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The Spiny Tailed Iguana of Mexico

Common in this region, the spiny tailed iguana is usually a discreet animal (except around bananas)

If you’ve spent time wandering around the Riviera Maya, you’ve probably seen the spiny tailed iguana or black iguana as it is also known. Native to hot and dry areas of southern Mexico and Central America, they are recognizable by their large size, rough spiny scales on the tail and tall dorsal crest.

When born, they are bright green and only change color to the adult gray after about a year. Youngsters eat meat, but when they reach adulthood feed mainly on leaves, fruit and flowers, although adults have been known to enjoy crabs, birds, small mammals and eggs, should the opportunity arise. They often eat plants that contain a lot of salt which is stored in sacs inside their noses. Eventually the sacs fill up and the iguana sneezes it out.

I had a strange encounter during a visit to Tulum ruins where they flourish. I sat on a rock enjoying a moment out of the midday sun with a bottle of water and a banana, when I noticed several smaller iguanas gradually nosing their way over to me. I stretched out my legs hoping to discourage them from coming any closer and started eating the banana faster than I would have done normally. Then the “Godfather” of the family appeared. It was huge and staring at me with real purpose in its eyes. It swished its tail to get the younger ones out of the way. At the same moment, a group of Japanese tourists came around the corner and started snapping wildly with their cameras at the scene.

Not wanting to curtail their obvious enjoyment, I stood (or rather sat) my ground and didn’t even flinch when two strong clawed legs started scrabbling up mine to get to the banana. On this occasion I gave in to all my inner beliefs about not feeding wild animals and threw the last of my banana on the floor next to it. Its size ensured no challengers. I was free, and basked in the knowledge that I may have sparked a conversation or two over dinner in a few Japanese households!

Sadly, although there are laws protecting them, black iguana numbers are declining in the wild due to hunting, poaching and the pet trade.


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