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People who wish to see a modern day dragon need look no further than the land iguana. A marine lizard from the Galapagos Islands, the land iguana looks like a fearsome, small dragon with clawed feet, sharp spines, and a long tail. The creatures are considered gentle animals, however, and cannot be found elsewhere in the world.
Most land iguanas are yellowish in color, featuring patches of coloration all over their bodies. These patches can range from red-brown to black to brown. The lizards eat mostly fruit, as well as parts of the Opuntia cactus, which helps to keep the lizard hydrated. Other plants can also be included in the iguana's diet. Though considered herbivores, the Galapagos land iguana will eat some meat, particularly when young, including carrion, worms, and insects.
In the wild, the land iguana can live up to 60 years. Weighting up to 35 pounds (10 kilograms), adult iguanas can grow up to five feet (one and one-half meters) long. The reptiles reach sexual maturity between eight and 12 years of age. During the day, land iguanas typically bask in the sun, while they rest in shade provided by cacti and other plants in the afternoon. At night, the animals burrow in the ground to conserve their body heat.
Two types of iguanas in this species exist. Both prefer dry areas in which to live. Due to the cactus in their diets, the iguanas can live without drinking fresh water for an entire season in these arid regions. Both are at risk of falling prey to several animals, including pigs, dogs, and cats. Pigs and rats are also known to root out and consume land iguana eggs.
The Conolophus subcristatus lives on five of the Galapagos islands. They are most abundant on the island of Plaza, as well as Fernandina, North Seymour, and Isabela. Subcristatus has been known to breed with the marine iguana species. Whether or not these hybrids can reproduce is unknown.
Conolophus pallidus iguanas can only be found on the island of Santa Fe. This subspecies is paler than the subcristatus. Pallidus iguanas also have more prominent dorsal spines and more elongated snouts.
Territorial creatures, land iguanas attempt to portray dominance through body movements like head-bobbing. Rather than court females, male land iguanas chase and catch females in order to copulate. After mating, the female iguana leaves to locate an area for burrowing, usually in soft soil. There, she deposits her fertilized eggs, and continues to guard them for several weeks.
Iguana mothers do not guard their nests during the entire incubation period, however. Eggs must incubate for three to four months. Upon hatching, a baby iguana will dig its way out of the nest. It must then survive on its own. Like their parents, baby iguanas often fall prey to other carnivorous animals.