The Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collie)

Sunday, February 11, 2007    

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This week, Our Habitat begins our series on endangered species in Jamaica. We begin with a look at the Jamaican Iguana. Have questions, comments? E-mail

THE Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collie) is as valued as it is feared on the island. A sighting of the Jamaican iguana, which is endemic to the island, may elicit responses of "wow", "ugh" or "yikes!" - depending on your viewer.

With its body length growing to as much as 428mm in males and 378mm in females, the Jamaican iguana is the largest native land animal on the island.

Its colouring has been described as green, grading into slaty blue with oblique lines of dark olive-green on the shoulder. Three broad triangular patches extend from dorsal crest scales to venter (underside/belly), with dark olive-brown zigzag spots. The dorsal crest scales are somewhat brighter bluish-green than the body.

The top of its head, meanwhile, is washed green, while the dorsal and lateral body surfaces are blotched with straw, with the blotches breaking up into small groups of spots. Nesting females sometimes appear deep reddish-brown in colour after digging in the soils of the Hellshire Hills, where they may be found.

A little iguana history

The Jamaican Iguana is of the subfamily Iguaninae, which falls within the family of Iguanid lizards which is comprised of 31 species.

At one time, the iguana was considered to be extinct on the island, after a corpse was found in the 1940s on the Goat Islands off Hellshire Hills.

That erroneous conclusion was, however, corrected after 1970 when yet another carcass of the iguana was found inside the hills of Hellshire. Later in 1990, a hunter and his dog are said to have come upon a male specimen of the iguana, which was subsequently transported to the Hope Zoo in Kingston.

Threats to the iguana

There are a number of threats to the Jamaican iguana, chief among them being human development of their habitat, which would put them at risk of death by human hands in light of, among other things, the fear they sometimes inspire.

Another threat to the iguana is the mongoose. The mongoose was a particular nuisance in the early days before the intervention of the Jamaican Iguana Research and Conservation Group, which has worked to replenish the population of iguanas on the island.

Other threats to the iguana, and particularly the young iguana, include feral pigs, cats and dogs, as well as the disturbance wrought by charcoal burning in the Hellshire hills.

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