Ctenasaur / Iguana of Costa Rica


This animal requires warm, sunny areas with perches, which may be stones, boulders, trees, snags, or fence posts to thrive. Beyond this specific need, its habitat is flexible. The ctenosaur can exist in beachside scrubs, dry deciduous and moist forests, and busy adjacent zones such as pastures. They can be found living unruffled in gardens and other settings within urban areas. Despite their intimidating looks, the brownish-grey Black Iguanas are primarily harmless vegetarians. Costa Ricans call them garrobos or gallina de palo (translates tree chicken in English) since their meat is said to be tender and tastes much like that of a chicken.

The Black Ctenasaur (pronounced ‘tina-sore’) is actually a yellowish gray or tan colored creature with hazily outlined black bands on the back end of its body. Juveniles are a vibrant green that darkens with age. Adult color can vary considerably and may be nearly dark. Their color also changes all through the day depending on their activity and body temperature. The long, monstrously heavy tail of this lizard is covered in whorls of scary looking spines, and its feet are equipped with pointed claws. Males have bigger heads and more muscular jaws than females. These huge Pacific slope lizards are distinct from any other reptiles in Costa Rica with the single exception of its Atlantic side relative, the Green Iguana (also widely spotted in Costa Rica). The ctenosaur can be distinguished from the iguana because the iguana has an unmistakable, single enormous scale on both sides of its face below the tympanum. The iguana is also several shades brighter in color, features a longer tail, and is limited to moist riparian regions in Costa Rica’s dense forests. The tail of a ctenosaur can be up to twice the length of the snout-vent length. An adult male can have a total length of 1.3 m and weigh as much as 2 kg. The females total length is just under a meter (87 cm) and weight is in the range of 1 kg.

The behaviour of this giant lizard fluctuates between the obvious and the hidden. They constantly look out for shade and sunshine alternately to keep their body temperature in check. The ctenosaur is regularly seen basking in the open sunshine on branches and walls. They are extremely active during the day, although they spend most of their time regulating their temperature by moving to the sun or shade. They are adept climbers and sometimes sleep off the ground high up in trees. More frequently they will quickly slip into the burrows and tunnels they dig with their sharp feet. When a ctenosaur burrow is forsaken, other animal species will lay their claim to it. At lower temperatures they will lazily lie on rocks or the ground to absorb as much sun as possible (suntan anyone?). As the weather warms up, sometimes large numbers of ctenosaurs will bask in the same region. The reptiles will come out of their hiding in large numbers and make themselves comfortable on rocks or on the ground while they absorb the warmth and dryness of the sun. If you have an aversion for reptiles, this isn’t a pleasant sight to behold. On the other hand, those intrigued by reptiles will find this view rather fascinating.

Near the burrow, a ctenosaur will have a branch designated for display. Ctenasaurs are highly territorial in nature and both males and females will fiercely defend their burrow, or shelter, and immediate habitat. Males tend to display more aggressive characteristics than their female counterparts and have a home range including the burrows of multiple females under their protection. This animal is relatively peace loving and doesn’t indulge in many fights, but the warning sign a display of head bobbing with the mouth open and throat skin pouch puffed up with air should be undertaken more liberally. If an intruding male ctenosaur does not take the clue, a fight may be imminent. Females are clever enough to take these tell tale signs differently though, as they are aware males do the same thing to attract them.

Adults of this species will cleverly stock on fat before the mating season commences. The female does not have much space for storing food as the eggs develop and grow larger inside her small body. When the eggs are ready to be hatched, she lays them in a warm and comfortable burrow. Up About five different females may lay their clutches within the same tangle of connected burrows, but each female will select an individual chamber (talk about privacy). These large lizards lay a batch of 40 to 45 eggs every year, and the number depends on the mother’s size. Some lay as few as 12 or as many as 88 eggs at any given time.

Hatchlings are vulnerable to predators, so these young reptiles are vigilant, energetic, and light. They look drastically different from their heavy-bodied mature counterparts. As they mature, juveniles tend to be become more wandering, relying more on their speed than the parent burrows. Young ctenosaurs tend to occupy the ground more than the trees and are an easy prey for basilisks, snakes, birds such as hawks or jays, and mammals such as skunks and raccoons. The adults, well-equipped with their sharp claws and pointy tails, are difficult targets for predators, and they will auitably retaliate by biting if drawn into a fight. Some people in Central America consider the ctenosaur’s meat scrumptious and a readily available cure for impotence.

Juvenile ctenosaurs begin by feasting on insects and slowly transitioning to a mostly vegetable diet as they grow older. Adult ctenosaurs consume a lot of vegetation in the rainy season. When food is abundantly available in the dry season, tasty leaves become rare so they end up eating more flowers and fruits. In both seasons they will hunt if it is convenient and there is lack of vegetation in their immediate vicinity. Their opportunistic diet can also include insects, spiders, crabs, rodents, bats, frogs, lizards, lizard eggs (including another ctenosaur’s eggs if it comes to that), young chicks, or small birds.

Where To Spot Them

Ctenosaurs can be spotted everywhere from southern Mexico down to central Panama. The ctenosaur doesn’t venture far from the lowlands. In Costa Rica, it is mostly seen along the Pacific region. Visitors can witness Ctenosaur sightings at Corcovado National Park, Santa Rosa National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, Carara National Park, Palo Verde National Park, Guanacaste National Park, Rincón de la Vieja National Park, Cano Negro National Wildlife Refuge, Ballena National Park, Barra Honda National Park. Anamaya guests can also find them in the vicinity of the eco-lodge since they thrive in a wet and sunshine weather where vegetation is found in abundance. You can spot them while strolling through the property gardens or while enjoying a relaxed yoga session on the yoga deck or while exploring the beaches around Anamaya. Visitors can also spot these exotic and ‘dinosaurish’reptiles at Cabo Blanco, Costa Rica’s oldest Nature Reserve, located 9 km south of Montezuma.

This animal is often confused with Costa Rica’s Green Iguana, which grows larger, is vegetarian, and grows larger than the ctenasaur.

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