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Why The Marine Iguana May Be Endangered

Have you heard about coughing iguana’s, the marine iguana?

Do you wonder why this pet is considered in trouble of extinction despite the fairly large amount of marine iguanas still out there?

The marine iguana is a fascinating creature and, as with many species of iguana and rock iguana, are considered endangered.

But you may wonder why the marine iguana may be endangered at all.

The marine iguana is endangered for similar reasons to other endemic (or environment-specific) reptiles. Changes in the environment due to the settling of humans and climate change make it harder for the iguanas to survive and find natural foods. The introduction of other predatory species such as dogs and cats have also thrown off the ecosystem’s balance.

Read ahead for more details on this unique iguana.

why the marine iguana may be endangered

What Is A Marine Iguana?

The marine iguana is a member of the Iguanidae family and shares some characteristics with their green iguana and rock iguana cousins.

The marine iguana’s genus is Amblyrhynchus, and there are eight species and more subspecies of this iguana cousin.

The marine iguana species live near the equator on the Galápagos Islands.

The limited places the reptile is found makes this iguana endemic.

Endemic means the creature is restricted to certain areas and not found other places due to specific evolutionary needs.

Compared to its iguana cousins, the marine iguana is similar in many ways leading to its classification as a member of the greater Iguanidae family.

It’s also thought they shared a common ancestor at some point.

However, the differences between them and the iguana genus (where the common pet Green Iguana comes from), highlight their uniqueness.

While other iguanas spend all of their time on land, the marine iguana swims in shallow ocean waters to forage for algae and other ocean plants for consumption.

The sneezing mechanism to reduce salt in green iguanas is advanced in the marine iguana to make it even easier to remove the salt from swimming in the ocean water.

As an additional result, the marine iguana has a flat nose for better eating algae, a thicker tail for better swimming, and better breath capacity.

When eating, they spend a few minutes at a time underwater, but they can stay underwater for 30 minutes at a time.

Marine iguanas are capable of diving up to 65′ feet (19.81 m) underwater for food.

Learn how long other iguanas can stay underwater.

Size-wise, they tend to be shorter than their land cousins.

Males end up around 4.3′ feet (1.31 m) and females at 2′ feet (0.61 m).

3 Reasons The Marine Iguana May Be Endangered

This section covers the three main reasons why marine iguana may be endangered.

There is a multitude of reasons, but this will give you a basic idea of why this ocean reptile is in trouble.

Human Settlements

Being from small islands, space is limited.

The limited space is thought to be why the marine iguana evolved to forage in the ocean in the first place.

However, in recent years, humans have come to live on 5 of the islands where the iguanas reside.

This settling has changed the landscape of the reptile’s natural home.

It limits how they can move and live.

Though the marine iguanas are capable of swimming in the oceans, they still need land to survive.

The process of settling the islands have also harmed their food supplies.

The higher traffic in sea travel and land travel has destroyed a large amount of this food supply.

In short, there’s less room for the marine iguana to live, and there’s less food available.

Given the iguana can’t move away on its own, the reptile is left with no way to survive on its own.

Climate Change

Another substantial impact is climate change.

The increasing temperatures overall of the planet changes how many organisms survive on the planet.

Higher temperatures inhibit the growth of certain algae in shallow waters.

This is unfortunate for the marine iguana, who gets a lot of food from this algae.

The lack of algae from this rising heat makes it dive farther and farther for food.

Even its massive 65′ foot diving ability isn’t enough sometimes.

The rising temperatures also put some pressure on the iguana itself.

While the marine iguana is used to high temperatures, longer periods of high temperatures make it adjust its cooling periods.

Perhaps more importantly, climate change resulting in stronger storm systems such as El Niño makes living on the islands harder and more dangerous.

New Predators

As with the rock iguanas of the Cayman’s, another huge problem for the marine iguana comes along with human settlements, and it’s the introduction of new predators.

Over time, the marine iguana has evolved to handle its natural predators in certain ways, namely running, flailing, and hiding.

However, as humans have come to the islands, so have dogs, cats, and even rats and pigs.

These animals will prey on the marine iguana.

The marine iguana doesn’t have natural instincts to handle these predators and their aggressive hunting style.

On top of this new hunting style, the now-greater number of predators also throws off the whole ecosystem.

More predators mean fewer marine iguanas, which, in turn, means fewer marine iguanas to mate with.

Fewer matings mean fewer newborn iguanas, which means a smaller overall population.

It’s easy to see how quickly this tipping turns into an avalanche, which may make the marine iguana extinct.

This is the main reason why scientists have labeled the marine iguana endangered despite the larger number still existing on the island.

They see the situation and declining numbers as a clear indication of the trouble ahead.


We hope you enjoyed learning about why the marine iguana may be endangered.

The environmental factors are what’s hardest on this reptile.

Between rising temperatures, increasing intensity of weather patterns, dwindling space, and more predators, it’s clear the marine iguana is in danger.

Consider advocating for this special critter by donating time or energy to various conservation groups.

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