Blue iguanas getting ready to hatch

The iguana eggs are nestled in vermiculite.

It’s blue iguana nesting season, and from early indications there should be plenty of baby iguanas hatching over the next few months.

At the Blue Iguana Recovery Program’s captive breeding facility at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park in North Side, volunteers and program staff are now busy out in the field carefully collecting blue iguana eggs from newly dug nests.

The eggs are collected annually as part of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program’s conservation efforts, which are conducted in partnership with a number of organizations, including the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.

The program’s captive breeding facility is steadily working to rebuild the endangered reptiles’ population to a self-sustaining level. This includes breeding, hatching and raising the rare creatures, which are found only in Grand Cayman.

“Unlike bird eggs, iguana eggs are not hard or tough, rather they are leathery and soft, and they soak up moisture from the soil they lie in,” said Paul Watler, the National Trust’s environmental programs manager.

The eggs are placed in vermiculite while in the incubator.
The eggs are placed in vermiculite while in the incubator.

“The risk is that if you leave eggs in situ at this time of year, which is the start of the rainy season, you can get a lot of rain, and they may soak up too much moisture which would cause them to go off, or burst.”

He said collecting the eggs is a time-consuming process, and must be done with care.

“The nests are actually tunnels dug by the females, who lay their eggs in there and then backfill them,” said Mr. Watler.

“It’s a painstaking excavation as the eggs are so delicate, it’s almost like being an archaeologist, where you use a small trowel and paintbrush to get the eggs out.”

Blue Iguana warden Karen Ford with the latest clutch of eggs destined for the incubator.
Blue Iguana warden Karen Ford with the latest clutch of eggs destined for the incubator.

The carefully collected eggs are transferred to an incubator, currently located at the Trust office, until they hatch. In the incubator the eggs are nestled into vermiculite, which helps to keep them at the right moisture and warmth during gestation. The little hatchlings are then brought to the breeding facility to be raised.

“We are doing our best to make sure that eggs remain viable during the long gestation period, which is about two and a half months,” said Mr. Watler.

He explained the relatively long gestation period has to do with the iguanas’ readiness to fend for themselves at the time of hatching.

“The whole thing with iguanas is once they hatch they are out on their own, so they need to spend longer in the developmental process before they come out,” he said.

“Compare that to birds, with shorter egg gestation periods, as the parents take care of the babies in the nest for quite a long time after they are born.”

Mr. Watler noted that another reason for collecting the eggs, instead of leaving them in place, is one of practicality.

“We collect the eggs so we have them with us when they hatch,” he said.

“If they hatch in the wild, program volunteers and staff would have to find the babies, which is very difficult, to bring them into the captive facility to be raised.”

The babies are kept at the breeding facility for two years, then released into the wild.