Little Cayman…Little treasure….Not so little iguanas!!

Here I am. Once again chasing lizards, and once again in one of the most beautiful corner of paradise on this earth: Little Cayman. This tiny and gorgeous island is located south of Cuba, in the Caribbean sea.

This time, though, the lizards I am looking for can be rather large and scary. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that dinosaurs were still walking the earth 🙂

The species we are looking for is Cyclura nubila caymanensis, aka SIRI (Sister Islands Rock Iguana). The common name derives from the fact that this particular subspecies of rock iguana is only found on Cayman sister islands: Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.

I am helping a former colleague of mine, Jen Moss. As part of her PhD project she is monitoring the nesting activity of SIRIs on Little Cayman (she also has some collaborators helping on Cayman Brac, but the primary site is here on Little Cayman).

The job consists in periodically checking the locations where female iguanas started to dig a nest. When the nest has been completed, eggs laid, and when the female has stopped to guard the nest we start the digging. The idea is to reach the egg chamber, collect the eggs, take measurements (count, weight, size), and then place the eggs back where they were and cover the nest. During hatching season Jen will use these data to estimate hatching success and other metrics that will be useful for her project.

This is what a nest looks like from the inside. It usually consists of a tunnel, up to 3 meters in length and ~1 meter deep, that culminates with an egg chamber. The chamber can contain up to 20 eggs. The age/size of the female usually is a good predictor of how many eggs she will be laying.
I got eggs!!!

In many cases we also know  which female dug a specific nest. With the help of molecular genetics Jen will be able to use such information to infer multiple paternity or the possibility of communal nesting.

Me “hugging” a very large male of Cyclura nubila caymanensis.
Another large male dubbed “Tank”, for the size of his jawls.
The typical and super pretty orange flowers of Cordia sebestena var. caymanensis.
Agave caymanensis. These yellow flowers are found on very tall “spikes” (up to 6 meters) originating from the “classic” Agave rosette of succulent leaves.
Butterflies are not really my forte, but this is probably a male of the Florida White Appias drusilla.
Coereba flaveola sharpei, aka the Bananaquit.
Here is a cicada. One again, I am not an expert when it comes to insects. Cayman Islands have 3 different species of cicadas, one per island. I took this picture on Little Cayman and I am assuming this is Diceroprocta caymanensis. These guys are loud when they start to sing.
Chordeiles gundlachii, the Antillean Nighthawk
Elaenia martinica. Not sure what the common name for this bird is, but some people call it Top-Knot Judas or simply Caribbean Elaenia.
It wouldn’t be a real post on a Caribbean Island without a curly tail lizard. Leiocephalus carinatus granti.

And now I give you one of the coolest iguanas I have ever seen while doing field work. We  named him Machete, for the obvious injury that seems had been done with a machete (we don’t really know how it happened, but this guy has been fine and kicking for three years now).

I guess I feel affection for this iguana because it reminds me of a couple of things. First, that even if sometimes life sucks, you got to find a way to carry on, just like this iguana is doing (as my girlfriend would say “You gotta suck it!!!!”).

Second, this individual is a constant reminder that if left alone in their respective habitats Cyclura iguanas, and other iguanas as well, are incredibly tough animals. They can endure even bad injuries like the one showed in the picture below.

And yet, without the help of researchers like Jen, myself and many others, they probably wouldn’t be around. Humans, and the species that usually tag along with us like cats, rats, dogs and farming animals, are the number one threat for these big lizards. Fortunately, the good work that Jen is doing on Little Cayman, and that other researchers are doing on other islands in the Greater and Lesser Antilles gives me hope for the future of these incredible animals.


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