A Green Iguana Encounter

While doing a survey of plant species in the area on the study site, my partner for the day, a PhD student studying mistletoe,  noticed Dendropemon caribaeus (mistletoe common in the Caribbeans) growing on Citherexylum spinosum (a tree shrub I am sure to talk about more later and a common host for Dendropemon).   Mistletoe obtains part of it’s nutritional requirement from its host, in this case the Citherexylum.  So there was no surprise yet.

Upon nearing closer to the Dendropemon clump, we noticed what looked to be a dead stick sticking out from below the Dendropemon.  My partner almost took a tug at the “stick”.  Yet, he nearly jumped in surprise because he suddenly realized that above the “stick” was a shiny green blinking eye, and the “stick” was attached to an iguana.

Do you see the tail?

We realized we had come face to face with the common miniature  dragon, known as the green iguana or Iguana iguana.  I’d come face to face with these common reptiles before but I had never realized how pretty its eyes are.

peekaboo! I see you!
peekaboo! I see you!

Searching “iguana eyes” on Google images  now reveals that I’m not the only one.  But extensive searches on green iguanas seem to suggest a more malicious side of the tale of the green iguana.  

Green iguanas are thought of as invasive pests here in Puerto Rico, as well as in many other parts of the world.  They are said to sometimes eat native plants, invertebrates, and bird eggs which may put some of these populations at risk.  It does seem that iguanas sometimes stray too close to neighborhoods for the liking of many.  They run away from people usually and are not confrontational but seem scary to some while they are around because of their size, claws, and teeth.  They are often described as a “nuisance” and “invasive threat.”  The government here in Puerto Rico has responded to this “threat” by encouraging the killing and exporting of iguanas to countries in South America where people eat it as a specialty.

However, in contradiction, the green iguana is protected by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the research demonstrating that iguanas are an all-around nuisance is lacking/flawed, and in my personal experience they aren’t as aggressive to humans as many want to point them out as.  Furthermore, green iguanas disperse seeds, potentially promoting plants that they prey on and are said to threaten.   Several birds of prey supplement their diets with the meaty lizard.  Although, their population is said to be growing out of control, like many other reptiles they compete with each other making sure to self-contain their population at least to some extent.  My supervisor has written articles on the exaggeration and fiction surrounding the potentially negative  aspects of the green iguana.

In sum:  There is a great necessity for caution.  Thought and research must be done thoroughly before terms like “invasive threat” are used and are thrown around as slurs, making it difficult for people to objectively and scientifically evaluate the ecosystem effects of an animal.  Green iguanas may actually be a threat to something or they may actually be quite harmless, but more research must be done especially on the diet of the green iguana….

And I think green iguana eyes (at least) are beautiful.

What do you think about this?  What does evidence or your observations suggest to you?

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