Added 18 March 2007.

A look at the

Genus Brachylophus - Fijian Iguanas


Genus Brachylophus - Fijian Iguanas

The presence of these large iguanids on the Pacific island chain of Fiji is an interesting phenomenon, since their nearest relatives lay several thousand miles to the east (South America) and west (Madagascar). The accepted wisdom is that the genus is descended from iguanid species rafting on vegetation from South America, a point supported by the presence in Fiji and Tonga of the Atlantic mangrove, Rhizophora mangle.

The two species have the following features in common: head and body covered by irregularly juxtaposed scales; dewlap present; crest, either low or high, formed by row of enlarged middorsal scales; tail somewhat laterally compressed; digits long and strongly clawed; femoral pores prominent in males but scarcely noticeable in females. These features are (I believe) shared by the subfamily Iguaninae/family Iguanidae (take your pick!), but in reality it is almost impossible to mistake the Brachylophus species for any of the Cyclura, Iguana, Conolophus or Amblyrhynchus species, or indeed for each other.

Although protected under CITES I, some sale of individuals has been known, often without the agreement of the Fijian Government (see Sprackland). Happily there are legitimate animals being bred, and in 2002 the DGHT awarded a prize for the captive breeding of this genus.

Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
B. fasciatus Fiji Banded Iguana [D: Fidji-Leguane; Fij: vokai]

Fiji (inc. Vitu Levu, Vanua Levu, Lau and Lomaiviti groups), Tonga, Vanautu SVL 10"/25cm; TL approx. 36"/90cm At first sight this appears to be a blue-banded Green Iguana, but the prominent dorsal crest of the latter is much lower in this species. An interesting feature not normally associated with large iguanas is the ability of the skin to change tone and pattern in response to sunlight, which obviously serves a cryptic purpose in the creature's habitat. B. fasciatus is found in coastal lowland forests where it is almost completely arboreal and diurnal. Coloration: males have wide bands of green and light blue or white, females are overall dark green; chin and throat are whitish, streaked with green; ventrally both sexes are yellowish-green. Tail has alternate bands of white and green. Eyes are reddish-orange. Reproduction: males have femoral pores which are scarcely visible in females, and are very territorial and aggressive. Mating begins November, and egg-laying takes place January-March (about 6 weeks from fertilisation). 3-6 eggs are laid about six weeks later in a burrow. In Fiji incubation takes 18-30 weeks (see Sprackland for results for zoo breeding). [SOURCES: Morrison, Sprackland]
B. vitiensis Fiji Crested Iguana [Fij: vokai (votovoto) ] NW Fiji (Yadua Taba, Yasawas, Mamanuccas, Macuata Is. off N Vitu Levu) 5-6½" This species was only named in 1981 (see Sprackland for the story). It has been described as more primitive than B. fasciatus and closer in relationship to the genera Cyclura, Conolophus and Iguana. In contrast with B. fasciatus, B. vitiensis has a distinct row of dorsal spines formed by a middorsal row of enlarged scales running from the nape of the neck to base of tail. This species is endangered and a Crested Iguana Sanctuary has been established for it on Yadua Taba. Coloration: both sexes are overall dark green with narrow white transverse lateral stripes edged in black: ventral coloration is mottled green and cream; chin and throat are pale green with white mottling; scales around nostril are yellow. Eyes are pinkish-gold. Reproduction: males have larger femoral pores. Other details are sketchy as so far it appears that only reproduction in captivity has been studied, and then only sparingly. See Morrison for details [SOURCE: Morrison, Sprackland].


A Field Guide to the Herpetofauna of Fiji, Clare Morrison, Institute of Applied Sciences, the University of the South Pacific, 2003. Handy portable guide, does what it says: useful distribution details for the different islands as opposed to just "Fiji".

Giant Lizards, Robert Sprackland, TFH 1996. A useful book on many of the larger species, although possibly now a bit behind with the taxonomy.

See also Index of Iguanid Related Articles for articles on Brachylophus in the wild and in captivity.


The Fijian Crested Iguana Project deserves your support!;2-Y#abstract has a useful summary of the Brachylophus species and their origin.

Back to Iguanids | Back to Lizards | Back to Reptiles | Back to Herpetology | Back to Homepage