Having spent some time in Central America recently I have been lucky enough to spend considerable time observing both green iguanas (Iguana iguana) and black spiny-tailed iguanas (Ctenosaura similis) in their natural surroundings and whilst at face value these two species appear very similar I observed some surprising differences between their preferred habitats.
As you might imagine green iguanas were found mostly in warm, humid, forest-like conditions near water. One of the best places I found to observe these reptiles in the wild was to look into dense plant growth overhanging rivers where often dozens of specimens of varying sizes could be found sunbathing or browsing on leaves.
Watched from a safe distance these lizards seemed oblivious to any attention and could be observed without causing them any stress or worry.
As a side note, should you ever visit Costa Rica, look up the Iguana Cafe in Montezuma where you can relax in the sunshine with a cold drink and get closer to wild green iguanas than you could possibly imagine. The following video shows just how close an encounter you can have with a wild iguana though I would strongly caution you against taking risks by trying to hand feed wild green iguanas…
The real interest came when I observed spiny-tailed iguanas which I assumed would have very similar habitat requirements and lifestyles to the common green iguana. My own experiences suggest that while spiny-tails can and do climb trees they are far less likely to do so than the green iguana and you’re far more likely to see them on the ground than up in the canopy.
The environment in which the spiny-tail iguana is found is almost very different to that of the green iguana as it is far hotter, drier and dustier and looking out over fields used to graze horses and cattle one could often see these giant lizards skulking around looking for any ground-dwelling plants to eat.
This could make sense when comparing the colors of the two species. The green iguana is perfectly camouflaged when up in the forest canopy while the spiny-tail with it’s sombre markings in black, gray and brown are far better camouflaged against the parched, dusty soil of the more arid areas of Central America.
An additional difference I observed while in the field was that whilst one sometimes saw several spiny-tails in the same field at the same time they seem far less sociable than the green iguanas. While it wasn’t uncommon to find trees literally dripping with adult green iguanas who seemed to be carrying on without a care in the world the spiny-tails were far more solitary and I rarely saw them in close proximity to each other.
Interestingly the fact that spiny-tailed iguanas seemed perfectly at home on dry, dusty ground meant they had also taken up residence on the beach where we stayed by the Pacific coast and a walk along the sand sent dozens of immature individuals darting off to hide behind rocks or shimmy up palm trees to escape from “danger”.
So two very similar-looking and closely-related species yet two totally different lifestyles. And it is understanding these differences and the habitats that reptiles come from that will help us to keep them properly in captivity.
My general findings from a month of watching these incredible reptiles in the wild is that spiny tailed iguanas are likely to prefer hotter, drier conditions than green iguanas and should also have a large amount of floor space where they will likely spend a considerable part of their time.