Fijian Banded Iguana
Brachylophus fasciatus (Brongniart 1800)
by Schmidt Jürgen, http://www.cyclura.info
Description and history
The fiji iguana is one of the few iguana species of the old world and one of the most exceptional species of this family. It is rarely found in captivity there is little knowledge about their ethology, keeping and breeding. This species is one of the most colourful and most spectucar in the world. Males have a light- or darkgreen bodycolouration with white or blue dots and wave-like stripes on the neck and between two-four vertical bands on the flanks. The females are completely green and show sometimes little dots and partial bands on the flanks. The body structure is very similar to the desert iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis) but the head is heavier built and more compact. Adult Fiji-Iguanas, both males and females, reach a SVL of 15-20cms, with a total length of 60-75 cm. Sharp claws at the end of the long toes show that this is an arboreal species. On the single Fiji-islands a variety of different colour morphs have developed, but without being accepted as seperate subspecies. This species occur mainly on the larger Fiji-islands Viti Levu and Vanua Levu as well as the nearby island groups, eastern of the Lau-group to the Tonga-islands of Tongatapu, Ha’apai,Vava’u and `Eau, as well as the islandgroup of Vanuatu, where it has been introduced about 50 years ago and has established a stable population. Fiji- Iguanas are highly arboreal animals and live mostly in the coastal low forests. Sometimes they are also found in mangroves, but they are rarely seen in the central rainforests of the islands. The prefered habitat of these iguanas are trees and higher bushes with dense leavecovers where their camouflage colouration protects them and they find enough to feed (leaves, fruits and flowers). Fijis spent their whole live in the trees and come only for egglaying to the ground.
Zooligical breedingprojects and private breeding Status
The San Diego Zoo has the biggest captive population of Fiji-iguanas in the world (about 80 animals), which is divided on 15 other zoos in the US. In some zoos it was already possible to breed these animals to the third generation. Eight of the total ten animals in San Diego are from the Orchid Island Cultura Centre in Fiji and where imported in 1987 to the US. Some of the original animals have died in the meantime, but it was possible to breed with all iguanas and in the last years more than 100 animals were produced. Only a few zoos in Europe, are working with this specie since a few years. Only the Zoo in Rotterdam/Netherland has captive bred animals from San Diego, all other Zoos (Vienna, Duessldorf, Zurich,..) have captive bred animals from a private breeder. Unfortunately the dutchmen were not so lucky regarding the breeding in the last 10 years, all animals in the other European zoos are still to young for breeding. Due to a import-restrictions of Fish and Wildlife Service it is not allowed for US private persons to keep these animals. Only in Europe there are a few private keepers and also the breeding was succesful in the past. From time to time captive-bred animals are offered, which are high-priced.
Fiji iguanas should be kept in large terrariums, with a minimum of 200 x 100 x 120 cm (L x W x H). The bigger the terrarium is, the better the iguanas could be kept pairwise, because the males are extremely territorial and can sometimes also be aggressive towards the females. The terrarium should be built in a way, so that the pair could be separated with a wall easily. Horizontal and vertical branches with a rough surface of different width are essential. They will use this branches for resting the most time of the day. Natural plants can be used as decoration inside the terrarium, species like Ficus, Pothos, Philodendron und Nephthytis can be used. The problem is, they will also be eaten. For a controlled breeding and feeding it is essential to have a controlled feeding, why natural plants shouldn’t be taken. Many artificial plants also make the refuge places for the females, as a cover against the males. The terrarium should be misted daily with tempered water. Most times the iguanas start soon to drink the drops. Anyway a bowl with fresh water should also be placed in the terrarium. Especially for juveniles the dehydration risk is high. Because of the high humidity (humidity: 60-80% day, 75-95% night) the terrariums should never be made of wood, but of plastic or plexiglas. For the ground floor it is possible to use different substrates, dry sand is the best. A mixture of sand and peat or peat by itself molders very quickly, because of the high humidity, and are a potential health risk. For enough fresh air, four ventilations of 10 x 30 cm at the front of the terrariums should be made. Fiji-iguanas become ill very soon with sticky air, especially they skin problems. The technical requirements are 4 light