Iguanas in Mexico

By Snaketracks / August 2, 2021

There are 19 species of iguanas in Mexico including Spiny tales, Chuckwalla’s, and several others. This animal has become somewhat of a cultural staple. In fact, iguana meat is a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine. As much as we would like to delve into some delicious recipes, we’re here to talk about the different iguana species that inhabit this North American country.

There are several different species of iguanas in Mexico, but the exact number depends on which taxonomic authority you rely on. In order to be as detailed as possible, we decided to review all the officially recognized species found in this territory.

Iguanas in Mexico

1. Cape Spiny-Tailed Iguana

SpinyTailed Iguana (Ctenosaura Hemilopha)
SpinyTailed Iguana (Ctenosaura Hemilopha)
  • Experience Level: N/A
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Ctenosaura hemilopha
  • Other Names: Baja California spiny-tailed iguana
  • Adult Size: 39 in (males), 28 in (females)
  • Lifespan: 15 years
  • Price Range: N/A

The Cape spiny-tail iguana is a species that spends most of its life in trees, namely in old woodpeckers’ nests. Like other iguana species, it is a herbivore – it feeds on flowers, fruits, stems of various plants, as well as certain types of cacti. However, Baja California spiny-tailed iguana is also occasionally carnivorous and will eat small animals and eggs.

The Cape spiny-tailed iguana comes in a few shades of gray, sometimes with dark stripes (chevrons), although young iguanas are often of a yellowish or green color. Its tail is longer than the rest of its body. The exact color of an adult specimen varies depending on the temperature and even its temperament.

Although the species is not considered endangered (yet), it is vulnerable. The main challenge the species is facing right now is the loss of habitat due to urbanization and developments.

2. Green Iguana

Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) on log
Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) on log
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Iguana iguana
  • Other Names: American iguana, common green iguana
  • Adult Size: 3.9-5.6 ft
  • Lifespan: 20 years
  • Price Range: $10-$125

The green iguana is very close to what we normally imagine when someone says iguana. It is the most common and well-known species and is often used as a “representative” for all iguanas. In fact, even its scientific name is Iguana iguana. Some taxonomic authorities consider this one of only two species of iguanas (Iguana iguana and Iguana delicatissima), while all other varieties are considered subspecies.

This is likely the largest lizard in the Iguana family. Despite what the name suggests, not all green iguanas are green. Although hatchlings do have a vibrant green color, this can change as they age, and many adult green iguanas are actually a shade of brown or gray. They also change color during the day, and generally, males tend to have more vivid colors than females.

Their teeth are sharp and flat. For the most part, green iguanas are herbivores. Although they occasionally eat a grasshopper or a snail, this is believed to happen accidentally, while they are eating plants. However, they do occasionally (and deliberately) feed on bird eggs, dead fish, and other small (and usually dead) animals.

3. Western Spiny-Tailed Iguana

Western Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura pectinata) from Puerto Vallarta Municipality, Jalisco, Mexico by Andrew DuBois
Western Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura pectinata) from Puerto Vallarta Municipality, Jalisco, Mexico by Andrew DuBois
  • Experience Level: N/A
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Ctenosaura pectinata
  • Other Names: Guerreran spiny-tailed iguana, broad-ringed spiny-tailed iguana
  • Adult Size: 4.3 ft
  • Lifespan: 8 years
  • Price Range: N/A

If you thought the taxonomic mess that accompanies the green iguana is confusing, wait till you learn about this one. Ctenosaura pectinata, which is now known as the western spiny-tailed iguana, used to be called the Mexican spiny-tailed iguana (which is now the name of Ctenosaura acanthura). To make matters even more confusing, not all scientists agree that they are even a different species.

The western spiny-tailed iguana lives along the west coast of Mexico, with limited presence in southern Texas and Florida as well. The species likes rocky habitats where they can hide, sunbathe, and climb on trees. They are great climbers, move quickly, and are most active during the day. This is a rare Ctenosaura species that is actually social. 

The western spiny-tailed iguana is darker in color – usually a shade of gray or brown. There is a long crest running along its back. It can have an irregular pattern of brighter blotches on its head and back. Young western spiny-tailed iguanas are bright green.

