Two genera of iguanid lizards have colonized St Lucia, Iguana and Anolis the tree lizards.
The Iguana (Iguana iguana), is the largest lizard found on the mainland of St Lucia. Iguanas are tree dwellers but are frequently seen on the ground. The skin of the iguana is basically green with brown or black markings. Along the neck is a crest of spines which gives it the look of a prehistoric monster.
The Iguana grows up to six feet in length, about half of this being a strong whip-like tail. If surprised in the top of a tree, it may escape by crashing to the ground and running off. They also are excellent swimmers.
The females lay up to seventeen eggs in the ground which take about fourteen weeks to hatch. The iguanas feed on leaves, shoots and fruits. Iguanas have disappeared from most of their range on the island and are mostly found along the North-east coast.
The generic name for the tree-lizards Anolis comes from "anole", an old French creole term for the animals. In St Lucia most tree lizards are called zandoli. Three species of anoles live on the island but only one, (Anolis Iuciae) is indigenous. The others, (Anolis extremus) and (Anolis wattsi) come from Barbados and Antigua respectively.
Anolis Iuciae is the largest of our anoles. The general colour may be brown, olive or bright green; the head is usually brown. This lizard is recognized from the others by the black and white stripe running along the sides of the body. These lizards are very abundant in the lowlands and especially in cultivated areas; they are comparatively rare in the rain forest.
Anolis extrenius which is the tree-lizard most commonly seen in Castries township. Males are bright green with mottling on the head, They are easily recognized by intense black pigmentation around the eye.
Anolis wattsi is the smallest and most attractive anole, In males, the back and tail are coloured cinnamon brown; sides are green; lower jaw bears green and white markings and there is a blue patch below the eye. Tree lizards are basically insect eaters but seem to relish very ripe fruit, especially mangoes.
St Lucia has two genera of ground lizards : Gymnophalmus and Onemidophorous.
The small Zandoli tere (Gymnopthalmus), commonly seen on the ground running through leaves and grass is sometimes mistaken for a small snake as its tiny legs are not obvious. This insectivorous lizard moves with mercurial ease on the ground and is frustratingly difficult to catch. The small lizard is coloured a metallic brown dorsally, with a bronze stripe over each eye and down the neck. The sides are dark grey and the belly silver. Mature males may have bright pink underside.
Males are larger than females and about three and a half inches long. Their eggs are a quarter of an inch long and half as wide, The young are small replicas of their parents only much darker.
The St Lucia Whiptail (Cnemidophorus vanzo), known also as Zandoli terre, was unknown to science before 1958 when it was collected on Maria Island by Gregor Williams and Earl Long. It is considered one of the world's rarest lizards and is the only cnemidophorus lizard found in the West Indies, The lizards are restricted to two islets, Maria Major and Maria Minor and have not been reported from elsewhere. However, it seems probable that it once occoccurred mainland St Lucia since the Maria Islands are so close.
Males are very dark grey brown with a pattern of charcoal grey dots and fine lines running from the neck to the base of the tail. Bellies are a brilliant sulphur yeloyellowder ribs of hind legs, vent area and entire tail are a brilliant sea blue patched with turquoise. When fully grown an adult male measures 14 inches fronfromut to the tip of the tail.
Females are smaller reaching 10 inches. They are paler and browner than males with a pattern of stripes and dots running laterally from the neck to the base of the tail. Some females have a bright rust-red belly. Juvenile males are coloured like females.
The diet consists mainly of insects which they catch among the leaf litter and dig from the soil. They eat very little vegetable matter. They are expert diggers and inhabit burrows which they dig themselves. During the hottest part of the day they retire underground. In 1982 the Maria Islands were declared a wildlife reserve and given to the St Lucia National Trust by the Government of St Lucia.
As with all other protected wildlife, the Maria Island Lizard is absolutely protected under the 1980 Wildlife Act of St Lucia, The biggest threat to the lizards are from the activities of visitors to the islands. Empty bottles can easily trap lizards where they eventually die. A fire escaping into the vegetation on the Island can cause widespread damage and jeopardize the lizards very existance. In 1992 the population was estimated at about 900 individuals.
A captive breeding programme began in 1986 by the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust. The first successful breeding occurred in 1989 when the first egg was hatched on 24th April. To date over 30 individuals have been hatched. It is planned that these lizards will be released on to Maria Island and Praslin Island off Dennery. The Maria Island Lizard is one of our most colourful reptiles and wears the colours of the St Lucian flag.