There are at least 17 different species of lizard on Tobago. The majority of this diversity lies within the Main Ridge Reserve. Here, we will meet three of the species most associated with the Main Ridge: the stunningly beautiful ocellated gecko which is found nowhere else in the world; the elusive hex-scaled bachia, a species you probably never knew existed until now; and finally the prehistoric-looking green iguana.
In the MRR, the ocellated gecko is most often seen on stream-side tree trunks, but it may also be spotted in less pristine settings outside the reserve, for example it is frequently seen scuttling around deserted buildings. If you sit and watch one for a few minutes, it becomes clear that males are very territorial, and tend to inhabit and defend a particular area with one or more females nearby. It is diurnal (active in the daytime) and is considered an ambush predator, pouncing upon unsuspecting insects and land snails that come a little too close.
A lizard that everyone will be familiar with is the green iguana – although not everyone realises that it is officially the largest lizard in the western hemisphere! This lizard can reach up to 2 metres long at maturity and has a wide distribution in the region, from Mexico to Brazil. Juveniles and females are an incredible bright green colour, while adult males may be silvery grey, and can turn red-orange during breeding season. Females construct nesting burrows to lay their eggs in. Here, they are sometimes predated on by another lizard – the tegu, also known as the matte. It is not just their eggs that are vulnerable to predation; juveniles and adults may be preyed upon by snakes, raptors, cats, and especially humans. Indeed, iguanas are perhaps the most hunted reptile in the country. Of course, it is illegal to hunt iguana (or any animal) inside the MRR at any time of year. However, with a permit, iguanas can be legally hunted outside of the MRR during open season (October –February).
Despite being closely related to snakes (both snakes and lizards are reptiles of the order Squamata), for some reason lizards seem to provoke less fear in people, and have an easier time being liked – apparently we are less suspicious of creatures with legs! Legs or no legs, our reptilian neighbours play an important role in the ecosystem by acting as predator and prey to a variety of animals – not to mention the role that iguanas play in dispersing seeds that they do not digest. We should also be grateful for the lizards that share our gardens and homes, providing a natural pest-control service for mosquitoes and cockroaches. In return, we should take care with the chemicals we use in the house and garden so as to encourage this mutually beneficial arrangement, and ensure that their forest home in the MRR continues to be preserved for many years to come.