An Iguana's Tale

Maurine Dodge 


© Copyright 2005 by Maurine Dodge


It was a hot summer day.  I passed by the windows facing the swimming pool.  A movement in the corner of my eye caused me to look out.  When I looked there was nothing.  Thus alerted. my mind would not let go.  So it was that I saw the snake-like movement across the water.  It was large, about two and one half feet long .   I went out to investigate.

I saw a large lizard, very green, very fast .  He surfaced near the steps.  He stopped and froze as if it made him invisible.  A scary looking thing.  I had no idea what he was.   I have a fear of reptiles, but saw this as a photo opportunity.  Into the house I went, grabbing my camera.

At the pool again, satisfied that whatever threat I represented was gone, the animal went back to enjoying the big pond.  Identification seemed in order.  California leads the nation in endangered and protected species, so I was off to our veterinarian armed with a digital photo.  This was an Iguana.  Not being an endangered species meant that whatever we determined  to do about our visitor,  it would not add to the endangered species problem.   It also meant that there would be no government agency to call to come get him.  There was some excitement among the patrons in the veterinarian office as they saw the picture and made exclamations like “You found THAT in  your pool?”  My response was, Yeah and he’s still there.

At first we thought to post the picture of our guest on phone poles in the neighbourhood, find his owner, and return him.  We are a  humane family.  Good hosts do not let a guest go hungry.  Our veterinarian wrote down the address of an exotic pet veterinarian in the area. When shown the picture of "Iggy" (I was becoming more familiar now that I knew what this dragon-esque critter was), they said feed him lettuce and get him out of the water when the air cools off or he might drown if he could not climb out of the pool on his own. They advised an iguana’s tail is very dangerous and can break bones, so be careful.

My fear of reptiles began to rise.  I thought, if this thing could break a bone in say, my hand, it might be capable of injuring a cat which would not be acceptable (especially to our cats).  Armed with this new information I raced home to find several of the cats now watching Iggy’s rapid and smooth movements across the pool with unwaivering attention.

 Having explained to my parents my fears for the cats , it was decided to find someone to take him away.  Calls to the local pet shops were made to find a place for Iggy, and I went back out to keep watch on the cats and discourage any hunting.  There was no movement.  Iggy lay still on the bottom of the pool.  I waited.  Nothing.  At least five minutes passed.  Had he drowned?  I picked up the skimmer net, carefully scooped him up and brought the net to the surface.  He was not dead.  As I brought the net up he carefully balanced atop the sides of the deep net watching me.  I set him carefully on the ground.  Iggy was back in the pool in a flash zipping along the bottom.  The cats continued stalking.

Going back in the house to see about the progress I could hear Mom on the phone saying “But I though we were not to go near it.  The vet said it’s tail could break bones.”  She got off the phone and turned to me. “I found a pet shop that will take him if you take him in. He says the vet exaggerated.”

It was clear I could not keep all the cats at bay forever, so Iggy had to go and if they would not come get him, I would have to capture him.   Realising there were no other options, I steeled myself to the task. Both my parents were in wheelchairs so that dictated this was a solo venture.  How did they say to transport him?  “Put him in a pillow case.”

In an emergency I have put a cat in a pillow case for transport.  It is rather unsatisfactory as claws come through cloth with relative ease.  This Iguana had some rather deadly looking claws and I doubted any pillow case would keep his long strong tail from thrashing me.  A large packing box seemed better if I could just get him in and close it quickly.

With a large carton open end up close to where Iggy lay on the bottom of the pool I used the skimmer net to bring him to the surface.  One quick move to the box and...there he hung, clinging to the sides of the net...upside down and looking at me.  I pleaded with him.  “This is for your own good. I cant have you hurting the cats. You will be better off with someone who knows what you need.  The whole time giving little shakes to the net hoping he would drop the short distance into the box.  Finally it worked.  He was in the box.  Dropping the net I  stepped to the box and quickly closed the box flaps. It was then an error I had made became evident.  I had not given close enough examination to this box prior to the capture.  The box lid, due to warping, would not stay shut. The box had to be held shut until I could get some tape to hold the flaps together.

Putting the taped  box in my car, we were off.  There was scuffling.  I could hear clawed feet against cardboard.  In the rear view mirror the box lid moved and the tape started to give. Visions of an escaped Iguana with me standing outside the vehicle in the middle of the road on my cell phone.  I imagined the conversation. “Well see, I can’t move my car out of traffic, there is an iguana in there. No, he is not my iguana... well yes.. yes, I did put him in there... but he was in a box at the time.”  Keeping one eye on the box and one on the road we finally got to the pet shop.  It was a short drive that seemed very long.

The pet shop man opened the box and looked in. “Oh he’s a beauty.  He must have been out a very long time.  He needs fattening up some. An iguana who could break bones would have to be...say, 6 feet long.  It would just hurt a lot for this one to get you.”  I noticed, however, that he did not reach into the box.  He said he would find Iggy a good home. I left with full knowledge this man would make a dandy profit from Iggy.  But I wasn't bothered by that as he was no longer in my inadequate care.

Subsequent research on iguana’s on the internet proved to be somewhat enlightening.  There are folks who eat them.  Yes, the blow from the tail of an Iguana can break a bone. (no mention was made of how big one of these had to be for that to happen).

The iguana is found over a large geographic area, from Mexico to southern Brazil and Paraguay, as well as on the Caribbean Islands. Besides long fingers and claws, Iguanas have good hearing, sense of smell, and vision. Their long tail is also quite sharp, and is snapped in the air as a defense mechanism. The tail can also break off  if caught by a predator, but grows back without permanant damage.

Iguana skin is water resistant and tough to avoid cuts and scratches. The coloring of the skin helps camoulflage the iguana, which means that they blend in easily to their surroundings. If they are detected, and need to escape quickly, these iguanas can dive from trees into water, and swim well. Iguanas are quite sturdy and can fall 40-50 feet to the ground without getting hurt.

They are omnivorous, so they eat both plants and meat. Iguanas lay many eggs at a time (about 50), in holes in the ground called burrows. They also dig pretend burrows to confuse any animals that may be looking for eggs to eat.  After female iguanas lay the eggs, they leave them and do not return. When iguana babies hatch, they grow up without their parents. It takes green iguana eggs about 8-10 weeks to hatch, then takes baby iguanas about 2 years to become adults. They lay many eggs, but only 3-10 babies actually survive to be adults.  I was grateful not to find hatching iguanas in the backyard over the next few months.

Full-grown green iguanas are usually between four and six feet, although they have been known to grow up to seven feet long so we did meet one of the small versions--for which I am grateful.

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