Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura defensor)

Synonyms: Cachryx annectens, Cachryx defensor , Cachryx erythromelas, Ctenosaura annectens, Ctenosaura erythromelas, Enyaliosaurus defensor
Spanish: Chop
GenusCtenosaura (1)
SizeMaximum length: 25 cm (2)

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

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).

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).

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). 

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).

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).

To learn more about the Maya Biosphere see:

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 (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.