Living With Animals: Celebrate National Iguana Day

By Hope Bidegainberry on August 31, 2018

Labor Day may mean you get a day off but the big news is that this Friday is National Iguana Awareness Day and it’s time to party! Ok, maybe you’re not such an iguana fan that you plan on a whole day of celebration, but certainly you can spare the 3 minutes it will take to read this column. Let’s start with the basics: what is an iguana?

Most of us think of a bright green dragon-looking reptile we may have spotted in Mexico, and that’s partly true. The common green iguana (Iguana iguana, scientifically speaking) is native throughout much of Central and South America, but the family Iguanidae includes a dozen or so genera  (including Iguana) ranging also into the Southwest U.S. (including California), the Galapagos, Figi, Tonga and the West Indies, and by some definitions Africa (specifically Madagascar). The body types are somewhat consistent and dragon-ish, but this includes species that live everywhere from deserts to tropical rain forests, tree-dwellers to cave-dwellers to sea-swimmers, from just a few inches long to big, heavy bodied animals with a body-type not unlike a Basset Hound.

For many years, Iguana iguana was among the most commonly kept exotic pets in the U.S., a trend that (fortunately for these lizards) has significantly waned as other more exotic species of reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds and mammals continue to become increasingly available (the result of smuggling, legal importation and captive breeding). Back in the 1980s and 90s, animal shelters often had one or more 2-to-3 foot long iguanas in care, animals often suffering serious medical problems as the result of inadequate to neglectful husbandry at the hands of their original “owners.” But while they’re no longer quite so popular as “pets” and while their populations in most of their native habitat continues to be stable, we see a new problem in several places around the globe, including here in the Southeast United States. Parts of Florida especially are now so overwhelmed with released and escaped “pet” iguanas that native wildlife of the State is jeopardized.

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