on northen and eastern beaches after Hurricane Luis in 1995.
BahamasPresentIntroducedPowell and Henderson, 2012
BelizePresentNativeLeenders, 2001
British Virgin IslandsPresentIntroducedPowell and Henderson, 2012
Cayman IslandsPresent2012Introduced Invasive Connolly, 2012Grand Cayman, Brac, Little Cayman
Costa RicaPresentNativeLeenders, 2001
Dominican Republic2012Introduced1990s Invasive Pasachnik et al., 2012Coastal areas and tropical inland locations
El SalvadorPresentNativeLeenders, 2001
GrenadaPresentNativeHenderson and Powell, 2009
GuadeloupePresentIntroduced Invasive Breuil, 2002; ISSG, 2011
GuatemalaPresentNativeLeenders, 2001
HondurasPresentNativeLeenders, 2001
MartiniquePresentIntroduced1960s Invasive Breuil, 2009; ISSG, 2011Fort Saint Louis (breeding); sightings from other scattered locations
MontserratPresentNativeHenderson and Powell, 2009
Netherlands AntillesPresentNativeGúzman Rodríguez L, personal communication ; Powell and Henderson, 2012; Van and Buurt Debrot, 2012Bonaire, Saba, Curaçao, Aruba
NicaraguaPresentNativeLeenders, 2001
PanamaPresentNativeLeenders, 2001
Puerto RicoPresent2012Introduced1974 Invasive ISSG, 2011; López-Torres et al., 2012Eastern and northeastern Puerto Rico, Isla Maqueyes, Cayo Icacos, Culebra
Saint LuciaPresentNative Invasive ISSG, 2011; Morton and Krauss, 2011Native and introduced (2002-2007) populations, possibly separate species. Soufriere and environs, southwestern Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresentNativeLazell, 1973
Sint MaartenPresentIntroducedISSG, 2011; Powell and Henderson, 2012; Van and Buurt Debrot, 2012Sint Maarten and Ilet Pinel, Tintamarre
Trinidad and TobagoPresentNativeKrysko et al., 2007
Turks and Caicos IslandsPresentIntroducedEdgar, 2010; ISSG, 2011Providenciales, Grand Turk
United States Virgin IslandsPresentIntroducedPowell and Henderson, 2012

South America

BoliviaPresentNativeLeenders, 2001
BrazilPresentNativeLeenders, 2001
ColombiaPresentNativeLeenders, 2001
EcuadorPresentNativeLeenders, 2001
GuyanaPresentNativeLeenders, 2001
ParaguayPresentNativePasachnik et al., 2012
PeruPresentNativeLeenders, 2001
SurinamePresentSchotman, 1989; Leenders, 2001
VenezuelaPresentSchotman, 1989

Europe

ItalyReported present or known to be presentIntroducedArena et al., 2012Sighted

Oceania

FijiPresentIntroduced2000 Invasive ISSG, 2011; Thomas et al., 2011Qamea, Matagi, Laucala, Taveuni, Koro, Wakaya, Vanua Levu Islands

Habitat

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I. iguana is found in both xeric habitats, where it tends to have a clumped distribution, and mesic habitats, where individuals tend to be more dispersed (Henderson and Powell, 2009). They occur throughout the lowland neotropics up to 1,000 m above sea level, and also, as an alien species, in subtropical Florida.

In forested areas they are primarily arboreal and appear to select trees near water into which they can escape when threatened. In Puerto Rico, they are common in secondary forest dominated by the introduced trees Albizia procera and Spathodea campanulata (Falcón et al., 2012), two species that do not seem to form part of their diet.

In xeric habitats they may be more terrestrial and favour areas where burrows, the sea or rock crevices offer a means of escape (Rodda, 2003). Xeric habitats include desert, semidesert and steppe as well as small offshore islands (Rodda, 2003; Powell and Henderson, 2012). I. iguana is also found in mangroves (e.g. Swierk and Langkilde, 2009; Van Veen, 2011), beaches (Henderson and Powell, 2009) and they also use urban habitats where, in the absence of trees, they use culverts, drainage pipes and piles of debris for shelter (Meshaka et al., 2004; Krysko et al., 2007; Morton and Krauss, 2011). They are known to show a preference for disturbed sites near standing water. They are often found associated with waterways, such as bays, canals, ponds and ditches (Meshaka et al. 2004). Cliffs are often used when present (Henderson and Powell, 2009).

Juveniles use different areas of their habitat to adults, being found in lower thorny scrub, often away from water. In comparison, adults in forested areas select taller trees near water (Rodda, 2003). Adult females may use different habitat to nest in than their normal home range, migrating up to 3 km between the two (Montgomery et al., 1973).

