What is a Rhinoceros Iguana?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

Scientifically known as the cyclura cornuta, the rhinoceros iguana is a species of lizard. Listed as a threatened species, this iguana is from Caribbean island Hispaniola. The gray reptiles can grow up to two to four feet (half a meter to just over a meter) in length.

The rhinoceros iguana is named for the bony outgrowth that can be found on its snout.
The rhinoceros iguana is named for the bony outgrowth that can be found on its snout.

The heavy-headed, large-bodied lizard features a thick-ringed, flattened tail and very strong legs. From the nape of its neck down, the lizard is covered with horned, pointed scales. The rhinoceros iguana is named for its appearance. Its snout features a bony outgrowth, or pseudo-horn, that resembles the horn of a rhinoceros.

The rinoceros iguana can be found on several Caribbean islands.
The rinoceros iguana can be found on several Caribbean islands.

This horn is thought to provide the animal with protection against sharp rocks and animal aggressors, such as other male iguanas. Rhinoceros iguana horns may also serve in courtship rituals. During courtship, the male performs many elaborate movements, including head-bobbing and erecting its spines.

Generally a shy creature, the rhinoceros iguana can become aggressive during courtship. It can also become aggressive when responding to a threat. The iguana's defense mechanisms include its horn, the act of biting, and repeatedly striking with its tail.

Most rhinoceros iguanas are a lackluster brown to gray in color, though some have been known to be dark green. Adult rhinoceros iguanas typically weigh ten to twenty pounds (five to nine kilograms). Males are generally larger than females. They also have larger horns and dorsal crests, as well as femoral pores that produce pheromones. While females exhibit these same features, they do so with less prominence.

Rhinoceros iguanas have a good sense of smell as well as hearing. Their eyesight is considered excellent. Dubbed omnivores, the animals eat a wide variety of foods, including small mammals, vegetation, birds, and invertebrates. Rhino iguanas can live up to 20 years and reach sexual maturity within the first three years of life. A clutch of rhinoceros iguana eggs, which hatch after 75 to 100 days, usually yields 15 to 20 eggs.

Though predominantly found on Hispaniola, rhino iguanas can be found throughout its adjacent islands. The reptile prefers rocky, dry lands, as well as savannas. The animals are more territorial than their green iguana relatives, and rarely inhabit trees or forests.

Like many other types of lizards, this iguana species is not recommended as a pet. An endangered species, it is very likely to die if kept in captivity without professional observation. The green iguana is typically the species people adopt as pets. The rhino iguana's endangered status is largely due to deforestation and land clearing. It is also sometimes eaten by locals.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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