Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura defensor)

Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana
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Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana fact file

Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana description

GenusCtenosaura (1)

The Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura defensor) is one of the smallest, yet most vividly coloured, of the 14 spiny-tailed iguana species is. Typically, it is a rainbow of colours, with a blue head, black and white chest, red lower back and a grey, heavily armoured tail. This tail has several whirls of tiny spines, giving the species its common name of ‘spiny-tailed’. On average, male Yucatan spiny-tailed iguanas tend to be slightly larger than females (2).

Cachryx annectens, Cachryx defensor , Cachryx erythromelas, Ctenosaura annectens, Ctenosaura erythromelas, Enyaliosaurus defensor .
Maximum length: 25 cm (2)

Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana biology

The Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana is a primarily arboreal species (2). Unusually for iguanas, this species is a leaf eater, although sometimes the Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana shows a preference for flowers, fruit and seedlings (4).

The young are born between April and June. Yucatan spiny-tailed iguanas tend to be solitary from juvenile age (4)


Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana range

The Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana has a very limited range, occurring only in a restricted area of 2,000 square kilometres within Mexico, in the lowland Mayan forest and Yucatan region (3).


Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana habitat

An inhabitant of a subtropical and dry climate, the Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana uses holes in the ground, hollow tree trunks and rocky crevices as places to shelter (1). There are no occurrences of this reptile at altitudes over 1,000 metres above sea level (3).


Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana status

The Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana threats

The greatest threat to the Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana is the activities of humans. Urbanisation and the building of roads are fragmenting this species’ very restricted habitat and decreasing the already insubstantial population. It was predicted in 2004 that, due to these continuing threats, the Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana population would decrease by a further 30 percent over the next decade (1).


Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana conservation

The IUCN’s listing of this species as Vulnerable will hopefully help to increase awareness of this species and an interest in the conservation and problems facing this reptile (1). Several areas, such as the Maya Biosphere, have been set aside within Mexico as protected areas for the Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana and other species that also co-exist within the same area, helping to preserve this species’ habitat (3). The Mexican government is also making efforts to hinder the illegal pet trade by establishing laws against collection and exportation without permits, although of course this is not 100 percent effective (3). It has been recommended that more research, monitoring and assessment needs to be undertaken into the ecology and requirements of the species, to better conserve it in its natural environment (1).



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:

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.


An animal which lives or spends a large amount of time in trees.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2009)
  2. Bartlett, R.D. and Bartlett, P. (2003) Iguanas: Everything about Selection, Care, Nutrition, Diseases, Breeding and Behaviour. Barron’s Educational Series, New York, USA.
  3. Radachowsky, J. (2002) Endemism in the Maya Forest. Wildlife Conservation Society for FIPA and USAID, United States.
  4. Burghardt, G. (1982) Iguanas of the World, their Behaviour, Ecology and Conservation. Noyes Publication, United States.

Image credit

Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana  
Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana

© Gunther Koehler

Gunther Koehler
Curator of Herpetology
Senckenberg, Forschungsinstitute und Naturmuseen
Sektion Herpetologie
Senckenberganlage 25
United Kingdom


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