Hawaii, with its picturesque beaches and lush landscapes, is known for its unique wildlife. When it comes to reptiles, one creature often comes to mind – the iguana. However, the presence of iguanas in Hawaii is a topic that has sparked much debate and misconception. To truly understand the truth behind this myth, it is important to delve into the history of iguanas in Hawaii.

Contrary to popular belief, iguanas are not native to Hawaii. They were introduced to the islands by humans in the late 1970s. The initial purpose of introducing iguanas was to establish a population that could be used as a food source. Unfortunately, this plan did not come to fruition, and the iguanas began to thrive in their new environment. Over time, the population of iguanas in Hawaii started to grow rapidly, leading to concerns about their impact on the ecosystem.

The truth behind the myth

While it is true that iguanas were introduced to Hawaii, their presence on the islands is often exaggerated. The majority of iguanas in Hawaii can be found on the island of Oahu, particularly in urban areas. They are not widespread across all the islands, as many people believe. This misconception may stem from the occasional sightings of iguanas in different parts of Hawaii, leading to the assumption that they are present everywhere.

It is important to note that the population of iguanas in Hawaii is not self-sustaining. Unlike other invasive species that reproduce rapidly, iguanas in Hawaii do not have a stable breeding population. Their numbers are primarily maintained through individual releases or escapes from captivity. This is a crucial factor in understanding the impact of iguanas on Hawaii’s ecosystem.

Native wildlife of Hawaii

Hawaii is home to a diverse range of native wildlife, including unique birds, plants, and marine life. The introduction of non-native species, such as iguanas, can have detrimental effects on the delicate balance of the ecosystem. Iguanas are herbivorous reptiles that feed on vegetation, including leaves, flowers, and fruits. Their voracious appetite can disrupt the natural food chain and compete with native species for resources.

One of the most vulnerable native species affected by the presence of iguanas is the Hawaiian green turtle, also known as the honu. Iguanas often nest in the same areas as green turtles, leading to increased competition for nesting sites and resources. This can have a negative impact on the survival and population growth of the green turtle, which is already considered an endangered species.

The introduction of iguanas to Hawaii has also resulted in damage to the local flora. Iguanas have been known to feed on a variety of plants, including native species. This can lead to a decrease in biodiversity and disrupt the natural habitats of other native wildlife. As a result, conservation efforts have been put in place to mitigate the impact of iguanas on Hawaii’s unique ecosystem.

The impact of iguanas on Hawaii’s ecosystem

The presence of iguanas in Hawaii has raised concerns about the potential harm they can cause to the local ecosystem. As mentioned earlier, iguanas are herbivores that consume a wide range of vegetation. This includes native plants and crops, which can have a significant impact on agriculture and horticulture in Hawaii.

Iguanas are known to damage crops such as papayas, bananas, and hibiscus flowers. This poses a threat to local farmers and businesses that rely on these crops for their livelihood. In addition, the destruction of native plants can lead to a decrease in food sources for other native wildlife, further disrupting the delicate balance of Hawaii’s ecosystem.

Efforts have been made to control the population of iguanas in Hawaii. These include capturing and removing iguanas from urban areas, as well as implementing stricter regulations on the ownership and importation of iguanas as pets. However, due to the elusive nature of iguanas and their ability to adapt to various habitats, complete eradication is unlikely.

Where to find iguanas in Hawaii

If you are interested in seeing iguanas in Hawaii, your best chance is on the island of Oahu. They are often spotted in urban areas, particularly in neighborhoods with a lot of greenery. Look for them in trees, basking in the sun, or scurrying across the ground. It is important to remember that iguanas can be elusive and may not always be easily visible.

If you do encounter an iguana in Hawaii, it is important to maintain a respectful distance and observe them from afar. Do not attempt to touch or interact with them, as they can become aggressive if they feel threatened. Remember, iguanas are wild animals, and their behavior can be unpredictable.

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Iguanas as pets in Hawaii

While iguanas may be a common sight in some parts of Hawaii, owning them as pets is a different story. In recent years, stricter regulations have been put in place to prevent the importation and ownership of iguanas as pets. This is due to concerns about the impact they can have on the local ecosystem, as well as the challenges of responsible pet ownership.

Iguanas are not suitable pets for everyone. They require specific care, including a proper diet, temperature and humidity control, and a spacious enclosure. Without proper care and attention, iguanas can become stressed, malnourished, and suffer from various health issues. These factors, combined with the potential harm they can cause to the environment, have led to restrictions on iguana ownership in Hawaii.

Conservation efforts for iguanas in Hawaii

Recognizing the potential harm that iguanas can cause to Hawaii’s delicate ecosystem, conservation efforts have been implemented to mitigate their impact. These efforts focus on controlling the population of iguanas and educating the public about the importance of responsible pet ownership.

Organizations such as the Hawaii Department of Agriculture and local animal control agencies work together to capture and remove iguanas from urban areas. This helps to reduce their impact on agriculture, protect native wildlife, and preserve the unique biodiversity of Hawaii’s ecosystem.

Public awareness campaigns and educational programs are also crucial in preventing the introduction and spread of invasive species in Hawaii. By educating residents and visitors about the risks associated with owning iguanas as pets, as well as the importance of reporting sightings, the community plays a vital role in protecting Hawaii’s natural environment.

Debunking other myths about Hawaiian wildlife

The presence of iguanas in Hawaii is just one of many myths surrounding the local wildlife. It is important to separate fact from fiction to truly understand and appreciate the unique biodiversity of the islands. Here are a few other common myths about Hawaiian wildlife:

  1. Myth: There are no snakes in Hawaii. Reality: While it is true that there are no native snake species in Hawaii, snakes have been accidentally introduced to the islands. These snake sightings are rare and usually involve non-venomous species that are brought in as illegal pets.

  2. Myth: The mongoose was introduced to control the snake population in Hawaii. Reality: The introduction of mongoose to Hawaii was actually intended to control the rat population in sugarcane fields. Unfortunately, this plan backfired, as mongoose are diurnal and rats are nocturnal, resulting in minimal impact on the rat population.

  3. Myth: The coqui frog is harmful to Hawaii’s ecosystem. Reality: The coqui frog, while considered an invasive species, has not been found to cause significant harm to the environment. Their presence is mainly a nuisance due to their loud mating calls.

By debunking these myths and promoting accurate information, we can foster a greater understanding and appreciation for Hawaii’s unique wildlife.


The myth of iguanas in Hawaii has sparked much debate and misconception. While it is true that iguanas were introduced to the islands, their presence is often exaggerated. The impact of iguanas on Hawaii’s delicate ecosystem is a concern, particularly for native wildlife and agriculture. Conservation efforts and stricter regulations have been implemented to control their population and prevent further harm.

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