“Oh my, what a big dewlap you have.” The Iguanas of Puerto Vallarta

Our grandsons Ethan and Cody were fascinated by the iguanas we found in Puerto Vallarta. The 8-year-old Ethan took this photo as  and iguana checked him out. (Photo by Ethan Cox.)

Our grandsons Ethan and Cody were fascinated by the iguanas we found in Puerto Vallarta. The 8-year-old Ethan took this photo as an iguana checked him out. (Photo by Ethan Cox.)

The iguana I named Big Orange was staring up at us with a curious eye. He had come down out of his tree and shuffled over to where we were having lunch on a patio above the Rio Cuale. My eight-year-old grandson, Ethan, was scratching the wall to attract his attention. The iguana and the boy seemed equally interested in each other.

Iguana in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Another shot of the curious iguana. I named him Big Orange because of his color.

These large lizards can grow to be over 5 feet long. If their tastes tended toward meat, they might be worrisome, especially given their fearsome appearance. But iguanas are vegetarians and prefer to avoid conflict. Still, you wouldn’t want to irritate one; their lightning fast spiky tails and sharp little vegetarian teeth can do considerable damage.

Iguana in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I, for one, would hesitate to get in an argument with the iguana I named Big Orange with his spiky tail, long claws and his tiny, but sharp teeth.

They also have a third eye, located on top of their heads. As eyes go, it is rather primitive. Cells sensitive to light and dark can warn an iguana when something is blocking the sun, such a hawk hovering over its head. One way of escape is to fall out of the tree. If there is a river underneath, you might call it a dive. They are good swimmers and use their powerful tails for locomotion.

Parietal eye of iguana. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The small oval on top of the iguana’s head serves as his third eye and is sensitive to light and dark. This photo also shows Big Orange’s leaf-eating teeth.

If a convenient river isn’t present, they land on the ground with a loud plop. Peggy witnessed one such fall. It was a little close for comfort. She was living in Panama at the time with her first husband. Our daughter Tasha, Ethan and Cody’s mom, was splashing around in a baby wading pool in the shade of a palm, when one of the big guys fell out of the tree and crash landed next to the pool.

“The iguana landed flat and seemed stunned. Then he stood up on his legs, shook his head, and wandered off.” Apparently iguanas can fall for up to 50 feet and survive. Whether baby Tasha could survive an iguana falling 50 feet and landing on top of her was another issue. Peggy moved the pool.

Iguana on roof in Puerto Vallarta. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Iguanas are arboreal (live in trees). A convenient roof will do in a pitch, however.

One of the stranger aspects of iguana physiology is a rather large dewlap that hangs down from the chin. I am surprised Big Orange didn’t stumble over his. Male iguanas bob their head and shake their dewlap when trying to impress a lady iguana. They also do the same thing to scare off the male competition. It must get confusing at times.

Large dewlap on Puerto Vallarta iguana. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Check out the large dewlap on this iguana. The loose skin hanging down from his chin does double duty, both attracting females and scaring away males. This guy was bobbing his head and shaking his dewlap at a lady iguana.

Human-iguana interaction goes in two very different directions. One, iguanas are used as pets. Their normally benign disposition and bizarre looks makes them quite popular. The downside here is that they require an unusual diet that pet owners frequently fail to provide. Two, they have served as a source of food in South America for over 7000 years. A common name is gallina de palo, which translates chicken of the tree. And yes, you guessed right. They supposedly taste like chicken.

I’ve never eaten an iguana but I did eat a rattlesnake once that tasted like chicken. Eating it, however, was like chewing a rubber band.

In addition to the iguanas that hang out in the middle of Puerto Vallarta on the Rio Cuale, we had a family in our back yard. The challenge each morning was to try to find where these arboreal lizards were hiding out in the trees. Later in the day they would come down and graze on our grass. Clover was in high demand.

A Mexican Green Iguana. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

“Come quick, Curt,” Peggy urged. A Green Iguana had come down from its tree and was grazing on the grass in our yard.

