International Wildlife Encyclopedia - Vol. 11

By Maurice Burton; Robert Burton | Go to book overview

MARINE IGUANA

THE MARINE IGUANA is unique in its way of life, being the only truly marine lizard. It is found only on the larger islands of the Galapagos Archipelago, some 600 miles (965 km) west of Ecuador. It is of great scientific interest because of its exceptional home, and also its adaptations to feeding at sea.

The marine iguana is a heavily built lizard that grows up to about 4 feet (1.2 m) in length. It has a blunt snout, sturdy legs with partially webbed feet, and a crest of spines that runs from the neck to the tip of the tail. The tail is flattened sideways and is used for swimming. Most marine iguanas are black or very dark gray, but on Hood Island at the south of the Galapagos Archipelago their bodies are mottled with black, orange and red and their front legs and crests are green.


Rest up on lava fields

Marine iguanas are found on rocky seashores, entering the intertidal and subtidal zones to feed. Outside the breeding season, and when they are not feeding, they gather in tight groups on land, sometimes even piling on top of each other in heaps. They lie on the lava fields that are prominent features of the Galapagos. In the heat of the day they seek shelter under boulders, in crevices or in the shade of mangroves.

At the beginning of the breeding season, the males establish small territories, so small that one iguana may be on top of a boulder while another lies at the foot. Fights occasionally break out, but disputes are generally settled by displays. A male marine iguana threatens an intruder by raising itself on stiff legs and bobbing its head with mouth agape, showing a red lining. If this does not deter the other lizard, the owner of the territory advances and a butting match takes place. The two push with their bony heads until one gives way and retreats.

While marine iguanas are basking, large red crabs sometimes walk over them, pausing every now and then to pull at the iguanas' skin, removing the ticks that often infest these reptiles.


Diving for a living

As the tide goes down, the marine iguanas take to the water and eat the algae and seaweed exposed on the reefs and shores. They cling to the rocks with their sharp claws, so as not to be dislodged by the surf, and slowly work their way over the rocks. They tear strands of algae by gripping them in the sides of their mouths and twisting to wrench them off. At intervals they pause to swallow and rest. Marine iguanas sometimes swim out beyond the surf and dive to feed

A marine iguana
resting on the rocky
lava seashore. These
animals are unique to
the Galapagos Islands
and are the only lizards
that feed at sea
.

-115-

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International Wildlife Encyclopedia - Vol. 11
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Contents 3
  • Leopard 4
  • Leopard Frog 7
  • Leopard Seal 9
  • Limpet 11
  • Limpkin 13
  • Ling 15
  • Linnet 17
  • Linsang 19
  • Lion 20
  • Little Auk 24
  • Lizards 26
  • Llama 30
  • Loach 33
  • Lobster 35
  • Locust 38
  • Loggerhead Turtle 41
  • Long-Horned Beetle 43
  • Loon 45
  • Lorikeet 48
  • Loris 50
  • Lory 53
  • Lovebird 55
  • Lugworm 57
  • Lumpsucker 59
  • Lungfish 61
  • Lungless Salamander 63
  • Lynx 66
  • Lyrebird 69
  • Macaque 71
  • Macaw 74
  • Mackerel 77
  • Magpie 79
  • Magpie Lark 82
  • Mallard 84
  • Mallee Fowl 87
  • Mamba 90
  • Manakin 92
  • Manatee 94
  • Mandrill 96
  • Maned Wolf 99
  • Mangabey 101
  • Mannikin 104
  • Mantis 106
  • Mantis Fly 109
  • Mantis Shrimp 111
  • Marabou 113
  • Marine Iguana 115
  • Marine Toad 117
  • Markhor 119
  • Marlin 121
  • Marmoset 123
  • Marmoset Rat 126
  • Marmot 128
  • Marsupial Cat 131
  • Marsupial Frog 133
  • Marsupial Mole 135
  • Marsupial Mouse 137
  • Marten 139
  • Index 142
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