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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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iguana any of several species of lizard. The arboreal lizard of C. and S. America, Iguana iguana, is the archetype but other members of the New World family Iguanidae bear the name. (The name is also applied to the Nile monitor, Varanus nilotica, a large aquatic lizard of Africa which is mentioned under monitor.)

Sophie Coe (1994) describes the importance of iguanas (both the green iguana, Iguana iguana, and the black iguana, Ctenosaurus pectinata) for the Maya people (see maya food) and for the Spanish conquerors who took over C. America. The Maya had relatively little animal food available, so appreciated this resource. As for the Spaniards, they were delighted to find that these creatures could be designated as fish (given the fact that the green iguana spends much time in or around the water, although the generally preferred black iguana is much more terrestrial in habit); and that bishops of the Roman Catholic Church were prepared to endorse this and permit the eating of iguanas during Lent and on Fridays. Coe comments that these reptiles could be captured ‘and kept for long periods of time without feeding, a convenient way to have a supply of fresh meat on hand. They also produce delicious eggs, leathery-shelled oblong capsules consisting entirely of yolk.’ These eggs are about the size of table tennis balls.