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial
Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Urban / peri-urban areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Buildings Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Wetlands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rocky areas / lava flows Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Scrub / shrublands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Deserts Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Arid regions Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Littoral
Coastal areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Freshwater
Irrigation channels Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rivers / streams Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Brackish
Estuaries Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)

Biology and Ecology

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Reproduction

Many studies have shown that I. iguana breeds (mates and nests) during the dry season and neonates hatch at the end of the dry season or the start of the wet season (Rodda, 2003). For I. iguana in the Northern Hemisphere, this usually follows a pattern of mating territory formation by males late in the year, mating in January-December and then nesting 1-2 months later in February-March. Hatchlings emerge after about 3 months of egg incubation, usually during July and August (Rodda, 2003; Townsend et al., 2003). This pattern may shift forward by a month or two with increasing northerly latitude (Rand and Greene, 1982). Alien I. iguana broadly follow this pattern in Florida and Saint Lucia (Krysko et al., 2007; Morton and Krauss 2011).

Eggs are deposited in an underground nest chamber at the end of a tunnel that the female digs through sand or well-drained soil, as eggs cannot survive inundation (Rand and Dugan, 1983; Bock and Rand, 1989). I. iguana shows considerable nest site fidelity (Falcón et al., 2012). Multiple females may nest communally at the same spot, though not cooperatively; at these sites, complex underground nests may be built, with up to 24 m of interconnected tunnels and multiple entrances (Rand, 1968; Rand and Dugan 1983). Females may migrate several kilometres to reach nesting sites outside their normal home range of a few hectares (Bock et al., 1989; Rand et al., 1989).

The size of I. iguana clutches varies a lot, from 14 to 76 eggs (Weiwandt, 1982). It seems that native West Indian populations tend to produce smaller clutches, whilst mainland populations, which are the source of alien invasive populations elsewhere, have larger clutch sizes (Henderson and Powell 2009; Morton and Krauss 2011).

Lifecycle Stages

I. iguana eggs are elongated, soft-shelled and about 40 x 26 mm; egg and clutch size may be lower in younger females (Weiwandt, 1982). They incubate underground for about 90 days (Rodda, 2003). Reported egg survival to hatching varies greatly between studies, from 1.4-95% (Rodda, 2003). Juveniles are small at hatching - about 60 mm long excluding the tail, 240 mm in total, and weigh 15 g (Alberts et al., 2003).

Estimates of juvenile survival are low (about 3% at 12 months) but are likely to be underestimates as they do not distinguish mortality from dispersal (Rodda, 2003). In the first two weeks of life, native iguana hatchlings in Saint Lucia moved total distances of 254-1,560 m and dispersed (first to last location) 233-1,270 m (Graham and Morton, 2004; unpublished data). In contrast, Escobar et al., (2010) radio-tracked head-started I. iguana released at 2 years of age in Costa Rica. They moved 36-458 m, and dispersed 24-154 m.

Juvenile growth rate is fairly low (0.23-0.58 mm/day; Rodda, 2003). Females reach reproductive maturity at a length (excluding tail) of about 250-270 mm, aged about 2-4 years. However, the age of first nesting in some females may be at 3-8 years, and some females may also skip egg laying in certain years (Zug and Rand, 1987; Rand and Bock, 1992). Age of first breeding in males is not known for free-living iguanas. In captivity, males were sexually competent at 170 mm snout-vent length (i.e. excluding tail), but too small to dominate older males and hold mating territories (Rodda, 2003). Survival in adult female I. iguana has been estimated at 40% (Rand and Bock, 1992). A maximum longevity of about 10 years has been suggested for free-living I. iguana; the maximum recorded lifespan in captivity is 19.8 years (Rodda, 2003; HAGR, 2009).

