Jamaican ground iguana (Cyclura collei)

Also known as: Jamaican iguana, Jamaican rock iguana
Synonyms: Cyclura lophoma
French: Cyclure terrestre de la Jamaïque, Iguane terrestre de la Jamaïque
GenusCyclura (1)
SizeMale snout-vent length: up to 42.8 cm (2)
Female snout-vent length: up to 37.8 cm (2)
Weightup to 9 kg (3) (4)
Top facts

The Jamaican ground iguana is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (5).

The largest terrestrial vertebrate in Jamaica (6), the Jamaican ground iguana (Cyclura collei) was thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in the 1990s (7). Today, the only known population consists of only 100 or so individuals, making the Jamaican ground iguana one of the most endangered reptile species in the world (2) (6) (7) (8).

The Jamaican ground iguana is a moderately sized iguana and is greenish-grey in colour with blotches of olive and brown, and with blue tinges on the face and on the crest spines. Three broad triangular patches extend from the dorsal crest scales towards the underside of the body, with dark olive-brown zigzag spots and blotches of light yellow (2) (9).

The skin of the Jamaican ground iguana, particularly of nesting females, is often stained reddish-brown by the iron-rich soil in its habitat (2) (9).

The Jamaican ground iguana is native to Jamaica. Due to population declines the species is now only found in the southeast of Jamaica, in the Hellshire Hills (1) (2) (9), at elevations below 200 metres (1).

The Jamaican ground iguana inhabits tropical dry forest and limestone outcrops, and is found only in remote parts of the Hellshire Hills where the forest is still in good condition (1) (2) (9).

The diet of the Jamaican ground iguana consists mainly of the leaves, fruits and flowers of a wide variety of plants. However, it also occasionally eats some animal matter, such as insects and snails (1) (2). This species’ diet changes seasonally, depending on the flowering and fruiting cycles of local plant species (2).

The Jamaican ground iguana is a seasonal, communal nester, with the females laying 6 to 20 eggs in burrows in loose soil. The eggs are laid in mid-June and hatch approximately 85 to 87 days later, with the hatching success relating closely to the body size of the female and the occurrence of seasonal rainfall extremes (1) (2). Newly hatched Jamaican ground iguanas measure around 22 centimetres in length on average, and weigh just 22 to 33 grams (10).

Female Jamaican ground iguanas typically dig a number of trial holes before eventually completing a nesting tunnel, and will defend the nest for several days both before and after laying their eggs (2) (9). Only three communal nest sites of this species remain, and breeding outside these sites risks high predation from introduced predators (9).

Traditionally, the Jamaican ground iguana was hunted for meat, which caused declines in its population in the 19th century (11). Today, this species is significantly affected by invasive, non-native predators including mongooses, cats, pigs and stray dogs, which eat juvenile iguanas or destroy nests (1) (2) (6) (9) (12).

As a result of this predation, together with habitat destruction and human population growth, the Jamaican ground iguana underwent a dramatic decline in numbers and range, and was believed to have become extinct in the 1940s until a small surviving population was rediscovered in 1990 (1) (2) (6) (9). Estimates have put the wild population at just 100 to 200 individuals (9) (13).

The Hellshire Hills habitat of the Jamaican ground iguana is part of the Portland Bight Protected Area (1). However, the species still suffers from loss of habitat due to illegal tree felling for charcoal production and development (1) (2) (6). Road construction for potential mining developments also threatens the small area of natural habitat that remains (2) (6).

Much has now been done to try and save the Jamaican ground iguana, and this rare lizard is now a flagship species for conservation in the West Indies (6). The Jamaican ground iguana is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits international trade in this species (5), and it is also listed as ‘Endangered’ on the U.S. Endangered Species Act (14). The Portland Bight Protected Area where the Jamaican ground iguana occurs is Jamaica’s largest protected area (1) (7), although its legal protection needs greater enforcement (1) (2).

The Jamaican Iguana Recovery Group was established in 1990 to conduct habitat and population surveys as well as predator control and research into the natural history of the Jamaican ground iguana (1) (2). The group also focuses on education, raising international awareness, and protecting and restoring the iguana’s habitat (1).

In 2006, the Jamaican Iguana Species Recovery Plan was created with plans to create a predator-free dry forest reserve and establish satellite populations of the Jamaican ground iguana on the neighbouring Goat Islands, where it formerly occurred. This has been identified as the single most important activity to ensure the long-term recovery of the Jamaican ground iguana, but goats and predators must be removed from the islands before the iguanas can be reintroduced (1) (2) (6) (13).

Another important conservation measure for the Jamaican ground iguana has been captive breeding programmes. These were commenced in various U.S. zoos in association with Jamaica’s Hope Zoo, funded by the International Iguana Foundation, to raise awareness and provide opportunities for reintroduction (1) (2) (6) (8) (10). As part of this programme, juvenile iguanas taken from wild nests are brought into captivity and reared until they are large enough to ward off predators, a process known as ‘headstarting’ (2) (7) (9) (13).

‘Headstarted’ juvenile iguanas are later released into the wild, and are fitted with radio transmitters so they can be followed (2) (7) (13). Reintroductions began in 1996, with high survival rates and successful integration of released iguanas into the wild population (1) (6). A predator control programme is also underway in the Hellshire Hills (1) (2) (6) (9), and zoos are helping to raise funds for conservation efforts in the field, which include nest protection, education work and further research (2) (9) (13).

As a result of these efforts, the Jamaican ground iguana is beginning to make a comeback (1) (9), and the recovery effort for this species has been seen as a model conservation programme (13). However, this rare lizard remains dependent on active conservation measures, without which it would be at an extremely high risk of extinction (9).

Find out more about iguanas and their conservation:

More information on conservation in Jamaica:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2012)
  2. Alberts, A. (Ed.) (1999) West Indian Iguanas: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC West Indian Iguana Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
  3. Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) - Rock iguana (February, 2012)
  4. Lemm, J.M. and Alberts, A.C. (2012) Cyclura: Natural History, Husbandry, and Conservation of West Indian Rock Iguanas. Academic Press, London.
  5. CITES (February, 2012)
  6. International Iguana Foundation - Jamaican iguana project (February, 2012)
  7. Hudson, R. (2000) Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collei). West Indian Iguana Specialist Group Newsletter, 3(2): 10-11. Available at:
  8. Alberts, A.C. (1993) The most endangered lizard in the world: the Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collei). Vivarium, 5(1): 12-14.
  9. International Iguana Foundation - Jamaican iguana (May, 2013)
  10. Searcy, R.A., Villers, L.M., Reams, R.D., Wyatt III, J.E. and Pilarski, J. (2009) Captive reproduction of the Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collei). Zoo Biology, 28(4): 343-349.
  11. Woodley, J.D. (1980) Survival of the Jamaican iguana, Cyclura collei. Journal of Herpetology, 14(1): 45-49.
  12. Lewis, C.B. (1944) Notes on Cyclura. Herpetologica, 2(6): 93-98.
  13. Hudson, R.D. and Alberts, A.C. (2004) The role of zoos in the conservation of West Indian iguanas. In: Alberts, A.C., Carter, R.L., Hayes, W.K. and Martins, E.P. (Eds.) Iguanas: Biology and Conservation. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  14. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Species Profile - Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collei) (May, 2013)