4. Mexican Spiny-Tailed Iguana

Mexican spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura acanthura)
Mexican spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura acanthura)
  • Experience Level: N/A
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Ctenosaura acanthura
  • Other Names: northeastern spiny-tailed iguana, Veracruz spiny-tailed iguana, Gulf Coast spiny-tailed iguana
  • Adult Size: 4ft 7in (males), 3ft 3in (females)
  • Lifespan: N/A
  • Price Range: N/A

Until recently, the Mexican spiny-tailed iguana used to be known as the northeastern spiny-tailed iguana. In Mexico, the species inhabits the eastern regions of the country. When they’re young, they mostly feed on insects, but their diet becomes increasingly herbivorous as they grow older. 

Mexican spiny-tailed iguanas usually mate in spring. Male iguanas attract females by bobbing their heads. Females usually lay up to 24 eggs, which hatch after a month and a half. Hatchlings usually have to dig their way out of the sand-filled nest. 

When they’re young, Mexican spiny-tailed iguanas are green with brown blotches. Adults are usually black with white or cream markings. The spine crest on the back of the Mexican spiny-tailed iguana stops at its pelvic area and then continues further down along the tail. This is the easiest way to distinguish the species from the black spiny-tailed iguana.

5. Desert Iguana

Northern Desert Iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis dorsalis) on rock in Mexico
Northern Desert Iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis dorsalis) on rock in Mexico
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Dipsosaurus dorsalis
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 16 in
  • Lifespan: 7 years
  • Price Range: $50

This is a medium-sized species that is usually of a pale tan color with a darker pattern on the back. This pattern slowly merges into stripes on the tail. Much like its spiny-tailed cousins, the desert iguana has a crest running along its back.

It is pretty common for a lizard to be able to withstand high temperatures, but the desert iguana takes it to a whole new level. Even after other lizards have found shade from the sun, the desert iguana will stay in the sun until its body temperature goes well into the hundreds. 

There are three subspecies of the desert iguana. The one that lives in Mexico is known as the northern desert iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis dorsalis), and it inhabits the northwestern part of the country.

6. Club Tail Iguana

Club tail iguana (Ctenosaura quinquecarinata) on white background
Club tail iguana (Ctenosaura quinquecarinata) on white background
  • Experience Level: N/A
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Ctenosaura quinquecarinata
  • Other Names: five-keeled spiny-tailed iguana
  • Adult Size: 14 in (males), 7 in (females)
  • Lifespan: N/A
  • Price Range: $30-$40

The species can be recognized by the five rows of keeled scales on its tail, which is how it got its other common name – the five-keeled spiny-tailed iguana. They are born green, but gradually turn brown with age. 

The club tail iguana is native to Central America, namely Costa Rica and Nicaragua, but there have also been sightings in Mexico. The species is considered endangered, and the exact population isn’t known (although it is believed to be under 2500). Due to this, there is a lot we don’t know about the club tail iguana.

The biggest threats to the species are humans. Urban development, deforestation, unregulated or poorly regulated pet trade, and even hunting for food all play a role in the decrease in the number of club tail iguanas.

7. Sonoran Spiny-Tailed Iguana

Sonoran Spiny- tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura macroloph)
Sonoran Spiny- tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura macroloph)
  • Experience Level: N/A
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Ctenosaura macrolopha
  • Other Names: mainland spiny-tailed iguana
  • Adult Size: N/A
  • Lifespan: N/A
  • Price Range: N/A

Like other spiny-tailed iguanas, the Sonoran spiny-tailed iguana is born green but gradually turns a brown-gray shade as it gets older. This color becomes dark brown or black towards the tip of the tail.

The Sonoran spiny-tailed iguana is native to Mexico. It mainly inhabits Sonora (hence the name), but can also be seen in Sinaloa and Chihuahua. The exact numbers aren’t known, but the population is believed to be shrinking due to urban development and agriculture in those areas. They often fall prey to stray cats and dogs. This is especially true for juveniles, which may be an important factor in the population decrease.

8. Isla San Pedro Nolasco Spiny-Tailed Iguana

Isla San Pedro Nolasco Spiny-Tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura nolascensis) on fence post by Ricardo Dorame Acevedo
Isla San Pedro Nolasco Spiny-Tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura nolascensis) on fence post by Ricardo Dorame Acevedo
  • Experience Level:  N/A
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Ctenosaura nolascensis
  • Other Names: Nolasco spiny-tailed iguana
  • Adult Size: N/A
  • Lifespan: 9 years
  • Price Range: N/A

The Nolasco spiny-tailed iguana inhabits only one island – the San Pedro Nolasco Island. The species looks almost identical to the Cape spiny-tailed iguana. It is light to dark gray, although adults can be nearly completely white. Unlike most other iguana species, the Nolasco spiny-tailed iguana isn’t born green.

