The green iguana may not be Costa Rica’s prettiest creature, but it’s one of the most fascinating and charming wildlife specimens in the country. This friendly-looking reptile can be seen swimming, scampering around, or lazing itself in the sunshine in many spots throughout Costa Rica.
More commonly, green iguanas inhabit southern Florida, Central America, and parts of South America. While they can reach up to 6 feet in length and weigh up to 12 pounds, they are generally quite docile – although it’s not a good idea to provoke it or place your hand anywhere near its mouth.
They have the appearance of a small dragon with thick bodies, short, stumpy legs, long toes, and a long striped, whip-like tail. Males have a row of spiny protrusions that run down the center of their backs. While they are called “green,” only the juveniles are a true green color. Adult green iguanas have skin that ranges from pale gray, to grayish-green, to a reddish hue.
Green iguanas are most active during the day and spend most of their time in Costa Rica’s trees. That said, they can often be spotted on the ground, where they climb down to find food and warmth. Iguanas tend to live near bodies of water and are excellent swimmers.
For their regular meals, iguanas like fruits, flowers and leaves, but they will occasionally eat small lizards, insects, or even rodents. They are generally loners and prefer a solitary life high up in the forest canopy. However, they do coexist calmly, and meet during specific seasons for mating purposes. Males will often fight to win the rights to mate with females. And you can easily spot those males who are unlucky in love; they are the ones with the battered back spines.
Green iguanas breed during the dry season. Males claim territories that have four females each and court each one of them. Females lay clutches of 40 eggs, which hatch within 11 to 15 weeks. Young iguanas are bright green, and the males have no dorsal spines.
Once used as a source of food, today green iguanas are a protected species in Costa Rica. However, they are abundant and can be easily spotted. They can be found along both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, and in the central northern region.
The best places to see green iguanas include the Arenal Volcano area, Tortuguero Island, the Osa Peninsula, Manuel Antonio National Forest, and the Guanacaste Gold Coast.