Iguana: It's What's for Dinner?

Puerto Rican officials aim to combat an overpopulation of the green lizards by exporting their meat to the U.S.
Is lizard meat the next American culinary trend? (Photo: Thomas Roskifte/Getty Images)
Feb 7, 2012· 1 MIN READ
Nichol Nelson hails from Minnesota, but has worked in food journalism in New York and Los Angeles for more than a decade. She served as an editor with Gourmet magazine for six years, and has contributed to several other digital and print food publications.

Leapin’ lizards! Puerto Rico officials are trying to convince the world that iguanas belong on their dinner plates. The Caribbean island (a territory of the U.S.) says its iguana population is out of control, and plans a mass killing of the reptiles in order to export their meat.

The iguana problem has become overwhelming for island residents. There are about four million of the green invaders in Puerto Rico—that’s more than one for each resident, Daniel Galan Kercado, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, told The Associated Press. "This is a very big problem. We have to attack it. It has impacted structures, the economy, crops and the ecosystem." (Officials spend more than $80,000 a year just killing iguanas at the Luis Munoz Marin international airport in San Juan.)

Iguanas can grow to be six feet long, and live as long as 20 years. Although they’re considered endangered in many Latin American countries, they’ve thrived in Puerto Rico because they have few predators. But, according to Kercado, iguana meat is in high demand in the U.S., where it can fetch up to $6 a pound. So a plan has been set in motion: Government officials plan to organize volunteers to capture the live lizards, then bring them to a processing center for slaughter and eventual distribution to the U.S. (A contract with a processing center has not yet been finalized.)

You know you want to know: What does iguana taste like? It’s an old joke, but according to a recent article in The Dallas Observer, these green lizards have meat remarkably similar to chicken. (The same article claimed that iguana meat can fetch up to $50 a pound, a price that probably won’t hold once the market is flooded.)

For those not accustomed to eating reptiles, the plan might be disturbing, but it may save iguanas from abuse, says Javier Laureano, a scientist who runs a conservation program for the San Juan Bay estuary. He told the AP that Puerto Ricans are fed up with the constant nuisance of the lizards, and often burn them, beat them, or run them over.

"Measures need to be taken to diminish the species, but we should not turn the iguana issue into a witch hunt," he told the AP.