The species can usually be found on the ground, where there are a lot of rocks and vegetation. They bask on boulders, usually in groups containing one male and 1-3 females.

What makes this species stand out is that, unlike other iguanas, they’re not afraid of humans. It will often let people get close – or even touch it – before running away. This is likely a sign that it doesn’t have any major predators on the island and isn’t used to fearing for its life.

9. Oaxacan Spiny-Tailed Iguana

Oaxacan spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura oaxacana) on black background
Oaxacan spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura oaxacana) on black background
  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Ctenosaura oaxacana
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 14-16 in
  • Lifespan: 10-12 years in captivity
  • Price Range: $500

The Oaxacan spiny-tailed iguana is an endangered species found in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico. The population is concentrated in small patches around the territory, mostly due to urban and agricultural development.

The species spends a lot of time in trees – preferably trees that have holes in them, which the iguanas use for hiding. They can also sometimes be found in wooden fences made from such trees.

The color of the species slightly varies based on location. This is most visible in males. For example, specimens found along the coast usually have white spots on the back and a yellowish belly, while those found further west, in addition to the white dots, also have black bands and a beige belly.

10. Black Spiny-Tailed Iguana

Black Spiny Tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura similis) in a forest clearing, taken in Costa Rica
Black Spiny Tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura similis) in a forest clearing, taken in Costa Rica
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Ctenosaura similis
  • Other Names: black iguana
  • Adult Size: 4ft 3in (males), 3ft 3in (females)
  • Lifespan: over 20 years (in captivity)
  • Price Range: $30-$40

The black spiny-tailed iguana lives in Mexico and Central America. It can also be found in Florida, where it was introduced by humans. This is a Ctenosaura with the widest geographical range (which, to be fair, is not much, considering we’re talking about iguanas). 

The black spiny-tailed iguana has black keeled scales and a crest that runs along its spine. Although they generally have black markings, the base color of the species can vary greatly, which often makes them difficult to identify. With the exception of the western spiny-tailed iguana, this is the largest Ctenosaura species.

The species is known among locals in Central America as the tree chicken, which speaks for its presence in the local cuisine. Aside from food, the species is often hunted for the pet trade, as it is one of the most popular reptilian pets in the world.

11. Campeche Spiny-Tailed Iguana

Campeche spiny-tailed iguana (Cachryx alfredschmidti) on black background
Campeche spiny-tailed iguana (Cachryx alfredschmidti) on black background
  • Experience Level: N/A
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Cachryx alfredschmidti
  • Other Names: 
  • Adult Size: 12in (males), 10.5in (females)
  • Lifespan: N/A
  • Price Range: N/A

The Campeche spiny-tailed iguana is native to the state of Campeche in Mexico, although the species has also been spotted in Guatemala. The species inhabits tropical lowland forests, as well as areas with seasonal floods.

The Campeche spiny-tailed iguana spends most of its time in trees. There, it hides in hollow trunks and branches and uses its spiny tail to block the entrance and protect itself. The species most likely feeds on leaves, although it will occasionally eat a spider or another arthropod.

The Campeche spiny-tailed iguana has a fairly limited geographical distribution. On top of that, it is considered an increasingly threatened species. One of the biggest issues it faces is habitat loss due to human activity.

12. Yucatan Spiny-Tailed Iguana

Yucatan Spiny-Tailed Iguana (Cachryx defensor)
Yucatan Spiny-Tailed Iguana (Cachryx defensor)
  • Experience Level: N/A
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Cachryx defensor
  • Other Names: Yucatan dwarf spiny-tailed iguana
  • Adult Size: 9-11 in
  • Lifespan: 15 years (in captivity)
  • Price Range: N/A

The smallest of spiny-tailed iguanas, the Yucatan dwarf mainly inhabits southern Mexico. It lives in dry forests. It feeds on fruits, flowers, and its favorite – leaves. Occasionally, it will eat a smaller animal.

Aside from being the smallest one, this is also the most colorful spiny-tailed iguana. Its head is gray with a bluish tint. The shoulders, limbs, and tail are a darker shade, usually gray to black. The middle of its body is usually yellowish-orange.

The Yucatan dwarf spiny-tailed iguana spends a lot of time in trees, although it occasionally basks on the ground or on rocks. Its habitat is slowly shrinking due to urbanization. On top of that, it is often hunted illegally for the pet trade.

