Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura melanosterna)

Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana
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Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana fact file

Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana description

GenusCtenosaura (1)

The first part of the scientific name for the Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura melanosterna), Ctenosaura, derives from two Greek words meaning ‘comb lizard’ (3) and refers to its large, flattened spines (4). The upper back, chest and forelimbs of the Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana are dark-brown to black, and contrast with the pale blue lower body and tail. Large tan-coloured scales cover the head, and the eyes are bright orange. The flap of skin, known as the ‘dewlap’, which hangs from under the chin, is typically larger and more prominent on males (4) (5).

Until 1997, the Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana was thought to be conspecific with the Guatemalan spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura palearis), but it is now considered a separate species based on differences in colour, skeletal structure and behaviour (4) (6).

Also known as
Aguán Valley iguana, black-chested spiny-tailed iguana, Cayos Cochinos iguana, Rio Aguán iguana.
Jamo, Jamo Negro.

Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana biology

Like all iguanas, the Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana is primarily herbivorous, consuming a wide variety of fruits, flowers and leaves (5) (6), although it is also an occasional opportunistic predator of small animals, such as insects (5).

Little is known about the breeding behaviour of the Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana (4).


Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana range

The Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana is endemic to Honduras. It occurs in the Rio Aguán Valley in the north of the country and in the Cayos Cochinos archipelago, located just off the Caribbean coast (1).


Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana habitat

An inhabitant of tropical and sub-tropical dry forest, this semi-arboreal iguana favours rocky terrain and uses hollow branches and cacti as retreats (1) (4). It occurs from sea level to elevations of around 250 metres (1).


Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana status

The population of Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana from Cayos Cochinos is listed as Endangered (EN) and the population from Valle de Aguán is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1) and the species is listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered


Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana threats

Habitat loss and degradation, mainly due to conversion for agriculture and cattle grazing, are the primary reasons for the extreme rarity of the Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana (1). It is also hunted for its meat, skin and eggs and is collected for the exotic pet trade where, like all Ctenosaura species, it is in high demand (1) (6).

Feral dogs, cats and rats are all predators of the Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana and its eggs, and there has also been an increase in the number of common green iguanas (Iguana iguana) within the Cayos Cochinos area, posing another threat to the Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana population through competition for resources (1).


Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana conservation

Relatively little is currently known about the Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana, so further knowledge of this species is imperative if conservation efforts are to be successful. A project funded by the International Iguana Foundation was initiated in 2008, to develop accurate estimates of population size and distribution (7), which will allow for more effective conservation management of this distinctive reptile. The project includes the involvement of local people, which helps to raise awareness of this iguana’s importance and will be a key part in the survival of this species (7).

Very few Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguanas are held in captivity and even less are involved in breeding programmes (8), so it is crucial that the remaining wild populations are protected. Unfortunately, it does not currently occur in any protected areas and is not afforded any legal protection (1). It is, however, listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (2), which should help ensure that international trade does not threaten this species’ survival (6).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

Learn more about the conservation of the Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana and other iguanas:



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:

This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


An animal which lives or spends a large amount of time in trees.
Belonging to the same species.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Previously domesticated animals that have returned to a wild state.
Having a diet that comprises only vegetable matter.


  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2012)
  2. CITES (January, 2012)
  3. Lee, J.C. (1996) The Amphibians and Reptiles of the Yucatan Peninsula. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.  
  4. Buckley, L.J. and Axtell, R.W. (1997) Evidence for specific status of the Honduran lizards formerly referred to Ctenosaura palearis (Reptilia: Squamata: Iguanidae). Copeia, 1997: 138-150.
  5. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2004) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. CITES (2002) Consideration of Proposals for Amendment of Appendices I and II, Proposal 11. Fifteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, Doha, Qatar. Available at:
  7. Pasachnik, S. and Pineda, E.A. (2009) IIF Supports Research on the Distribution of Honduran Paleate Spiny-tailed Iguana, Ctenosaura melanosterna. International Iguana Foundation, Texas. Available at
  8. Gaal, R. and Henningheim, E. (2008) Studbook Annual Report: Ctenosaura melanosterna. European Studbook Foundation, Netherlands. Available at

Image credit

Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana  
Honduran paleate spiny-tailed iguana

© Alex Beese

Alex Beese
Craig Cleeve House, 67-69 Shipston Road, Stratford Upon Avon, Warwickshire
CV37 7LW
United Kingdom
Tel: 07746863081


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