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Ardea alba Juvenile not specific Henderson and Powell, 2009
Basiliscus basiliscus Predator Juvenile not specific Rodda, 2003
Boa constrictor Adult Female/Adult Male/Juvenile Rodda, 2003
Buteogallus meridionalis Juvenile Rodda, 2003
Caiman crocodilus Predator All Stages not specific
Canis familiaris Adult Female/Adult Male Rodda, 2003
Canis latrans Eggs not specific Rodda, 2003
Caracara cheriway Juvenile Rodda, 2003
Cathartes aura Eggs Rodda, 2003
Cebus olivaceus Adult Female/Adult Male Rodda, 2003
Cerdocyon thous Adult Female/Adult Male Rodda, 2003
Coragyps atratus Eggs Rodda, 2003
Corallus grenadensis
Corallus hortulanus Juvenile
Crocodylus acutus Predator All Stages not specific Rodda, 2003
Crotophaga major Juvenile Rodda, 2003
Ctenosaura similis Juvenile Rodda, 2003
Didelphis marsupialis Eggs/Juvenile Rodda, 2003
Elanoides forficatus Juvenile Rodda, 2003
Falco sparvarius Juvenile not specific
Felis catus Juvenile Rodda, 2003
Galictis vittata Adult Female/Adult Male Rodda, 2003
Harpagus bidentatus Juvenile Rodda, 2003
Herpestes javanicus Eggs/Juvenile
Homo sapiens Adult Female/Adult Male/Eggs to species Rodda, 2003
Loxocemus bicolor Eggs Rodda, 2003
Lutra longicaudis Eggs Rodda, 2003
Nasua narica Rodda, 2003
Nasua nasua Eggs Rodda, 2003
Oxybelis aeneus Juvenile Rodda, 2003
Pandion haliaetus Juvenile not specific Rodda, 2003
Panthera onca Adult Female/Adult Male Rodda, 2003
Philander opossum Eggs/Juvenile Rodda, 2003
Procyon lotor Adult Female/Adult Male/Juvenile not specific Meshaka et al., 2004; Rodda, 2003; Smith et al., 2006
Quiscalus Juvenile Rodda, 2003
Ramphastos sulfuratus Juvenile Rodda, 2003
Sarcoramphus papa Adult Female/Adult Male Rodda, 2003
Sphyraena Predator Adult Female/Adult Male not specific Veen R Van, 2011
Trimorphodon biscutatus Juvenile Rodda, 2003

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Invasive populations of I. iguana often reach greater densities than indigenous populations. This has been attributed in part to predation and greater hunting pressure in their native range. Humans are regarded as their main enemy (Falcón et al., 2012). Removal of alien raccoons, Procyon lotor, from Hugh Taylor Birch State Park in Florida resulted in a large and rapid increase in the green iguana population (Meshaka et al., 2009).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Introduction pathways to new locations

Kraus (2009) documented the introduction of I. iguana to 20 locations around the world. The pathway for 11 of these introductions was identified and 10 of the pathways were the pet trade (the eleventh, to Martinique, was the zoo trade). Hoover (1998) reported that I. iguana made up 45% of all live reptile imports into the USA in 1995, equating to over one million individuals. Tens of thousands of baby green iguanas are imported into the state of Florida from Latin America for the pet trade every year (Meshaka et al., 2004).

Between 1997 and 2012, CITES recorded quotas for over 5 million live I. iguana to be exported from Central and South American countries; on average, over 300,000 per year (UNEP-WCMC 2012). In 1999, 225,000 CITES-listed reptiles were imported into the European Union, of which 45% were live I. iguana. 85% of these I. iguana were captive-bred individuals from Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala or Nicaragua (Berkhoudt 2003). I. iguana is on Appendix II of CITES.

Arena et al. (2012) assessed the IAS risk of reptile species in the EU pet trade and classed the ‘invasion risk’ of green iguanas as ‘extreme’ and the ‘intuitive risk’ as ‘low/moderate’.

I. iguana is an excellent swimmer in fresh and saltwater and can remain submerged for over 4 hours (Moberley 1968; Breuil 2002). In Fiji, I. guana is believed to have colonized neighbouring islands by swimming to them (Veen 2011). Dispersal on islands and in Florida often follows waterways (Falcón et al., 2012).

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Cultural/amenity Negative
Economic/livelihood Negative
Environment (generally) Negative
Human health Negative
Native fauna Negative
Native flora Negative

Impact

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The most severe impacts of alien I. iguana appear to be on other iguana populations. Breuil et al. (2010) assessed the Lesser Antillean iguana, Iguana delicatissima, as endangered and attributed its disappearance from islands throughout the Guadeloupe Archipelago predominantly to competition (for food and nesting places) and hybridization with the introduced I. iguana. In Saint Lucia, similar fears have been voiced over the native population of Iguana cf iguana, although at present the ranges of the two populations do not overlap (Morton and Krauss, 2011). More widely, Malone and Davis (2004) have advised against any translocation of I. iguana between Central American, Southern American and Caribbean populations, to guard against loss of unique genetic variation and locally adapted gene complexes through hybridization between disparate lineages. In Grand Cayman, I. iguana may compete with the critically endangered native blue iguana Cyclura lewisi (Burton, 2004). Additionally, here and on other Caribbean islands, failure to distinguish between introduced and native iguanas may itself present a further threat to the native populations.

