Iguana Snuggle

Once again I was dazzled by iguanas.  On our recent trip to Belize we had the joy of seeing two species of iguanas and many smaller lizards and anoles as well. On the Caribbean side of Belize are a series of small islands; we were on Ambergris Caye where the main mode of transportation for locals and tourists alike are golf carts. Our first sighting of the spiny-tailed iguana was when a male shot across the road in front of our golf cart and nearly got flattened. We were thrilled with that flash of color and the excitement, and had our eyes peeled from then on, observing several dozen including a pair in a shuffled mating dance.

But it was on the mainland of the country when we saw the bigger green iguana that our reverence heightened. Our guide was driving around the outskirts of Belize City. We were “killing” a little time while waiting for the rest of our tour group to arrive at the airport, looking for birds. He had known us for less than an hour and knew us only as birders. He did not know, that is, that we were enamored of iguanas.

He turned right at a quiet T intersection and casually said, “There’s a green iguana back there.”  Continuing his turn, driving away from the iguana, we looked and looked all over the ground and finally said, “Where?”  I added anxiously, “We’d really love to see it.”  In a residential section with old, cinder block houses mixed with a development of new and primarily unfinished houses, was a tree-lined creek. There were few cars or people in sight so he accommodatingly turned the small bus around, pulled over, and pointed.

What he had seen was an iguana as far as 300 yards away, camouflaged and hidden in the leaves of a tree about 20 feet off the ground. We never would have seen this lovely creature even with our binoculars and birding skills, without the help of the guide. And oh, was he gorgeous.

Green Iguana

Green Iguana

Fortunately the sun was directly on him, so not only did we see him fairly quickly once pointed out, but the bright orange and gold colors of this large, green male in the prime of his life were striking. You can see from this photo the spikes on his nape. The spikes went all the way down the length of his long, leathery spine. He was about four or five feet long. Also in this photo is a good view of what is called his dewlap, that patch of loose skin at his throat. It is deflated here, but when they are threatened it balloons out. Although he was aware of our presence, he was unthreatened. We were respectfully quiet, unassuming, and stayed at a distance of about 100 feet away. In this basking pose, he is absorbing the heat of the morning sun, which helps him to digest all the leaves he has just eaten.

As a birder I am accustomed to getting a very brief 3-5 second look at a bird before they flit off to the next bug or perch. I think one of the things I secretly like about iguanas is that they stay longer on a perch, and although they can indeed move quickly (like that spiny-tailed iguana that just missed the tires of our golf cart), they are also known to move lethargically. If they don’t have enough heat, in fact, they can’t move at all. So we oogled this majestic creature for a languid 5 or 8 minutes, listened appreciatively to our guide’s whispered discussion of the iguana, took photos and marveled, and then eventually, with some reluctance, moved on.

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