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Tag Archives: Rhinoceros Iguanas

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The Natural History and Captive Care of the Rhinoceros Iguana

Male Rhino IguanaRhinoceros Iguanas (Cyclura cornuta cornuta) rank among the most “personable” of the lizards I’ve worked with.  However, due to their size, unique needs and powerful jaws (please see below), the decision to keep these magnificent animals must not be made lightly.


The “bulldog-like” body is stoutly-built and colored uniform gray, brown, olive-brown or nearly-black.  Rhinoceros Iguanas reach 4 feet in length, but appear larger due to their bulk.

The massive head of the male is topped by 3 horn-like tubercles and a thick adipose (fat) pad.  The head and horns of females are smaller. Both sexes have large throat pouches and crests of pointed scales along the spine and tail.  Read More »

Popular, Unusual and Rare Lizards of the Family Iguanidae

Classified within the family Iguanidae we find some of the most the world’s most popularly kept lizards, such as the Green IguanaIguana in Mexico (Iguana iguana) and the Chuckwalla (Sauromalus obesus).  As we will see, this diverse group is also populated by a number of oddities as well – rare island dwellers and lizards that dive into icy ocean waters to munch on seaweed, for example.

Species Diversity

The family Iguanidae originally contained over 700 species.  Recent work by taxonomists at the American Museum of Natural History has left the family with 36 species.

The 36 family members range from the United States south through Central America to Paraguay, and also inhabit the Galapagos Islands, West Indies and Fiji.


Most are terrestrial but a number are habitat specialists – i.e. the rock-dwelling Chuckwallas, the arboreal Green Iguana and the ocean-dwelling Marine Iguana (Amblyrhnchus cristatus).

All are diurnal, oviparous (egg-laying) and largely herbivorous, although some invertebrate prey is taken, especially by young animals.  Iguanids range in size from the 6 inch Desert Iguana to the 6.5 foot Green Iguana.

A Seagoing Iguana

Marine IguanasThe Marine Iguana must surely be the strangest lizard in the family, if not the world.  Indigenous to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, it feeds entirely on submerged marine algae (“seaweed”).

The water surrounding these tropical islands is very cold, arising as it does from the Humboldt Current.  Under normal circumstances, a lizard entering such water would be rendered immobile within minutes. The Marine Iguana, however, slows its heart’s action to ½ of the normal rate when diving for food, thus limiting the amount of blood that circulates to its outer surfaces (where it would cool rapidly).

After feeding, Marine Iguanas increase their heart rate and bask in the sun to warm up.  Other adaptations to a marine existence include nasal glands that expel seawater, partially webbed feet and a laterally compressed tail.

The unique ticks that parasitize these ocean-going iguanas are hunted by brilliantly-colored crabs that clamber over the lizards’ bodies as they bask – one can only imagine what the first people to view such a scene might have thought!

Endangered Island Dwellers

All 8 species of Rhinoceros Iguana (Cyclura spp.) are limited to specific islands in the Caribbean, such as Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, the Caymans and the Bahamas, and all are critically endangered.  Threats include hunting, habitat loss due to development and the grazing of feral goats, and predation by introduced dogs, cats and rats.  A number of zoos and governments are working on breeding, predator removal and reintroduction programs.

Several species of Rhinoceros Iguanas are also being bred in the pet trade, a fortunate circumstance which has helped to remove collecting pressure on wild populations.  Large and highly intelligent, captive Rhinoceros Iguanas require room-sized enclosures or outdoor aviary-type pens.

Feral, Pet and Food Trade Iguanas

The Green Iguana, long a pet trade staple despite its large size, is also an important food animal and is farmed throughout Latin America.  Escaped and released pets have established large breeding populations in southern Florida and on the Florida Keys.

Native to Central and South America, several of the 14 species of Spiny-tailed Iguanas (Ctenosaura spp.)are common in the pet trade.  Escapees have established breeding populations in southern Florida and on several of the Florida Keys.

Further Reading

Information about each member of the family Iguanidae is posted at here.

In the future I’ll write about the captive care of individual Iguanids, including my favorites, the chuckwalla and desert iguana.

Iguana in Mexico image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Keith Pomakis
Marine Iguanas image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Aquaimages

Learning in Rhinoceros Iguanas, Monitors and Other Lizards – observations on zoo animals

Rhinoceros Iguana

Observant lizard keepers cannot fail to become aware of the surprising degree of intelligence exhibited by many species. In the course of my long career at the Bronx Zoo, I was fortunate to have been able to observe the learning abilities of a number of species not often available in the pet trade.

Although species and individuals varied markedly in their capacities, one constant seemed to be that all recognized and responded to changes in their normal routine. This makes sense, of course, from the viewpoint of survival, but I was none-the-less always impressed by the rapidity at which most learned.

Rhinoceros iguanas, Cyclura cornuta, and water monitors, Varanus salvator, were particularly striking in this regard. Animals in the collection for over 15 years, long in the habit of approaching or ignoring a single keeper in their exhibit for routine maintenance, would flee if 2 people entered. It took but 1-2 incidents for them to learn that 2 people meant trouble – i.e. a veterinary exam, but that 1 person meant no harm. The animals unfailingly retained this knowledge over a period of years, even without reinforcement by new events.


An interesting article on intelligence in monitor lizards is posted at:

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