Green Iguana in Puerto Vallarta Mexico. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The grass-eating iguana ignored me for the most part, until I tried to sneak up on her for a photo. I got the eye. It was pretty much the same look Peggy gives me when I am misbehaving.

Baby iguana in Puerto Vallarta. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

While I was sneaking up on the Green Iguana, this youngster came scurrying out next to our pool.

Young iguana grazing on grass in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Having satisfied itself that I was not dangerous, the young iguana returned to grazing on our grass. He is about to chomp down on a tender clover leaf.

NEXT BLOG: The peyote influenced art of the Huichol Indians.

22 thoughts on ““Oh my, what a big dewlap you have.” The Iguanas of Puerto Vallarta

  1. I absolutely love these guys. When I was a serious sculptor, between each piece I would allow myself a fun time and make a a sort of dragon or dinosaur beast often on a big scale. Some of them looked a bit like Orange, but without the dewlap. Somewhere is Oxford, if she is still with us, is the mother of an erstwhile boyfriend who hates me for filling an entire room of her house with a birthday present plaster beast for her son.

    • Thanks for the laugh Hilary. I can see the mom… and maybe the boyfriend. Peggy is laughing as well. She just came out of surgery for diverticulitis and I brought her home yesterday. You would be welcome to build a large dinosaur here. 🙂 -Curt

  2. “Male iguanas bob their head and shake their dewlap when trying to impress a lady iguana.”—Well, what woman could resist a good shake of the dewlap? 😉

    I think if a 5-foot iguana sauntered up on the patio where I was eating I might lose my cool. And I KNOW I’d lose my cool if one plopped out of a tree by me. Or worse, landed on my head…

    Interesting facts to learn. Thank you!

  3. These photos are just marvelous. We don’t have anything so impressive here, of course. We do get to watch green chameleons inflate the orange pouches under their chins, though. From what I gather, those pouches are dual purpose, too – good for getting the ladies and driving off the competition.

    Have you heard about the iguanas in Florida who fall out of the trees when it gets too cold? True story – and it looks like the sweet, invasive critters are your iguanas, imported for pets. Anyway – here’s the scoop on the falling lizards. One of my Florida friends had three fall onto her patio during the last big chill.

    • I had read about the iguanas falling out of the trees like rain in Florida, Linda. It was quite the story. I suspect people walking under trees would have been quite careful!

      I was going to incorporate it into my blog but my time has been focused on Peggy these last few days. She had scheduled surgery for diverticulitis right after we returned form Mexico. It is a serious procedure but she came out of it fine. Now she is home where I can spoil her. –Curt

  4. The things I learn here! I will be showing this post to my son. He’s been devouring Nat Geo documentaries and knows more about animals than I do. He’s also asked about rattlesnakes, pretending he is one. I can now tell him what they taste like! I didn’t realize iguanas had three eyes. Thanks for the INTEResting, informative posts.

  5. These are stunning photos! Assume you were able to get up close to them or was it just a stonking lens? Good thing a big dewlap puts other meagre males off as trying to fight with one would seriously hamper the owner. Mmm, not sure about being hit by a falling Iguana – you must learn to either look up or keep away from trees altogether.

    • The photos were taken with a telephoto, although the iguanas were relatively close. Fortunately the iguanas don’t fall out of trees frequently. There was a report from Florida, however, where a cold weather snap led to so many falling out that people reported it was raining iguanas. Ouch. –Curt

  6. Tennyson is captivated by the fact that you’ve had rattlesnake. He asks “the blogger if it tasted venomy.” I can figure the answer based on what you wrote but wanted to pass on the inquiry. He thoroughly enjoyed this post, top to bottom.

    • Glad Tennyson enjoyed the post. 🙂 No, the rattlesnake didn’t taste like venom. Fortunately it seems to stay up in the rattlesnakes head. There was no danger from eating the rattlesnakes body. As for its head, I think I would stay away from that… –Curt

  7. Looks like Big Orange got in a argument with HIS wife… He’s either missing a toe or it was broken. 🙂

    Excellent photography as always to compliment our learning process (Ethan, too!). We have learned a lot from your travels and stories. But I don’t think Peggy would particularly like being compared to an iguana. 🙂

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