Iguana vs Garrobo: A Lizard by Any Other Name

There are lizards of all colours and sizes scurrying and clambering throughout Guanacaste, but most notable are the large, imposing, spiny-backed iguanas that can be found solemnly basking in the sun, or munching on bright red hibiscus flowers.

Lizard pride!

Locals will often point one out as ‘iguana’, and another as ‘garrobo’, with complete assurance, though the untrained eye might see no obvious difference.  So is this just a matter of two names for the same creature, or are they different species altogether?

In fact, they are distinct species, though both are called iguana in English, and both belong to the Iguanidae family.  The one referred to as iguana in Spanish is the Green Iguana (Iguana iguana). As the name suggests, this full-scale lizard – up to 6ft long! – can sport a distinctive lime-green hue, though Costa Rica’s residents can also be seen in bright rusty tones as well, or graduated shades of green, blue, yellow and orange.

The garrobo, in contrast, includes two species: Ctenosaura similis and Ctenosaura quinquecarinata, known respectively as the Black Spinytail Iguana and the Club Tail Iguana.

They are distinguished by thick, scaly tails, and dark bands across the body, though their coloring can also vary from nearly black, to tan, peach, mossy green and grey-blue.  The Costa Rican Black Spinytail holds the record of the world’s fastest lizard, clocking an impressive 21.5 mph, and is considerably larger (up to 4ft) than the Club Tail, which only grows to a foot in length.

C. Keogan