13. Balsas Spiny-Tailed Iguana

Balsas Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura clarki) on black background
Balsas Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura clarki) on black background
  • Experience Level: N/A
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Ctenosaura clarki
  • Other Names: Balsas armed lizard, Balsas spiny-tailed iguana, Michoacán dwarf spiny-tailed iguana
  • Adult Size: N/A
  • Lifespan: N/A
  • Price Range: $500

The Balsas spiny-tailed iguana is native to Michoacan State in Mexico. It lives in the dry forests of the Balsas region. Like most other iguanas, it feeds on foliage, but will occasionally eat a bug or two.

The Balsas armed lizard, as it is commonly called, is usually brown with tan to cream-colored spots and dark brown to black blotches or stripes. Some specimens are much darker and more unified in color. The flat and wide tail has rows of spines.

The species is considered vulnerable and, like with most other iguana species, faces the threat of habitat deterioration and loss due to human influence.

14. Common Chuckwalla

Common Chuwalla (Sauromalus ater) in enclosure
Common Chuwalla (Sauromalus ater) in enclosure
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Sauromalus ater
  • Other Names: chuck
  • Adult Size: 20 in
  • Lifespan: 15 years
  • Price Range: $200

Although they’re not really called iguanas, chuckwallas still belong to the Iguanidae family, and that’s good enough in our book. This is a large lizard with a wide, flat abdomen and a rounded tail. The color depends on the location, age, and sex of the lizard, but it is usually a shade of gray or brown with specks.

Although it might look a little scary, the common chuckwalla is harmless to humans and is pretty skittish. If it feels threatened, the chuckwalla’s first reaction is to run away and hide. Once it finds a place to hide, such as a crevice, the lizard will inflate its lungs, which fixes it in place and prevents the predator from pulling it out.

This lizard might not seem fit – but it is. Actually, chuckwallas use a push-up-like motion to communicate with one another. Other forms of communication include head bobbing and opening their mouths. During the winter, chuckwallas brumate (which is the reptilian version of hibernating).

15. Peninsular Chuckwalla

Peninsular Chuckwalla (Sauromalus australis) in death vallyey basking on rock
Peninsular Chuckwalla (Sauromalus australis) in death vallyey basking on rock
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Sauromalus australis
  • Other Names: N/A
  • Adult Size: 15-20 in
  • Lifespan: N/A
  • Price Range: N/A

Despite its scientific name, the peninsular chuckwalla doesn’t live in Australia. It is native to the Baja California state of Mexico. The name australis actually comes from Latin and means “southern wind”. 

This species looks very similar to the common chuckwalla. It has a stocky, wide, and flat body. The tail is thick with a blunt tip, and the neck is wrinkled. They are usually a shade of tan or yellow with darker bands and lighter speckles.

The species potentially exhibits territory-marking behavior. Namely, males have pores on the inner sides of their hind legs which produce a secretion. It is believed that the lizard uses this secretion to mark its territory.

16. Angel Island Chuckwalla

Angel Island chuckwalla (Sauromalus hispidus) on rock with black background
Angel Island chuckwalla (Sauromalus hispidus) on rock with black background
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Sauromalus hispidus
  • Other Names: spiny chuckwalla
  • Adult Size: 25 in
  • Lifespan: 25 years
  • Price Range: $330

Unlike mainland chuckwallas, island chuckwallas tend to be considerably bigger and are considered gigantic species. It is usually brown with lighter blotches and dark bands which become even darker with age.

As the name suggests, the species lives on Angel Island, as well as a handful of other smaller islands in the Gulf of California. Despite its size (it is the second-largest chuckwalla species), it is harmless to humans and just as skittish as the common chuckwalla.

Males can be quite territorial and even follow a hierarchy – larger and stronger males are always on top. The species is active during the day and spends a lot of time basking in the sun. They mostly eat plants and will occasionally feed on an insect.

17. Montserrat Chuckwalla

Monserrat Chuckwalla (Sauromalus slevini) being held in hand by ynafh
Monserrat Chuckwalla (Sauromalus slevini) being held in hand by ynafh
  • Experience Level: N/A
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Sauromalus slevini
  • Other Names: Slevin’s chuckwalla
  • Adult Size: 20-25 in
  • Lifespan: N/A
  • Price Range: N/A

The Montserrat chuckwalla has a very limited geographical range – it only inhabits three islands in the Gulf of California. Because of this, the species is under the protection of the  Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Slevin’s chuckwalla, as it is also called, got this common name after Joseph Richard Slevin, a herpetologist and a curator of herpetology at the California Academy of Sciences.

