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Iguana Refuge

Iguana Refuge

Vieques, Puerto Rico

When my sons, Scott and Brad, were teens they had a pet iguana named Squiggy.  Squiggy had full reign of their upstairs bedrooms and loved to ride on our shoulders as we walked around the house.  I would even rock him to sleep and he loved it when we'd rub his little belly.  Squiggy was one spoiled iguana.

Before we came to Vieques we had done our research about all the critters here on the island.  We knew that there were supposed to be a lot of iguanas here.  Either we weren't paying attention at the beginning or the island's iguanas are masters of disguise, because we had been here three weeks before we actually saw one.  Of course, after that we started to see them everywhere.

But, it wasn't until after the hurricanes that we realized that our yard is an iguana refuge shelter.  We're not doing free belly rubs just yet, but close.

Vieques Iguanas
These colorful lizards are believed to have been brought to the Caribbean by the Taino Indians as adults, and then left to breed and multiply to insure a steady food supply for when the roving tribes returned. And multiply they did. Here’s a few interesting facts about the iguanas:

  • Male iguanas can reach a length of 6 feet, females can grow to around 4 feet. Iguanas are the largest lizards in the Americas.

  • Iguanas have strong jaws with sharp teeth, but generally they only bite each other.  What humans have to fear the most from iguanas are their tails.  Their tails are long and sharp and are usually half of the body size. When in danger, an iguana can detach part of its tail to ensure fast escape from predators, then the broken tail will soon heal and grow back to its previous size.

  • Green iguanas have a third eye. This retina-like structure is located on the top of the head. Although it does not produce images like a regular eye, it reacts to the changes in light and it is used for detection of predators above the head.

  • Caribbean iguanas spend most of their life high in the treetops, often at the height of 40 to 50 feet. Although they are stable and safe on trees, they may occasionally fall. Iguanas can survive falls from the height of 40 to 50 feet, without injuries.

  • Green Iguanas are herbivores (plant-eaters). They like to eat fruit, leaves and flowers.

  • The mating season for most iguana species lasts from November to April. Females lay between 20 and 71 eggs in a nest. They do not provide parental protection and eggs are left on their own. Eggs hatch after a period of usually 10 to 15 weeks. Young iguanas look like miniature adults. 

  • Average lifespan of iguana is around 20 years in the wild. 

Last week I was working indoors and John came to the window and whispered for me to come out and bring the cameras and my sharp eyes.  That's always a sign that something really cool is  going on outside.  I grabbed shoes and cameras and headed out.

He beckoned me to follow him to the back lower section of the property. Along the back fence line is a row of trees that are leafless compliments of Maria, and inaccessible due to lots of undergrowth.  He pointed and whispered, “Take a look.”

The bare branches of each tree were filled with iguanas of all sizes just kind of, uh, hanging there. I’d never seen anything like this.  As John started snapping photos of our scaled green friends, I moved closer.  I noticed that none of them looked happy.  Okay, okay, I know that iguanas probably don’t smile, but the body language of these critters bespoke intense sadness.

I spoke to John, “Honey, I think they are in mourning. They are grief stricken about how Maria destroyed their island.”

He replied, “I think you’re right.”  

Both of us had teary eyes, feeling the same.

So since that day we’ve been talking gently to any one of them we see and leaving table scraps out at the edge of the trees each night.  As John has worked on the daily cleanup of the property, the iguanas have become used to him and most afternoons there will be three to six of them out keeping him company as he chops fallen trees and cleans debris. 

Here’s a movie that one of these remarkable critters allowed John to make:

Pretty cool, huh?  This one is about 6 feet long.

I’m not sure if our efforts and companionship have helped to cheer up these exceptional creatures, but we’d like to think so.  They sure have made us smile.

Our iguanas aren’t lined up for belly rubs or rocking chair sessions just yet, but yesterday John showed me this little guy from the bottom of the hill. 

He looks pretty happy to me.  I think I’ll name him Squiggy II.

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