What is a Green Iguana?

Vicki Hogue-Davies

A green iguana, also called a common iguana, is a lizard found in the rain forests of Central and South America. The green iguana is one of the largest lizards in the Americas. Its average length is more than 6 feet (2 meters), including the tail, which makes up about half its length. They are green in color, hence the name, but they can be a variety of shades from very bright green to grayish green, depending on their age and sex.

Marine iguanas are native to the Galapagos Islands.
Marine iguanas are native to the Galapagos Islands.

Like other reptiles, green iguanas are cold-blooded animals. They are herbivores that spend most of their lives living under the rain forest canopy. Green iguanas eat leaves, fruits and flowers. The average lifespan of green iguanas living in the wild is 20 years.

Green iguanas can be found in Central and South American rain forests.
Green iguanas can be found in Central and South American rain forests.

Green iguanas have long claws for climbing the trees where they live. Their long, hard tails can be used as defense mechanisms against predators and to help them balance when climbing. Like many other lizards, green iguanas can drop their tail to enable escape if they are caught. A dropped tail often will regrow, but not always.

To reproduce, green iguanas build nests in sandy soil to deposit their eggs, and go on their way. After about 90 days, the eggs hatch. The 1-foot-long (.30-meters-long) hatchlings are on their own when they are born and are very vulnerable to predators.

In Central and South America, green iguana meat is popular among some people. In areas where they are eaten, green iguanas are sometimes referred to as "chickens of the trees" or "bamboo chickens." They are hunted in the wild, and although they are not considered an endangered species, hunting has caused population concerns in some countries. They also are captive-bred for food.

Green iguanas are popular as pets in some countries. They can be found for sale at pet stores. More and more often, green iguanas are being captive-bred for the pet trade, but their removal from the wild for the trade is still of concern.

Other types of iguanas include the Fiji banded iguana, the Galapagos Islands marine iguana and the desert iguana. The Fiji banded iguana, found only in the Fiji Islands, is believed to have evolved from the green iguana. The Galapagos Islands marine iguana, found only in those islands, can swim and live in the sea. Desert iguanas, which grow to a length of approximately 16 inches (41 cm), are found in the United States and Mexico.

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