Forensic Genetic Analyses of Melanistic Iguanas Highlight the Need to Monitor the Iguanid Trade

Animals (Basel). 2022 Oct 3;12(19):2660. doi: 10.3390/ani12192660.


Lizards within the Iguana iguana species complex are among the most common reptilian pets, with the widest natural geographic range among iguanids. Deep phylogenetic divergence distinguishes multiple mitochondrial clades, and several taxonomic changes have recently been proposed. These small populations, typically island endemics, are threatened by numerous factors, including the international pet trade. Recent investigations reveal the absence of required CITES permits for lawful export of animals, providing evidence of ongoing illegal trade. Additional monitoring of trade in iguanas can be achieved through the application of forensic molecular techniques. In this study, two captive melanistic iguanas were genotyped for molecular markers for which geographic distributions of alleles have been established. Mitochondrial sequencing indicates that both animals carry a haplotype known to originate from the islands of Saba and Montserrat, populations taxonomically proposed to be Iguana melanoderma. Genotypes at 15 microsatellite loci are equally consistent with this origin, given the results of a principal component analysis. This first forensic genetic assessment within the extensive I. iguana pet trade highlights the presence of illegal activity. The need for additional forensic assessments of pet-trade iguanas is evident, especially given that their value is driven by variety and rarity, which is further intensified by recent taxonomic changes.

Keywords: CITES; Iguana iguana; Iguana melanoderma; common green iguana; fraudulent; international trade; pet trade; reptiles; wildlife trade.