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Iguanas

Popularity And Extinction

The green iguana is the largest, most prolific, and best-known species in the Americas, and is in great demand in the United States where proud owners can be seen parading this gentle green lizard on their shoulders, restrained in specially designed harnesses. This arboreal (tree-dwelling) lizard naturally inhabits the periphery of rainforests from Mexico to the tip of South America. Green iguanas live in groups near rivers and water holes, and lie along tree limbs high above the water, basking in the sun as still as statues, prepared to plunge if danger approaches. Green iguanas are excellent swimmers, and can remain submerged for 30 minutes, often surfacing in a safer location.

Few iguanas escape the skilled, professional human hunter, however, for apart from their value in the pet trade, their eggs are dietary delicacies, as is their flesh, which is often called "gallina de palo," or "tree chicken," and is credited with medicinal properties which supposedly cure such conditions as impotency.

While all iguanas have natural predators such as snakes, carnivorous birds, and wild canines, most species are in danger of extinction from human actions—direct capture, habitat destruction, introduction of domestic and feral mammals, pesticides, and firearms. Fortunately, green iguanas are now being successfully bred in captivity for both the food and pet trades. Some conservation efforts for this and other species have been implemented in the form of protective legislation, wildlife reserves, and public awareness campaigns. However, much effort is still necessary to prevent the rapidly increasing destruction of these ancient, docile herbivores.

See also Herbivore.


Resources

Books

Burghardt, Gordon M., and A. Stanley Rand, eds. Iguanas of the World, Their Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes Data Corp, 1982.

Harris, Jack C. A Step-by-Step Book about Iguanas. Neptune, NJ: T.F.H. Publications, 1990.

Periodicals

Leal, Jose H. "Iguanas as Island Hoppers." Sea Frontiers (June 1992): 11-12.


Marie L. Thompson

KEY TERMS

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Dewlap

—A loose fold of skin that hangs from beneath the chin.

Diurnal

—Refers to animals that are mainly active in the daylight hours.

Ectothermic

—A cold-blooded animal, whose internal body temperature is similar to that of its environment. Ectotherms produce little body heat, and are dependent on external sources (such as the sun) to keep their body temperature high enough to function efficiently.

Monophyletic

—Evolving from a single ancestral type.

Thermoregulate

—Regulate and control body temperature.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Hydrazones to IncompatibilityIguanas - Classification And Characteristics, Distribution And Diet, Reproduction, Display Patterns As Attractions And Deterrents, Popularity And Extinction