The mating behavior of Iguana iguana

Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology No. 534




Over a 19 month period I observed the social behaviors of individually recognized green iguanas, Iguana iguana, at three sites in the llanos of Venezuela. The behavior of iguanas outside the mating season differed from that seen during the mating season in three major ways: (1) during normal waking hours outside the breeding season, adult iguanas spent the majority of time immobile, apparently resting; (2) their interactions involved fewer high intensity displays; and (3) their day to day movements were often nomadic. During the mating season, one site was watched continuously during daylight hours (iguanas sleep throughout the night), allowing a complete count of all copulation attempts (N = 250) and territorial interactions. At all sites, dominant males controlled access to small mating territories. Within the territories there did not appear to be any resources needed by females or their offspring. Thus, females could choose mates directly on the basis of male phenotype. Females aggregated in the mating territories of the largest males and mated preferentially with them. Territorial males copulated only once per day, although on several occasions more than one resident female was receptive on the same day. A few small nonterritorial males exhibited pseudofemale behavior (i.e., they abstained from sexual competition), but most nonterritorial males stayed on the periphery of mating territories and attempted to force copulations on unguarded females (peripheral male behavior). Uncooperative females were mounted by as many as three males simultaneously. Females resisted 95% of the 200 observed mating attempts by peripheral males, but only 56% of the attempts by territorial males (N = 43). The selectivity of the females probably increased the genetic representation of the territorial males in the next generation. During the mating season females maintained a dominance hierarchy among themselves. Low ranked females tended to be excluded from preferred mating territories. In this system, both sexes may be subjected to sexual selection. I hypothesize that the ecological factors responsible for the unusual mating system are related to the lack of defendable resources, the iguana's folivory, and the high density of iguanas present in preferred mating areas.

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The mating behavior of Iguana iguana
Series title:
Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology
Series number:
No. 534
Year Published:
Smithsonian Institution
Publisher location:
Washington, DC
Contributing office(s):
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center