Male Iguanas in Season and Human Females
Some articles here and in other published literature on iguanas speaks to the
behavior of male iguanas towards humans during the iguana breeding season, in
particular, the increased aggression of some (not all) male iguanas towards
their human female during the female's monthly cycles during the iguana breeding
Many humans are amazed to find out that most animals can tell the difference
between human males and human females. Not only can they tell us apart, however,
but they know when human females are going through their monthly cycles. Most
animals are better at detecting pheromoneal (hormonal) changes in their own
species than we humans now are. Some, like the green iguanas, have special
chemosensory organs, such as the iguana's vomeronasal (Jacobson's) organ, used
to detect these chemicals.
In iguanas, this results in their not only being able to smell the chemical cues
laid down by other male iguanas who have marked their territories by dragging
their thighs (and so their femoral pores) along ground and branches (and, in
captivity, the carpet, couch and other surfaces the iguana is allowed upon), but
in being able to detect the subtle changes in their female keepers. Iguanas can
tell when their female humans are menstruating and ovulating.
Whether they actually care is another thing. Out of all the males I have had
through here in the past 3 years (~80-90), I have seen some minor behavioral
changes in just a handful. These minor changes included their hanging around
watching me or remaining in close proximity more during these times than at
other times of the month - but only during their breeding season. Only two
iguanas, both, interestingly enough, Peruvians (or so I am told - both were
highly blue all over with reddish eyes and darkly pigmented eyelids) actually
became aggressive towards human males who came near me, flirtatious (so to
speak) with other human females, and enamoured of me. One of them, Elvys,
behaved differently than the other, Freddy, during this time.
Elvys never tried to actively mate with me although he became more clingy than
usual during my menstrual periods. Outside of the season, he was completely tame
and even solicited attention and physical contact. During the season and my
periods, he got extremely hatchety (extended legs, lateral body compression,
ritualized body/tail movements and bobbing) when I wore blue, purple or green.
He also would increasingly display at human males, and charge human females.
Freddy, on the other hand, tried to mate with me every year during "our" season
(his season, me menstrual or premenstrual - doing nothing, I assure you, to make
me any less cranky!). The first year I had him, he launched himself right at my
neck - twice. This resulted in fingers on both my hands being severely torn and
infected for a couple of months. After that, he restrained himself and just went
for my hands. I have the most interesting scars laced around them... He too was
more excited when I was wearing "iguana" colors. He always clearly communicated
when he was looking to grab me. He became a better indicator to me of my cycles
than my calendar was. When he did nail me, it was because I was tired, or being
stupid. Like the early evening when I was still wearing a T-shirt printed all
over with green iguanas that I wore that day to a full-day education event.
Instead of changing when I came home and resting before spending time with Fred,
I responded to his solicitation of attention by petting him and not paying close
enough attention to his very clear signals. Oh, and yes, I got my period the
very next day.
Iguana males attacking menstruating human females was first described in the
literature several years ago by male veterinarians (Frye, FL, D.R. Mader and
B.V. Centofanti. 1991. Interspecific (Lizard:Human) Sexual Aggression in Captive
Iguanas (Iguana iguana). Bulletin of the ARAV 1(1):4). I have been the only one
that I know of to report (albeit informally) on some males iguanas responding to
human females during ovulation. In talking with other female iguana owners, I
find that some of these women, too, see a change in their iguana's behavior when
they are ovulating rather than when they are menstruating; some report changes
during both times of the month. Frye, et al., reported that male iguanas who
were "closely" raised by human females - with the igs eating with the female,
sleeping with them, showering with them, etc. - being most likely to get
aggressive during breeding season/menstruation.
I found just the opposite - Elvys and Fred came to me when they were both 7
years old; Elvys was raised by a male; Fred by both (I rescued Fred after he had
been languishing for over a year on consignment in a pet store owned by two
males). On the other hand is my Wally, who, from the time his body was the
length of my thumb, napped with me, showered with me, was frequently out and
about with me, slept in my room (though not in bed with me). He, however, could
basically care less about me during breeding season. During his first season, he
did hang around me a lot when I was ovulating (walking up to me, putting a foot
on me, staring at me with a rather dazed and confused look in his eye). He later
that first season mated with my female iguana, and has shown now changes in his
behavior towards me during my cycles during his season. Since that first year,
hasn't altered his behavior towards me at all during his season.
The important thing to remember is that the tamer your iguana is before the
start of his first breeding season, the easier it is going to be to deal with
him during the season so long as you are aware of what to look for. If you are a
human female, be aware not only of triggers that may set him off, but see if you
can correlate any changes in his behavior during his season with your own
monthly cycles. If you are a human male, be aware that you may be considered as
a competitor for territory and, if you live with a sexually mature human female,
as competition for mates, as well. My article on Dealing with Breeding
Aggression discusses the triggers and what can be done to mitigate your behavior
to reduce the intensity or occurance of aggression.
Finally, remember that not all males get aggressive during their season, and not
all will try to mate with their human female keepers. At the present time, I
have five males, all sexually mature, and none of them are aggressive to me
during their respective breeding seasons.
Kaplan, Melissa. 1997. Male iguanas in season and human females.
© 1997 Melissa Kaplan
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