Environment

Native Reptiles of Guatemala

Guatemala's hundreds of reptilian species include three Critically Threatened species of turtles.

Guatemala's hundreds of reptilian species include Critically Threatened species of turtles. The leatherback marine turtle populations in the Atlantic and the Pacific are slowly declining. Hawksbill turtle is a critically endangered species due to human over-harvesting them as food and destroying their natural habitats. The Guatemalan Spiny-tailed Iguana is another critically endangered species threatened by human activities. Guatemala has different ecosystems to provide home to these endangered species, but pollution and illegal logging have destroyed the ecosystem leaving the animals vulnerable. Apart from endangered species the country is also home to the American crocodile which exhibits a unique high salt tolerance abilities and also intolerance to cold temperatures.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate)

The Hawksbill sea turtle, belonging to the Cheloniidae Family, is a critically endangered species. The hawksbill sea turtle looks similar to other marine turtles with its flattened shape, carapace, and the flipper-like limbs adapted for swimming. The distinctive feature of Eretmochelys imbricata is the sharp curved beak with a totium and a serrated shell margin. The species is found in the tropical coral reefs. They occupy a broad range of habitats from the open seas to lagoons and the mangrove swamps of estuaries. They rest in caves and ledges during the day. Eretmochelys imbricata feeds on sponges, crustaceans, algae and fish. Hawksbill mates twice in a year in secluded lagoons in remote islands. Mating begins in April to November. Incubation takes two months and at night, dark colored hatchlings emerge and instinctively crawl to the sea. The species reach sexual maturity after twenty years. The hawksbill lives a solitary life and meets when mating. They are also highly migratory. Humans harvest these species as delicacies. Also, the beautiful shells are used as house decoration. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has banned fishing of sea turtle.

American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)

The American crocodile belongs to the group of crocodilians living in the Neotropic regions. The Crocodylus acutus lives in the coastal areas, river systems, brackish lakes, lagoons, cays, mangrove swamps, and cays. The habitats range from Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela, and other islands along the Pacific coastlines. The American crocodile has a V-shaped snout. Adults have a uniform grayish green backgrounds with yellowish undersides. They feed on fish, reptiles, birds, and at times mammals such as deer and cattle are made part of their diets. The species exhibits high salt tolerant and thus able to occupy a wide habitat range. They are also more susceptible to cold than the American alligator. The crocodile relies on fish for parasite removal. The species breed in early winter where they engage in drawn out mating ceremonies. Females lay 30 to 70 eggs and hide them in concealed nest. Sex determination is dependent on incubation temperature, and slight variations may result in all females or all males. After 75 to 80 days the eggs hatch with the first rains of summer. Parental care ends after five weeks, and the young ones disband in search of their destinies. Hide hunting, pollution, commercial farming for adults and the loss of habitats endangers these species. Illegal harassing, poaching, and killing of crocodiles is illegal an act made by the federal government.

Guatemalan Spiny-Tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura palearis)

The Guatemalan Spiny-tailed Iguana is endemic to the Motagua Valley in Eastern Guatemala, being found there at elevations of between 200 and 900 meters above sea level. It lives in the dry forests and thorn scrub. The species uses hollow trunks and branches of cactus as shelter. An iguana female lays 6 to 12 eggs each year with an incubation period of 3 months. The generation time is six years when the reproduction cycle starts again. The species has a slender body with a grayish brown and black banding. The dewlap is more conspicuous in male adults than in females. The spiky tail aids it when defending against intruders and predators. The Ctenosaura palearis feeds on leaves and fruits such as those of cacti, while on occasion it eats insects as well. The population is fragmented and scattered in a threatening manner as a result of habitat loss and local extirpation. The continued hunting and trade has reduced the numbers of these species. Also, habitat loss resulting from watermelon irrigation in the Motagua Valley threatens these species. The Zootropic, Zoo Atlanta, and International Reptile Conservation Foundation have come up with conservative measures for the critically endangered Motagua Spiny-tailed Iguana, including the implementation of designated hunting seasons and teaching the locals in regard to the importance of conserving the species.

Leatherback Marine Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

The leatherback marine turtle is the largest of the sea turtles. It is a migratory sea species that crosses into both trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic routes. Its habitats include the Pacific coastal areas of Guatemala, all the way north to Alaska and Norway, and south to the Cape Agulhas in Africa. They have a distinctive leathery carapace and long front flippers. They can dive as much as 1,200 meters deeper than other marine turtles since their unique blood supply system and cartilage maintains the body temperature at several degrees above the average water temperatures. Breeding occurs 4 to 5 times a season where a female lays 60 to 120 eggs per lay. The incubation period is approximately 60 days. The female nests every 2 to 3 years. The diet constitutes of jellyfish, squid, and tunicates. The primary threat facing the species is habitat loss and degradation, wildlife trade, the collection of eggs, incidental capture, climate change, pollution, and possible harvesting for meat production. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is working to protect and conserve the species of leatherback turtles by protecting nesting beaches and habitats and educating local communities on the importance of conserving marine turtles. Before human intervention, Guatemalan marine life was rich and diversified. Human activities such as hunting, overfishing, illegal logging, and pollution have destroyed nature here, bringing many species to extinction. The leatherback turtle has existed for more than a hundred million years, but is facing extinction today. Conservation measures need to focus on keeping the existing species alive while promoting breeding and protecting their habitats.

Reptiles of GuatemalaScientific Name
Hawksbill sea turtle
Eretmochelys imbricata
American crocodile
Crocodylus acutus
Guatemalan Spiny-tailed Iguana
Ctenosaura palearis
Dary's burrowing snake
Adelphicos daryi
Leatherback turtle
Dermochelys coriacea
Central American river turtle
Dermatemys mawii
Spectacled caiman
Caiman crocodilus
Central American banded gecko
Coleonyx mitratus
Guatemalan Chapinophis SnakeChapinophis xanthocheilus
Allison's anole
Anolis allisoni

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