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10 Types of Iguanas: Species, Facts and Photos

Iguanas are a diverse group of reptiles, far beyond the typical green variety we're all familiar with. This article explores the different types of iguana species across different genera, from marine iguanas to chuckwallas. We aim to enhance your understanding of this lizard by discussing their habitats, distinctive features, and adaptations.

Iguana Classification

The world of iguanas extends beyond the commonly known species of the Iguana genus. This article includes all existing genera within the Iguana family, known as Iguanidae. This group, composed of the famous green iguana, chuckwallas, and their prehistoric relatives, includes nine distinctive genera in total.

Iguanas, irrespective of their genus, showcase a diversity of sizes, appearances, and habitats. Most iguanas dwell in warm, tropical climates, including regions in South America, the Caribbean islands, and the Pacific. 

Recognizable traits of these reptiles include dorsal spines running down their backs, a dewlap on the neck, sharp claws, and long tails shaped like whips.

Most members of the Iguanidae family prefer life among the treetops and follow a herbivorous diet. These oviparous creatures offer little to no parental care after hatching. However, female iguanas are known to guard their nests fiercely.

Each genus within the Iguanidae family brings its uniqueness. For instance, the Amblyrhynchus is a solitary marine reptile genus. Or the Brachylophus, which is known for its short spiny crests.

Others like Cachryx come from Mexico, while Conolophus hail from the Galapagos Islands. Ctenosaura species thrive in Mexico and Central America, while Cyclura species call the West Indian islands home. Dipsosaurus and Sauromalus originate from dry regions.

The following sections discuss the habitats and unique characteristics of at least one species for each iguana genus.

Related Read: Iguana Facts.

10 Types of Iguana Species And Subspecies

1. Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

green iguana
Photo by Gleive Marcio Rodrigues de Souza on Pexels.

The Common Green Iguana is an arboreal native species of Central and South America, often spotted basking in the sun high up in the trees. 

These creatures show a specific pattern - juvenile iguanas stay lower in the tree canopy, while mature participants claim more elevated heights. This behavior changes only when the females descend to dig burrows for egg-laying.

Color variation in these animals is notable - not always green as their name suggests. Their color can depend on several factors - age, mood, temperature, health, or social position - and also plays a role in thermoregulation. 

For example, darker skin helps absorb sunlight and heat in the cool morning. In contrast, a paler complexion in the scorching afternoon helps reflect excess heat.

Significant features include a throaty dewlap, a spiny dorsal crest, and a long tapering tail. Lifespan varies dramatically - 8 years in the wild versus 20 in captivity. 

Notably, they are primarily herbivores, favoring leafy greens and ripe fruits. They occasionally supplement their diets with small amounts of carrion or invertebrates. Food manipulation and swallowing are accomplished mainly with their tongues rather than chewing.

Because of the pet trade and many other reasons, Green iguanas are invasive species in Hawaii, Texas, and Florida. They threaten native wildlife by competing with resources, predating native species, or eating endangered plants.

2. Lesser Antillean Iguana (Iguana delicatissima)

 Lesser Antillean Iguana
Photo by Postdlf on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Lesser Antillean Iguana, native to the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, is strikingly vibrant green upon hatching, with males turning to a darker slate grey with age. 

Females retain their green hue, with an occasional turn towards grey in larger forms. Both sexes' aging process, marked by white jowls, jaws, throats, and snouts, is a standout feature. 

More than just color cues, these iguanas have distinct white spots functioning as pheromone glands. Males display these glands more prominently.

In terms of behavior, they lean towards solitude. Gatherings primarily occur for mating. These iguanas are active from early morning till late evening. 

They adapt to varying environments – humid forests, dry scrubs, and tropical islands. Predominantly herbivores, their diet includes toxic Manchineel, bearing fruits dangerous to mammals and birds. 

Sadly, the Lesser Antillean Iguana is critically endangered1. Its population has dipped by over 75% due to competition and hybridization with invasive Green Iguana species.

3. Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus)

Marine Iguana
Photo by RAF-YYC on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Marine iguanas, with their grey-to-black hue and pyramid-shaped dorsal scales, are native to the Galapagos Islands. They have blunt snouts and compressed tails. This distinctive species resides on the island's craggy cliffs and rocky ledges, making the most of their intertidal flats.

These creatures feed predominantly on marine algae. They plunge into cold water, showcasing their survival skills. However, being ectothermic, they can't stay submerged for long and must seek sun for warmth.

They also grapple with the threat of overheating in the tropical sun. Their solution is strategic posturing, elevating their bodies to minimize direct exposure while enabling cooling air to pass beneath. This smart behavior aids in their survival in the unforgiving Galapagos environment.

4. Fiji Crested Iguana (Brachylophus vitiensis)

Fiji Crested Iguana
Photo by Benjamint444 on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Fiji Crested iguana dwells in the dry tropical forests of Fiji's South Pacific isles. Males exhibit slim, cream-to-white colored bands sprinkled with black chevrons. A spiky crest reaching up to 0.59 inches enhances their silhouettes. 

Baby iguanas present a temporary dark green coloration before transforming into a vivid emerald tone. Reddish-orange eyes contrast against their body's white bands. Moreover, they can switch their skin color from green to black when stimulated.

They are diurnal, seeking heat during cooler days while preferring tree shade for shelter. Their diet centers on a medley of leaves, fruits, shoots, and flowers.

The critically endangered Fiji crested iguana faces the harsh reality of potential extinction within a few years due to various threats2. Habitat degradation, from goat grazing to intentional forest clearing, coupled with feral cat predation and invasive alien plant species, challenges their survival.

