Portal:Amphibians and reptiles/Selected article/June 2008

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An example of a Blue Iguana

The Blue Iguana or Grand Cayman Iguana (Cyclura lewisi) is a critically endangered species of lizard of the genus Cyclura endemic to the island of Grand Cayman. Previously listed as a subspecies of the Cuban Iguana, it was reclassified as a separate species in 2004 due to genetic differences discovered four years earlier. The Blue Iguana is one of the longest-living species of lizard (possibly up to 69 years) and is a national symbol of the Cayman Islands.

The Blue Iguana prefers rocky, sunlit, open areas in dry forests or near the shore, as females must excavate cavities in the sand to lay eggs in June and July. Their vegetarian diet includes plants, fruits, and flowers. Their coloration is tan to gray with a bluish cast that is more pronounced during the breeding season, and more so in males. They are large and heavy-bodied with a dorsal crest of short spines running from the base of the neck to the end of the tail.

The fossil record indicates that the Blue Iguana was abundant before European colonization; but fewer than 15 animals remained in the wild by 2003, and this wild population was predicted to become extinct within the first decade of the 21st century. The species' decline is mainly being driven by predation by feral pets (cats and dogs) and indirectly by the destruction of their natural habitat as fruit farms are converted to pasture for cattle grazing. Since 2004, 219 captive-bred animals have been released into a preserve on Grand Cayman run by a partnership headed by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, in an attempt to save the species. Some success with naturally laid eggs has been reported in the wild. At least five non-profit organizations are working with the government of the Cayman Islands to ensure the survival of the Blue Iguana.