Dec 302009
Photo provided courtesy of Silvain de Munck on Flickr Creative CommonsHomeCarribean
Habitatdry rocky ground with cacti
Nichelarge herbivore
Favorite Foodleaves and berries
Body Lengthbetween 3 and 4 feet
Weight10 to 20 pounds
StatusVulnerable to Extinction
ThreatsHabitat loss, competition from invasive species

The rhinoceros iguana is a massive lizard, weighing as much as a beagle and rivaling the length a German shepherd from nose to tail tip. It gets its name from its mottled gray skin and protruding scales on its nose that resembles a rhino’s horn. Although they look ferocious, these iguanas are vegetarian.  They subsist exclusively on tender leaves and fruit from low-hanging shrubs in the rocky interior of the island of Hispaniola and immediate Caribbean. More often than not, these shy iguanas will bolt away from danger at high speed and seek refuge in hiding. However, it’s unwise to corner a startled rhinoceros iguana, for it can deliver a powerful bite and will strike out repeatedly with its muscular tail.

Females lack the large nose “horns” and domed helmet of the males, who are fiercely territorial during the mating season and will attack intruders to drive them from their territory and assert dominance. After mating, the female will lay between 10 and two dozen eggs that she will guard with her life in a small burrow. After three months, the eggs will hatch and the youngsters will be left by the mother to fend for themselves in a dangerous world. Few will be lucky enough to reach adulthood.

photo provided courtesy of Anubis333 on Flickr Creative CommonsDespite their formidable size and strength, rhinoceros iguanas are now vulnerable to extinction. Like many animal species native to islands, these iguanas are threatened by invasive species brought by colonial ships centuries ago. Predation and competition for food from pigs, dogs, rats, and cats have cut the numbers of wild rhinoceros iguanas significantly. Habitat destruction in the fragile economies of Haiti and the Dominican Republic has also driven this monster lizard from much of its former range. Its future is in doubt.

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