Photo: Green iguana climbing a log

Sticking strictly to a vegetarian diet, green iguanas spend most of their lives in the rain forest's canopy.

Photograph by George Grall

Map

Map: Green iguana range

Green Iguana Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Reptile
Diet:
Herbivore
Average life span in the wild:
20 years
Size:
6.6 ft (2 m)
Weight:
11 lbs (5 kg)
Did you know?
In Central America, where iguana meat is frequently consumed, iguanas are referred to as "bamboo chicken" or "chicken of the trees."
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Green iguana compared with adult man

Green, or common, iguanas are among the largest lizards in the Americas, averaging around 6.5 feet (2 meters) long and weighing about 11 pounds (5 kilograms).

They are also among the most popular reptile pets in the United States, despite being quite difficult to care for properly. In fact, most captive iguanas die within the first year, and many are either turned loose by their owners or given to reptile rescue groups.

The green iguana’s extensive range comprises the rain forests of northern Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean Islands, and southern Brazil. They spend most of their lives in the canopy, descending only infrequently to mate, lay eggs, or change trees.

Primarily herbivores, iguanas are active during the day, feeding on leaves, flowers, and fruit. They generally live near water and are excellent swimmers. If threatened, they will leap from a branch, often from great heights, and escape with a splash to the water below. They are also tough enough to land on solid ground from as high as 40 feet (12 meters) and survive.

Iguanas' stout build gives them a clumsy look, but they are fast and agile on land. They have strong jaws with razor-sharp teeth and sharp tails, which make up half their body length and can be used as whips to drive off predators. They can also detach their tails if caught and will grow another without permanent damage.

Other members of the iguana family include the Fiji Island banded iguana, the desert iguana, and the Galápagos Islands marine iguana. Their appearance, behavior, and endangered status vary from species to species.

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