5. Campeche Spiny-tailed Iguana (Cachryx alfredschmidti)

The Campeche spiny-tailed iguana is found in moist lowland forests of southeastern Mexico and nearby Guatemala. These tropical locals provide both food and shelter.

Being well-adapted to arboreal life, they find haven in hollow branches and tree trunks. These iguanas defend their refuge with their spiky tails, blocking any potential threats. 

6. Galápagos Land Iguana (Conolophus subcristatus)

Galápagos Land Iguana
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Galapagos Land Iguana is native to the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. They thrive in burrows on land, offering protection from the sun. A large and heavy-bodied lizard, its length can exceed 48 inches, and it displays a spikey crest along its neck and back. 

Sporting yellow or brown skin adorned with spots on its belly and back, its robustness is further accentuated by thick hind legs and smaller front ones. Sharp claws and pleurodont teeth are among its striking features, along with a blunt head and a tail significantly longer than its trunk.

The Galapagos Land Iguana feeds primarily on the prickly pear cactus, adeptly eating its fruits and leaves. To enjoy this meal, the lizard moves the cactus within its mouth with sharp teeth until all the spines are shed off. 

7. Utila Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura bakeri)

Utila Spiny-tailed Iguana
Picture by M0tty on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Utila Spiny-tailed Iguana sports distinctive colors: dark hues of grey and black, with males showing off bright turquoise in the breeding season. This coloring differentiates the genders, as does the size of the spines on their backs. During territorial shows, males can erect their large dorsal spines. 

Endemic to Utila, a Honduran island, they reside in mangrove forests. Their diet is primarily plant-based - they consume flowers, leaves, stems, and fruits. However, when the chance arises, they will eat small animals, eggs, or arthropods in their forest environment. 

Regrettably, the Utila Spiny-tailed Iguana is critically endangered. Habitat loss, stemming from mangrove deforestation, degradation, and fragmentation caused by tourism-based infrastructure development, has propelled the species into critical endangerment. Invasive species, hunting for meat, and aquatic farms also add to the list of threats. 

8. Rhinoceros Iguana (Cyclura cornuta)

Rhinoceros Iguana
Photo by Bernard DUPONT on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Rhinoceros Iguana, native to Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea, makes its home within dry forest, scrub, or desert. Bearing a grayish-brown or olive hide of rough epidermal scales, it shows its identity through large head scales and its namesake 'horns.' Males typically showcase larger horns and are larger than females in size.

This species is a heliotherm—solar radiation regulates its body temperature. Consequently, it's found in tropical or subtropical climates. Pet owners must provide heat sources for it to survive in captivity. 

Rhinoceros iguanas are endangered species. Meanwhile, other types of West Indian rock iguanas are critically endangered, such as Anegada Rock Iguana and Jamaican Iguana.

9. Desert Iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis)

Desert Iguana
Photo by Joshua Tree National Park on Flickr (Public Domain).

The Desert iguana, native to the arid landscapes of the Sonoran and Mojave deserts, is a medium-sized lizard known for its distinctive coloration. Its grayish-brown body features a pattern of dense reddish-brown reticulations, while its underbelly remains a solid pale gray or cream.

Most notably, this lizard exhibits strong endurance to extreme heat, as seen in its midday activity, possibly a strategy to avoid predators. This endurance, coupled with its uncanny speed, sets the Iguana apart in the harsh desert environment.

Bearing a primarily plant-based diet, the Desert Iguana consumes various buds, flowers, and leaves—constituting over ninety percent of its diet— and may occasionally supplement this with insects.

10. Chuckwallas (Sauromalus)

Chuckwallas
Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Chuckwallas are lizards found in the arid zones of the southwest U.S. and northern Mexico, with isolated populations on coastal islands.

These lizards are hefty and broad-bodied, with flat bellies and thick, blunt-tipped tails. Excess skin forms loose folds around their necks and body sides.

Male Chuckwallas sport black heads, shoulders, and limbs. They have orange, yellow, or light gray bodies. In contrast, females and juveniles display subtle spots or bands in shades of gray or yellow.

Their food sources are primarily plant-based, with a diet mainly composed of leaves, fruits, and flowers from both annual and perennial plants. Insects serve as occasional prey, supplementing their primarily herbivorous diet.

Iguana FAQs

1. How many species of iguanas exist globally?

There are about 45 species of iguanas in the Iguanidae family.

2. What percentage of iguanas are threatened species?

Approximately 70% of the Iguanidae family have an extinct, critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable status.

3. What is the recommended course of action when encountering an iguana in need of rescue?

To rescue an iguana, contact a local wildlife rescue center or reptile specialist. 

4. Are iguanas dangerous to humans?

Due to their size and protective nature, iguanas can be threatening if they feel cornered or provoked.

5. Why are iguanas prevalent in the pet trade?

The unique behavior and low-maintenance nature of iguanas make them popular pets among reptile lovers.

1

van den Burg, M., Breuil, M. & Knapp, C. (2018). Iguana delicatissima. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T10800A122936983. 

2

Harlow, P., Fisher, R. & Grant, T. (2012). Brachylophus vitiensisThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T2965A2791620.

By Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Isabela is a determined millennial passionate about continuously seeking out ways to make an impact. With a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering with honors, Isabela’s research expertise and interest in artistic works, coupled with a creative mindset, offers readers a fresh take on different environmental, social, and personal development topics.

Photo by Mauricio Borja on Pexels.
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