Sunday, September 10, 2017


My favorite twins look totally enchanted with this huge iguana. With my sincere thanks to your mama for sharing this wonderful photograph.

The word "iguana" is the Spanish derivation of the Amerindian word, "iwana,” a name given to a family of lizards that are found throughout the Americas.  I first developed a fascination with iguanas when we moved to Puerto Vallarta, México in the mid-l990s. “Creeping, crawling things” were never on my list of must haves when growing up in Southern California. The most exotic creature I can recall was my brother’s baby “pet” alligator which he kept in a terrarium until he woke up one morning and his “pet” was belly up and had left for alligator heaven.

So needless to say, I found myself taken by surprise when I found the local Mexican iguana population to be wonderfully exotic and intriguing.  My fascination has only increased since returning from our “nomadic wanderings” to Puerto Vallarta as our permanent residence three years ago.  It was time I learned more about this fascinating “lizard” and in the process I would share my findings in a blog posting.  So if you are game, let’s check out the Iguanas of Puerto Vallarta.


Iguanas are one of the five generally recognized infra orders of a suborder of reptiles which includes all lizards. The Iguana family includes the subfamilies of Iguana Iguanas (green) and spiny-tailed (black) iguanas both of which are abundant in Puerto Vallarta. This entire order of reptiles has been traced back to Tianyusaurus who roamed the earth during the Late Cretaceous Period (65-100 MILLION years ago).  It is no wonder then that Iguanas look prehistoric as in fact they are!   

Aside from humans, iguanas have few natural predators. However, it has been documented that  hawks and owls will attack the smaller ones. Iguanas have claws and powerful tails to fight off most all other land-based predators and if caught, they have the ability to shed a portion of their tail which will then grow back later.

Iguanas have been used as a food source in Central for the past 7,000 years and are still used as a source of meat and often referred to as Gallina de Palo, "bamboo chicken" or "chicken of the tree," because they are said to taste like chicken. Leather from the iguana hide has also been a prized material for centuries.

The Espinosa "boys" have always had a fascination with iguanas and how the "boys" have grown!

Iguanas are found around Puerto Vallarta living mainly in tropical forests and near rivers and arroyos. They are also often seen bathing in the sun on the ground or on large rocks which is where I come into contact with them during my outdoor afternoon reading time.The tropical climate and lush foliage in the area provide the ideal environment for these ancient reptiles with a year-round supply of food including leaves, fruits, and flowers such as hibiscus and bougainvilleas.


The Green Iguanas of Puerto Vallarta come in a variety of shades ranging from gray/green to bronze or even brown/orange. They do not need to be green to be included in this classification. They are different from the Black Spiny-Tailed iguanas which populate a few areas of México, but are primarily found in Central America.  Males have vertical stripes along their sides and pronounced spines along their backs and a much larger dewlap (flap of skin under their chin). Tails of both males and females are banded with light and dark thick rings.

These cold blooded reptiles (called exothermic) need plenty of sun to regulate their own body temperatures. As a matter of fact, they spend up to 98% of their time quietly perched on a tree branch and the other 2% is spent feeding.

Iguanas may congregate together while resting and soaking up the sun’s rays. But too many males put together will end up in aggressive fights that may lead to death for some especially during the reproductive season. Hyperventilating (panting) for a romantic encounter and I was the only one around!

At the end of the rainy season, males establish a territory of about 16 feet and begin to court the females by nodding their heads up and down while expanding their dewlap (flap of skin under their chin).  This behavior is also noted during male to male aggression and their thick, strong tail is often used as a weapon. If the tail is pulled off during a fight, it will grow back although it will never be as pretty as the original one. See below my amigo that I have named "Stubby" for an obvious reason.


  • What is the difference between a reptile and an amphibian?   

    An easy way to tell the difference between a reptile and an amphibian is that amphibians generally have skin and reptiles have scales. A good example of amphibians are frogs. Iguanas and other animals with scales like alligators, crocodiles, snakes, turtles, etc. are classified as reptiles.

  • What do iguanas look like?
Iguanas stout build gives them a clumsy look, but they are fast and agile on land. They have strong jaws with razor-sharp teeth and sharp tails which make up half their body length and can be used as whips to drive off predators.

  • What is the size and longevity of iguanas?

The mature size of iguanas ranges from spiny-tailed iguanas who can measure as little as 4.9 inches long to green iguanas who can reach lengths of up to 7 feet. On average iguanas reach full maturity by 3 years of age. The average size of iguanas for adult males is 8/9 pounds an 6 pounds for an adult female. Depending on the species iguanas may live for as few as 4 years or as many as 60 years.

  • Where do iguanas live in Latin America?
The green iguana's extensive range comprises the rain forests of northern Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean Islands, and southern Brazil. They spend most of their lives in the canopy descending only infrequently to mate, lay eggs, or change trees.

  • What does an iguana eat in Mexico?
Actually, iguanas only eat meat when they are young and still growing. When they reach adulthood, they are almost strictly vegetarian and eat leaves, fruits and flowers. They are, however, opportunistic and will also eat crabs, birds, small rodents and eggs.

