Godzilla versus Big Red

Bits and Pieces of Iguana Life

 

Godzilla

The two huge iguanas charged out of the jungle from opposite directions—heads furiously bobbing, tongues flicking and dewlaps extended to create  enlarged, intimidating appearances. Behind the two five-foot-plus male iguanas—looking for-all-the-world like dragons—were the armies of each of the Iguana Kings.

A pick-up truck full of vegetables had just arrived and two lizard teams from either side of the farm had come to compete for food.

From the east, Godzilla led his forces, and from the west, Big Red marshaled his unruly pack. There were iguanas everywhere! Little iguanas scurried over the backs of larger iguanas, joining the stand-off before the feed.

The door screeched as an old man hobbled out of the truck and swung onto the bed behind. He began tossing heads of old lettuce, cabbage and over-ripe fruits onto the grass between the competing forces. Both sides charged and clashed.

***

We were visiting Islas de la Bahias, the Bay Islands, wedged between the Gulf of Honduras and the Caribbean Sea off the Honduran coast. After we landed on the lush island of Roatán, we asked around about places to see and heard about the “incredible iguana farm.”

Sherman Arch’s Iguana Farm is located near French Harbor on Roatán. So, we rented a tiny Suzuki car and drove from our hotel in West End to French Harbor. We ate lunch there at Romeo’s—a highly recommended Italian restaurant. Who could have guessed?

Well, Romeo’s was so good, I didn’t think there would be room for the day to improve.

But then the feeding show at Arch’s Iguana Farm started. It was downright overwhelming. This farm is fully fenced and has government cooperation for protection of the island’s stressed iguana population. Arch’s didn’t seem to be a farm as much as the home of a very serious iguanaphile. Everywhere we looked we saw iguanas—on the driveway, in the trees, under bushes, everywhere. More than 3000 iguanas were living a coddled life of luxury in this private reserve.

The old man feeding the iguanas told us that the smaller ones liked to stay in groups to share the job of lookout—more eyes looking out for danger. And then he told us iguanas have three eyes.

We were taken aback.

Surprise, surprise, I checked. It’s true.

Their parietal eye is a tiny, transparent scale on the top of the head that detects light and dark. Iguanas use this primative eye to alert them to aerial predators when their shadow passes overhead. It is referred to as the third eye.

***

I assume humans are serious predators for wild iguanas because so many people have told me, “Iguana tastes just like chicken.”

Here in Mexico, there seems to be a robust trade in iguanas. At Playa Guayabitos in Nayarit, we encountered a policeman holding a beautiful emerald lizard. I asked if I could take a picture and why he was holding the creature.

“Por supuesto puedes tomar una foto,” he replied. Confiscaron este lagarto de un vendedor en la playa. Es ilegal para venderlos.” Of course you can take a picture. This lizard was confiscated from a vendor on the beach. It is illegal to sell them.”

“What will you do with him?”

“Te lo libero en un lugar seguro.” “I’ll release him in a safe place.”

Beach policeman in Rincón de Guayabitas holding confiscated lizard

Here in the city of Puerto Vallarta, there are lots of iguanas.

One day in the parking lot of Lans, a department store, we encountered a traffic snarl precipitated by a big hissing iguana that had bull-charged the attendant and sent him jumping over a low wall between the lot and the adjacent creek.

 

Iguana feroz threatening folks in Lans parking lot in Puerto Vallarta

The trees along the three rivers running through Puerto Vallarta are popular hangouts for iguanas to sun themselves and eat fruits and flowers. Tourists often stop, then ooooh, ahhhh, and gaze at the prehistoric-looking creatures. The iguanas appear undisturbed—they’re simply comfortable in the city environment.

Lurking in a tree next to the Puente Cuale on Calle Vallarta

In Puerto Vallarta, the iguana’s status as tourist attractions lends them immunity from the rigors of the wild.