There is an amusing side to reports on iguanas in Puerto Rico, particularly when the subject is the green iguana. The green iguana (Iguana iguana, in botany) is generally found in rain forests throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean. At pet shops, you usually see dozens of them in a small fish tank. These are young hatchlings, waiting for the next group of children in search of their exotic pet. Yes, that's how the considerably larger adult iguanas find their way to your backyard: they come from pet shops all over the island. They are purchased when they are young and look friendly; as they grow, most remain untamed and either flee or are allowed to escape by their young owners.
Interestingly enough, the green iguanas are listed as endangered species due to the fact that their natural habitats, tropical rain forests are disappearing throughout the American Continent. Pet shop iguanas are generally bred and hatched in captitivy and thereby exempt from Federal Government restrictions on ownership.
The proliferation of green iguanas in Puerto Rico has created headaches for many people. At the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, for example, many flight takeoffs have been delayed when green iguanas have been spotted basking in the sun right on the runway. Airplanes cannot take off until the green iguanas are scared off the runway. Iguanas also create traffic hazards when they choose to walk or bask in the sun in heavy traffic areas.
Government authorities do not seem to recognize problems related to the continuous growth in the population of green iguanas across the island. Agencies are accused of dragging their feet instead of searching for solutions to the situation. Similar attitudes have allowed uncontrolled increases in the populations of monkeys in southwestern Puerto Rico and caimans in Vega Baja's Laguna Tortuguero and vicinities.
In many countries of Latin American, green iguanas are nicknamed "gallinas de palo". They are caught or raised and their meat is used for cooking. The taste and feel of the cooked iguana is said to be similar to chicken; hence, the nickname, which means "tree chicken". In Puerto Rico, though, green iguanas have not yet found their way into local menus, neither domestic nor commercial.
Iguanas verdes or green iguanas should not be confused with lagartos verdes (Anolis cuvieri), a large lizard or anole whose habitat is usually tall trees and are more likely to be found in the forests of our mountain regions. Unlike the iguana, the green lizards are omnivorous, feeding on leaves and fruits as well as small insects and larvae. Green lagartos are not seen frequently outside their normal habitats. Most of our lizards have the capacity to change color to adapt to their surroundings, and most tree lizards can adopt a green color when found among very green foliage.