The Miami blue butterfly (Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri) is threatened on Bahia Honda Key by alien I. iguana eating their host plants (Kay, 2012).

It has been speculated that alien I. iguana may use the nest burrows of Florida burrowing owls, Athene cunicularia floridana (a ‘species of special concern’), for shelter, egg laying or egg predation, although this impact has not been demonstrated (Tate, 1986; McKie et al., 2005).

Townsend et al (2005) report the consumption, possibly incidental, of an arboreal snail, Drymaeus multilineatus, by I. iguana in Florida, and speculate that a growing iguana population might threaten other more endangered arboreal snail species like Orthalicus reses and Liguus fasciatus.

Swierk and Langkilde (2009) report the small but non-negligible input of microorganism-rich faecal material by I. iguana into a mangrove ecosystem in Puerto Rico.

In the US and the UK, pet I. iguana were found to carry several tick species, including Amblyomma sabanerae, a species that is widespread throughout the iguana’s native range but also parasitizes turtles, tortoises and snakes from other regions. In a sample of 14 free-living iguanas in Honduras, six were found to carry the monitor lizard paramyxovirus and five a reovirus, which are lethal to many reptiles (Falcón et al., 2012).

Woodward et al. (1997) report on the transmission of a number of Salmonella serotypes to human pet owners of I. iguana. Krysko et al. (2007) speculate that the faeces of free-living I. iguana present this risk too, though there appear to be no reported cases of this. Arena et al. (2012) provided lists of major and minor reptile-borne zoonotic infections and infestations, though do not specify which are known to be carried by I. iguana. Kern (2009) noted that adult iguanas are capable of inflicting severe bites on people and delivering painful blows from the whip-like lash of their tail.

I. iguana can also disperse the seeds of invasive plants, an effect observed for the invasive Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia) in Puerto Rico (Sementelli et al., 2008). Plant seeds that have passed through iguana guts frequently show increased germination rates (Falcón et al., 2012).

In Florida and Puerto Rico, I. iguana is considered a nuisance because of their destruction of ornamental and cultivated plants and for defecating into swimming pools and elsewhere (Krysko et al., 2007; Kern 2009; Lopez-Torres et al., 2012; Arce-Nazario and Carlo, 2012). In Florida, Sementelli et al. (2008) estimated that alien I. iguana construct burrows along drainage canals at densities of 1,740-2,825 burrows per hectare. They estimated the cost of repairing burrows to be $600 (USD) and noted that an iguana can create a new one in 3 days. Erosion and road collapses that cost US $2,480 per ha to repair have been linked to the burrowing habit of iguanas (Meshaka et al., 2007; Sementelli et al., 2008). I. iguana incursions onto Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in Puerto Rico have led to airstrikes and regular interruptions to airport operations (Engeman et al., 2005). Car accidents in Puerto Rico have also been blamed on iguanas crossing the road, particularly during mating and nesting season. The Plaza Las Americas shopping mall in the Hato Rey area has had to be shut down on three occasions due to iguanas short-circuiting power lines (Falcón et al., 2012).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Brachylophus fasciatusEN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)FijiCompetitionISSG, 2011
Cyclura lewisi (Cayman Island ground iguana)EN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)Guadeloupe; MartiniqueCompetitionBurton, 2004
Iguana delicatissima (Lesser Antilles iguana)EN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)Competition; HybridizationISSG, 2012; Van and Buurt Debrot, 2012
Orthalicus reses (Stock Island tree snail)USA ESA listing as threatened species USA ESA listing as threatened speciesFloridaPredationUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Impact outcomes
  • Infrastructure damage
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts human health
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition
  • Hybridization
  • Predation

Uses

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The pet trade is the primary pathway for I. iguana introductions and they are amongst the most popular reptile pets in America and the EU (Hoover, 1998; Kaplan and Hayes, 2000; Berkhoudt, 2003; Hatfield 2004; Krysko et al., 2011). I. iguana is also widely exhibited in zoos around the world: ISIS (2012) list 252 institutions holding I. iguana in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South America.

I. iguana and their eggs are widely eaten in Central and South America (Knight, 1973; Fitch et al., 1982; Liner, 2005; AFP, 2012) and are also used for medicinal purposes (Nóbrega Alves et al., 2008). I. iguana are also farmed for food (Werner, 1991; Panel on Microlivestock, 1991; Eilers et al., 2002), for release and subsequent hunting by indigenous people (Soto, 2011), to supply the pet trade (Berkhoudt, 2003), for their hides, to produce leather good (Eilers et al., 2001) and for head-starting juveniles to increase their chances of survival on release into the wild (Escobar et al., 2010). I. iguana are also traded across international borders for these purposes (Fitch et al., 1982).

