Species: Lesser Antillean iguana (Iguana delicatissima)
Status: Endangered (EN)
Interesting Fact: Dominant male Lesser Antillean iguanas turn from green to dark grey, and when reproductively active will flush pink in the jowls and become pale-blue in the scales on the sides of the head.
Female Lesser Antillean iguanas have a uniformly bright green body, pale head and brown tail. Hatchlings and juveniles are also bright green, with white flashes from the jaw to the shoulder, and three white bars on the sides of the body. They have brown flashes which darken when the individual is stressed.
Displays involving side-walking and head-to-head pushing contests determine the most dominant male Lesser Antillean iguana, who is rewarded with easy access to females. Reproduction coincides with the wet season, ensuring there is plenty of fresh plant growth to feed hatchlings. Hatchlings live mainly on the ground among thick vegetation, spending more time higher up in the trees with age.
Once present throughout the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean, the Lesser Antillean iguana is now confined to the islands of the northern Lesser Antilles. Clearance of suitable habitat for agriculture and tourism is a major threat to this species, particularly affecting communal nest sites. Feral predators such as Indian mongoose, cats and dogs, continue to reduce Lesser Antillean iguana populations.
The Lesser Antillean iguana is legally protected from hunting throughout its range, but law enforcement is limited. Accidental road kills are also a problem, principally because the majority of deaths are of migrating pregnant females and dispersing hatchlings. A further threat to the Lesser Antillean iguana is the confirmed hybridisation with common iguanas, responsible for the disappearance of the Lesser Antillean iguana in Les Îles des Saintes.
Proposals for the creation of nature reserves in other areas of the Lesser Antillean iguana’s range have been put forward, and captive breeding programmes are being run at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Memphis Zoo and San Diego Zoo.
Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author