Watch: Iguana hilariously nibbles a yoga instructor’s finger (and reminds us why feeding animals can be problematic) | Animal behavior

When you’re right in the middle of your yoga routine, nothing ruins your zen like a cheeky iguana bite on the finger. In an excerpt uploaded on social networks earlier this week, a yoga instructor from the Bahamas, who is now called “Da Iguana Galon Twitter, is seen in the middle of the pose on a beach – an audience of iguanas watching her every move. As the yogi reaches out in a wide arc above her head, one of the lizards – attracted by the prospect of a tasty bite to eat – comes closer and bites an outstretched finger.

“Ouch! He bit my fucking finger,” the disgruntled iguana chomp recipient can be heard yelling in the video, before throwing a handful of sand at the nonchalant lizard. In the iguana’s defense, it was not a malicious attack, but rather a hopeful slot for food. As Da Iguana Girl herself describes on Twitter, tourists have been flocking to Bahamian beaches like this for years, armed with a buffet of treats for the local reptile population. Feeding iguanas is big business in the Bahamas, but – as is often the case when humans and wildlife share landscapes – things can get complicated.

Three subspecies of rock iguanas from the northern Bahamas bask on white sand beaches or traverse the island nation’s rainforests, and two of them live in the Exumas – an idyllic chain of tiny islands, or cays. , scattered in the turquoise waters. from the Atlantic to a hundred miles from the capital, Nassau. The viral video – according to Charles Knapp, a Chicago Shedd Aquarium scientist who has worked with iguanas for over 20 years – was probably shot in Bitter Guana Cay and the star of the clip is a rock iguana from Exuma Island (Cyclura cychlura figginsi).

“Before 2006, it was difficult to find iguanas on this particular cayenne,” Knapp told us via email. “However, tour operators started arriving to feed the iguanas and in a short time the animals became unresponsive to people and now appear in large numbers on the beach.” It’s a trend that has occurred on more than one of the country’s cays, triggering changes in iguana behavior and physiology that researchers like Knapp are doing their best to monitor. In some cases, reptiles rush towards the water when they hear the purring of an outboard motor – it’s a sort of Pavlovian response to the prospect of a free meal.

Bahamian iguanas are often fed unnatural or inappropriate foods like grapes, bread or chips and can end up making fun of a pile of sand with their treats, as many tourists (wisely) throw away the food on the beach to avoid getting too close to them. powerful choirs. Knapp’s research indicates that iguanas that are fed regularly have high glucose levels and high parasite loads, not to mention that plant dynamics can be disrupted if lizards stop gnawing leaves and rely entirely on them. alms from humans.

A typical example of iguana feeding in the Bahamas (note the attraction of colorful nail polish to reptiles).

Feeding the iguanas therefore seems like a very bad idea. But there are advantages that must be taken into account that inevitably complicate this unique web of human-reptile interaction, Knapp points out. “We are happy that people choose to observe these amazing animals. Feeding the animals, however, is a complicated matter as the immediate socio-economic benefits are evident but the long-term impacts on iguanas are less understood,” explains- he does. “Bahamian tour operators rely on these wildlife opportunities to present to tourists. We recommend that these activities be carried out in a manner that minimizes any negative impact on the animals and their habitats.”

A good start would be the introduction of specially formulated iguana pellet foods that could be sold to tourists to discourage people handing out chips and bread. Distribution systems could also be changed: rather than throwing wet food on the ground where it is engulfed with a good dose of sand, the food could be served in another way that minimizes the ingestion of sand. In a to study written by Knapp and other iguana experts, they also stress the importance of leaving certain cays intact “to maintain iguana populations in a natural state so that they can serve as a control to interpret physiological and demographic impacts to long term”.

So far, rock iguanas in the Bahamas are doing well, but threats from invasive species, habitat encroachment, and the fact that reptiles have such fragmented populations make them vulnerable to extinction. Knapp and other researchers continue to work on finding lasting solutions to secure the future of iguanas.

As for the yoga pro who has suffered most of the problematic eating practices in the Exumas, she is doing very well. A quick visit to the doctor and some antibiotics were all she needed. “The woman in the video is lucky the iguana was small. A large iguana could have removed a finger,” Knapp warned. “They are calm creatures who are not interested in people unless there is a potential food reward. On beaches where iguanas are fed, people need to be careful.”

Iguanas may not be malicious, but it’s best to keep your distance anyway.

Header Image: Joseph bylund


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