  • Who are the predators of iguanas?
Iguanas are eaten by a variety of natural predators including hawks, owls, snakes and humans.  Green iguanas are bred and raised on farms in Central and South America to be eaten by people. Young iguanas are particularly vulnerable to predation by feral cats and no iguana is safe from a pack of dogs.

  • Do iguanas have good hearing, smelling, and vision?
Iguanas have good hearing, sharp olfactory (smell) abilities, and superb vision. Their long tail is also quite sharp, and is snapped in the air as a defense mechanism. The tail can also break off if caught by a predator, but grows back without permanent damage.

  • How does a green iguana use its claws?
All iguanas are excellent climbers. Green iguanas are equipped with long claws and long digits which are suited for climbing trees and are also used in defense. Along with long claws, the iguanas use their long, muscular tails to whip attackers and they have extremely good aim. The whip of their tail has enough power to break the legs of a small dog!

  • What are the predators of iguanas?
Birds of prey such as hawks and eagles like to eat iguanas. So do such animals as foxes and rats. Marine iguanas are sometimes eaten by large fish such as sharks. Many species of iguanas have spines on their backs to help keep predators from eating them.

  • What does an iguana do?

  • Iguanas spend most of their lives in the canopy, descending only infrequently to mate, lay eggs, or change trees. Primarily herbivores, iguanas are active during the day, feeding on leaves, flowers, and fruit. They generally live near water and are excellent swimmers.

  • How do iguanas reproduce?
Female iguanas usually lay a clutch of eggs every year once they're mature. If there is no male iguana, she will still lay eggs, but they won't be fertile. Several weeks after mating the female iguana digs a nest and lays between 20 to 60 eggs. Incubation period for iguanas eggs is approximately 90 days, but sometimes longer.

  • Why are iguanas important to the ecosystem?
Iguanas are among the world's most endangered animals. The threats they face include severe habitat degradation by human development and invasive species as well as harvesting for human use. Because iguanas are important seed dispersers for many native plants, their protection is vital to ecosystem health.


Mainly due to the massive hunting of this species for sale as pets and the loss of its habitat, iguanas have dramatically declined in number. Iguanas are now considered a “threatened,” and in some areas an “endangered,” species and are protected by most countries where they live.

Even though hunting, trapping, or killing iguanas is illegal throughout Mexico, they are nevertheless still sought as pets. Green Iguana farms have been created to help save this species from extinction. At these farms green iguanas are raised in order to either be released back into their natural habitat or to supply the pet trade demand.


Iguanas are distributed in México primarily in the southern states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Jalisco (location of Puerto Vallarta). As with many other species, giving iguanas space, quiet, and respect will go a long way in restoring their numbers and also the natural balance of their environment.

Iguana "art" in Puerto Vallarta has become iconic for the town whether creations in the sand or paintings on the streets.  Searching out our iguanas is definitely a lovely way to enjoy your PV day!

More photographs of the iguanas of Puerto Vallarta may be found in the following album:  

PS Lest I forget, we also have some beautiful and interesting reptile life in Puerto Vallarta besides iguanas including the "Jesus Christ" Lizard because he can walk/run on water and the cute Green Gecko (Cuiza) which helps keep local flying insects under control.    

The Basilisk Lizard, nicknamed the 'Jesus Christ' Lizard, has the amazing ability to be able to walk upon the water. It can run up to one hundred feet across any body of water. The Basilisk goes into the water, and using it's feet, pushes down, creating a cavity almost like an air bubble. How about that!

Green Geckos are not often seen, but they can be heard at night chirping to each other when hanging out waiting for the moths and other flying insects that lights attract. Baby geckos are smaller than your pinkie nail and grow to not more than approximately 3 or 4 inches long. They are like totally cute!

I would sincerely appreciate your sharing this blog posting in order that more people are aware of the life and plight of the the amazing iguana. They certainly deserve our appreciation and support. Until next time, wishing you wonderful travels, safe trails, and make way for the iguanas! Laura

In case you missed it, here again is the link to my photograph album on the iguanas of Puerto Vallarta:      THE IGUANAS OF PUERTO VALLARTA ALBUM



  1. Excellent blog post, Senora Laura. I know some people have pet iguanas and love them, but I'm more a dog person. ;-)

    1. Gracias, hermana. I hear you loud and clear! Canines and felines are definitely more my thing!

  2. Interesting and informative, as always. I think iguanas are beautiful and I absolutely adored that clip of them marching down the road or beach.

  3. Muchas gracias, amiga!I don't remember iguanas in SMA, but then maybe I wasn't looking down enough. Sending best wishes to your relatives in Florida. Abrazos,Laura

  4. Wonderful blog, I can appreciate the time you have put in to compile all of the information and facts that go along with the locations that you have visited to make such amazing posts! I also have a dream to travel to see all of these Pre Colombian sites one day, and the iguana happens to be my favorite animal so hope to see those too. Keep up the great work!

  5. My heartfelt thanks and appreciation, Farrakh, on your wonderful comment. It id blog readers and followers like you which make this blog gig especially meaningful. I hope to see you again in the near future. Saludos, Laura