For a land animal, the iguana is a talented swimmer. It is at home on land, in trees and in the water. It uses its swimming abilities to protect itself from prey and find food. One species of iguana is actually considered a marine animal.
The green iguana is one of the largest lizards in the reptile world and can grow to over 6 feet long and weigh in at 11 pounds. The green iguana is the type commonly found in pet stores, but of course, that's not its natural habitat. In the wild, the green iguana lives in the canopy of rainforests and in mangroves. They can climb to high branches in search of vegetation, as they are vegetarians and delight in sampling flowers, leaves and fruit. If they are threatened by a predator, perhaps a bird of prey or another animal with climbing abilities, they can leap off a branch overhanging a river or stream, splash down and quickly swim away.
The iguanas of the Galapagos Islands are considered marine animals. They are a little smaller than the green iguana, growing only to about 4 feet. These iguanas are as comfortable on land as they are in the sea. There are two types of Galapagos iguanas, the marine iguana and the land iguana. Though iguanas have a stout body that looks like it is not made for swimming, they are fast swimmers and divers. The marine iguana can dive and stay submerged for almost an hour, but on average spends 5 to 10 minutes underwater.
Iguanas are cold blooded and they live in and near cold water. They need an external heat source in order to produce energy. They are frequently found sunbathing on warm rocks on the shore. They eat the algae growing on the rocks as well as other vegetation growing in or near the water. Their bodies have adapted to living in salt water by virtue of a salt-removing gland near their noses. They have an unusual method of releasing the salt; they sneeze it out.
Iguanas have powerful tails that they use to propel them through the water. They are able to swim long distances, but will also float by laying on top of the water, allowing their feet to dangle below. Their feet are big and equipped with webbing to help with paddling through the water. The marine iguana can dive up to 32 feet searching for red and green algae in the water. The green iguana does not spend as much time in the water and will only take to the water when shedding or avoiding a predator. People who purchase green iguanas as pets are advised to provide swimming or bathing opportunities for their pets to help them when they shed their skin.
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Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.