In Brazil, I. iguana skin and fat are used for treating boils, general wounds and removing foreign objects (pointed stakes) (Barboza et al., 2007). Their eggs are believed to have aphrodisiac properties (Werner, 1991).

I. iguana are also used to attract ecotourists, to both the iguanas’ natural habitats and on iguana farms; for example, at Parque Bolívar, Guayaquil, Ecuador, tourists visit to feed the free-ranging population of tame iguanas there.

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.

The international trade in pet iguanas is the main pathway of introduction, and this may include smuggling (e.g. Morton and Krauss, 2011). Regulation of this trade is the obvious preventative measure, though there seem to be few instances of implementation (but see HDOA, 2006; BAF, 2012). Educating iguana pet keepers, and potential iguana owners, is another obvious priority (e.g. Kaplan, 2002; Keeler, 2002).

Physical Control

Capture using pole nooses (e.g. Meshaka et al., 2007) and live traps are the most commonly reported methods for removing alien I. iguana. Das (2012) and Fitzgerald (2012) reviewed methods for catching arboreal and other reptiles, and Morton (in prep.) reviewed methods that are, or could be used to catch alien iguanas, including: manually, hoop nets, stretch nets, throw nets, firearms, anaesthetic darts, non-ballistic projectiles, bottle or minnow traps, drift fences with pitfall traps and funnel traps, fences (around iguana nests), snares, noose carpets, purse traps, glue traps, hunting dogs, and artificial nest sites (to attract iguana females and catch eggs). At Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport, Puerto Rico, the cost for removing approximately 400 iguanas and destroying 20 nests in 2011 was put at US$98,000 (Falcón et al., 2012).

For euthanasia of captured alien I. iguana, the American Veterinary Medical Association identifies the use of sodium pentobarbital as ‘acceptable’ and penetrating captive bolt, gunshot, or decapitation as ‘conditionally acceptable’, so long as they are followed by pithing (AVMA, 2007). Euthanasia of reptiles by cooling and/or freezing is inhumane and not acceptable (AAZV, 2006; AVMA, 2007; West et al., 2008).

Low detection probabilities are a problem for removing alien I. iguana, at least in the early stages of an invasion (Morton and Krauss, 2011). I. iguana are cryptic and wary animals, and at the start of an invasion will be at low densities, making them even more difficult to detect (Rodda, 2003). Morton (in prep.) reviewed methods that have been, or could be, used to find iguanas, including: visual searches, signs of nesting, artificial nests, basking platforms, sand or mud ‘traps’, bait stations, artificial ponds, camera ‘traps’, detection dogs, using species other than dogs (or humans) to detect iguanas, radio tracking, signs of feeding, predator scat and feeding remains, questionnaires, and rewards for sightings reported by the public. As with capture methods, the potential and feasibility of these options varies widely. Detection dogs have been used to locate invasive reptiles such as Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) in Florida (Pit and Witmer, 2007) and free-ranging arboreal brown tree snakes (Boiga irregularis) in Guam (Savidge et al., 2008; Working dogs for conservation, 2012). In Saint Lucia, trials of a detection dog to locate free-living alien I. iguana have shown some success (Seely, 2011).

One of the main invasive impacts of alien I. iguana is hybridization and competition with native iguana populations, especially in a number of Eastern Caribbean states. Options for physically preventing contact between native and alien populations may be few, but Lesser Antillean iguanas (Iguana delicatissima) have been translocated.  In Florida, wire mesh and electrical fencing are used to exclude iguanas from private gardens, but at San Juan, Puerto Rico, iguanas grew tolerant to the voltage used (Krysko et al., 2007). There, nests are destroyed by inundation (Falcón et al., 2012).

Chemical Control

There are reports of incidental mortality to marine iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus) from the second generation anticoagulant brodifacoum, though the bait appeared to be of low palatability to the iguanas (Harper et al., 2011). Acetaminophen (paracetamol) and zinc phosphide have been assessed as poisons to control spiny-tailed iguanas (Ctenosaura similis), with the latter producing high mortality at low doses (Avery et al., 2011). However, until a poison delivery mechanism has been developed that mitigates the risks of non-target poisoning, chemical methods seem inadvisable.

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Contributors

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17/06/12 Text updated by:

MN Morton, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Saint Lucia

Ulrike Krauss, Ministry of Sustainable Development, Saint Lucia

Original entry compiled by: IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group Updates with support from the Overseas Territories Environmental Programme (OTEP) project XOT603, a joint project with the Cayman Islands Government - Department of Environment

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