Caribbean Curiosities: Here Be Monsters

You’ve marveled at them and perhaps been momentarily intimidated by one. It’s the often massive lizard roaming St. Martin: the Green Iguana.

The Green Iguana is often green in name only.

The Green Iguana is named after a color it often outgrows. Freshly-hatched iguanas are a brilliant acid green. As they age, their color fades to darker greens and shades of gray. Male iguanas wear bright orange during the breeding season, most often on their legs and feet. Despite their diverse and splendid range of colors, all the iguanas on St. Martin are the same species.

The iguana is a gentle giant, more or less. They have up to a hundred sharp teeth, but they mostly use them to eat the leaves and fruit that make up their vegetarian diet. They have a row of spines down their back, but just to protect them from predators. They have sharp claws, but they use them to climb the trees where they spend most of their time.

The iguana is most graceful in the water. On land, iguana locomotion ranges from a plodding gait to an awkward, frenetic scramble. If you approach an iguana near a pond, they will usually take a flying leap, legs flailing, into the water. In the instant after splashing down, they are transformed into a sinuous swimming machine, gliding towards the safety of the far bank.

Although they look like primeval caretakers from the island’s distant past, the Green Iguana is a surprisingly recent arrival on the island. According to most accounts, a couple crates of iguanas arrived via air freight in the mid-1990s. Originally destined to be pets or perhaps soup, they were never picked up. After a number of days, a sympathetic employee released the forlorn creatures, and for some time they lived primarily in Flamingo Pond.

Flamingo Pond was filled as part of the airport expansion a few years later, and iguanas were brought to other parts of the island. These refugees went on to prosper in their adopted home. Over the next decade, they became increasingly common and they are now found all over St. Martin in large numbers.

At home in the water.

What is the impact of the Green Iguana? It’s hard to say exactly, but they have the potential to damage or kill trees in spots where there are too many of them. They are also known to eat bird eggs on occasion. Perhaps the biggest danger is the possibility of Green Iguanas from St. Martin making their way to nearby islands with endangered native iguana populations. Competition with Green Iguanas and interbreeding with them are a huge threat to native iguanas in the Caribbean.

You can learn more about the Green Iguana and other non-native species that are transforming St. Martin’s ecology at Amuseum Naturalis, located at 96 Boulevard de Grand Case. The museum is free and open 4-8pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Get more info at http://amuseumnaturalis.com

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One comment

  1. Anton Lemmers says:

    Hi Mark,
    Last january I visited Saint Martin from jan-10 until jan-31 and of course I visited the Amuseum naturalis. I enjoyed it very much. Before I went to Saint Martin I downloaded your book of Wildlife of Saint Martin 2e edition. (great book great information) So I did know what to expect on the island. I’m a wildlife photographer and I Shot amazing photos. (not all the birds I wanted, so I have to come one more time) Of course I shot also the Green Iguana (grey, black, green and orange). and many many birds.

    Are you interested in some pictures? (free of charge of course!)
    with regards
    Anton lemmers

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