The Montserrat chuckwalla has a greenish-brown to black base color. It also has a yellow band in the middle of its back and might have spots or other bands of a red or brown shade. The species lives in rocky areas with plenty of nooks and crannies to hide in. It feeds on plants, mainly greasewood and the cholla cactus.

18. San Esteban Chuckwalla

San Esteban Island chuckwalla (Sauromalus varius) by V L
San Esteban Island chuckwalla (Sauromalus varius) by V L
  • Experience Level: N/A
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Sauromalus varius
  • Other Names: San Esteban Island chuckwalla, piebald chuckwalla, pinto chuckwalla
  • Adult Size: 30 in
  • Lifespan: 25 years
  • Price Range: N/A

Another island species, this is the largest of all chuckwallas. As the name suggests, it is endemic to San Esteban Island in the Gulf of California, where it lives in large numbers. However, since it doesn’t naturally occur anywhere else, it is protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The San Esteban chuckwalla is gray with tan, light-brown, or yellowish patches across its body. Like other chuckwalla species, it is mainly herbivorous and feeds on a number of different plants. It might occasionally eat an insect.

The species lives in arid desert conditions and requires very little water for survival. In fact, it doesn’t even drink water – it gets hydrated enough from its plant-based diet. This is true for other chuckwalla species as well. If the temperatures get too high and food scarce, the San Esteban chuckwalla will enter a hibernation-like state.

19. Spotted Chuckwalla

Spotted Chuckwalla (Sauromalus klauberi) on stone by Bradford Hollingsworth
Spotted Chuckwalla (Sauromalus klauberi) on stone by Bradford Hollingsworth
  • Experience Level: N/A
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Sauromalus klauberi
  • Other Names: Santa Catalina chuckwalla
  • Adult Size: 11.5 in
  • Lifespan: 20 years
  • Price Range: N/A

The spotted chuckwalla inhabits a number of islands in the Gulf of California, one of which is the Santa Catalina Island, which is how the species got its other common name. The scientific name is an homage to Laurence Monroe Klauber, herpetologist and curator.

The ground color on the back is dark gray, while the belly is a little lighter. There are darker, irregular blotches all over its back, while the tail, head, and limbs are of a uniform color.

The species can most commonly be found on rocky hillsides where it is easy to find a spot to hide. About an hour after the sun rises, the spotted chuckwalla emerges from its hiding to bask, which is how it will spend most of the day. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Iguanas in Mexico

Are wild iguanas in Mexico dangerous?

Iguanas are generally not considered dangerous animals. It is very unlikely you’d be able to interact with one in the wild anyway – they mostly run away and hide as soon as they sense danger. However, just like with any other wild animal, the safest thing to do is to stay away from them.

What does an iguana eat in Mexico?

For the most part, iguanas are herbivores. This means that their diet consists of plants (the types of plants they eat vary depending on the location). Sometimes, an iguana will eat a bug or a spider, but this is not a common staple in their diet.

How big do iguanas get in Mexico?

Iguana species vary greatly in size. Some species, like the green iguana, can grow over 5 ft, while others, such as the Yucatan dwarf, can barely reach one foot in length. As a rule, island species tend to be larger than mainland species. 

Do iguanas in Mexico bite?

Iguanas are not prone to biting, but they will bite if left with no other option. They have sharp teeth that, although designed to chew plants, can actually deliver quite a painful bite. Their claws are also pretty sharp.

Luckily, iguanas only bite in self-defense and will give warning signs, such as head-bobbing or standing up on their hind legs. As long as you don’t harass them or handle them without proper caution, you are unlikely to get bitten by an iguana.

How old do Mexican iguanas get?

The longevity of an iguana depends on many factors. In the wild, an iguana often doesn’t even reach adulthood, as juvenile iguanas are easy prey for predators. On the other hand, iguanas in captivity can live considerably longer if provided proper care and diet. In general, most iguana species live for around 15-20 years.

Are there iguanas in Cancun?

Yes, certain species of iguanas do live in the City of Cancun. However, for the most part, they steer clear of people, and especially touristy areas. They are not too fond of crowds of people, so unless you’re actively looking for one, it is highly possible you won’t even see them.

Wrapping Up

Those were the 19 types of Iguanas in Mexico which included a wide variety of species. Out of all of those which is your favorite?

Let us know in the comments below.

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