tubes á 18 Watt (Phillips TL96) and two spots with UVB with 160 Watt, which are changed once a year against new ones. These spots are regulated by a thermostat with sensor (Biotherm 2000) consulting in temperatures of 28-32°C. Below the spot the temperature can raise till 40°C, the distance to the basking-place of the animals is 25-30 cm. In the night the temperature should be around 20°C, temperatures under 15°C shouldn’t be reached for long duiring the night. The animals shouldn’t be kept outdoors for the whole day, in areas where the night temperature are very low. A possiblity to get into warmer places should also be possible outdoors. A temperory outdoor keeping is recommended. The animals or more active after it, have more appetite and the colours are brighter. The photo-periode should be 12h/day year round. Male Fijis are very territorial and have to be separated as soon as they get sexually mature. Furthermore a visual-barriers to other terrariums with males should be provided. The extreme territorial behaviour can be iniciated also by other species like green iguanas or basilisks. Over a longer period this causes a stress-death of the Fiji-male. However, short sight of other males for 30 minutes once a month is very stimulating for the males and their willing to mate. After such stimulations the males should be observed that they don’t attack the females and may hurt them. The females show from time to time territorial behaviour, too. The best is to keep the animals in pairs, this is possible the whole year. If it is necessary to seperate the animals, their behaviour should observed very adequately when they are put together again, to see attacks of the male. If the fight severe and the results are bigger bites the pair should be seperated immediately to avoid further damages. Some pairs could never be put together again after they were seperated.
Fiji-iguanas are omnivor. Thats why they need a brought variety on food. Adults get six times a week a vegetable and fruit mix, consisting of different grases, leaves, herbs, vegetables and fruits. In the summer the only food is outdoor-„stuff“ from an unfertilized Meadow. Once a week the animals starve for one day. 2 times a week they get insects, which are offered in a bowl or with tweezers. The insects got powdered before with a minerale and vitamine supplement (Korvimin ZVT). Prefered feeding insects are Jumpers, wax moths including their larvae, Zophobas and silkworms. Roaches are taken only by a few animals. Especially the males should be observed well to recognise that they don’t get to fat. The legs, the tail and the neck should be well muscled but not fat. Overweighted males should be put on diet (only every second day vegetable and fruit mix and temporarily no insects). Gravis females have a bigger appetite and must get a very diversified food. As an additional Calcium resort sepia- and egg-shellspowder should be offered. Most females eat till a short time (3-5 days) before egg-laying. If an animal denies the food for a longer period (2-4 weeks) it can be a sign for problems. If the female looks prior to the egg-laying in most cases it has no problems with the egg-laying. Some Fiji-iguanas are bad feeders from the beginning, that’s why the food has to be very fresh and has to contain a lot of minerals and vitamines. Deficiency syndroms caused by bad or to less food could be avoided on that way. Especially such animals should be watched daily to see deficiency syndroms early enough. Force-feeding mostly causes the daeth of the animal. The given food can’t be digested and resorbed by the weak organism. The reason for the bad feeding is probably a disordered darmflora. Even recently hatched animals which don’t take food can’t be force-fed.
The courtship of the Fijis is always combined with head-nodding, colourchanges and bites in the neck and the forelegs. This happens very often without a resulting copulation. The females often get injured by the males. If the wounds are bigger the females need medical care, because these wounds can result in combination with the humid environment in severe infections. In the time of the main courtship the females sometimes lose their appetite and it is often necessary to feed the female with the tweezers. Normally the males and females reach sexual maturaty in the terrarium with 2 years. But with good feeding the first clutches can be observed at the age of 16-18 months. These clutches are often unfertiled with 1-3 eggs. The first fertiled clutches are produced at the age of 2-3 years, with every year the clutch-size increases to end with 4-7 eggs. Normally the females produce one clutch per year, but some females produce up to four per year. Mostly only one of them is fertiled. The egg-laying can observed throughout the whole year with an optimum in April-July. To lay the eggs the females seldom use use the offered egg-laying boxes (45 x 45 x 30 cm) which were used very succesful in the San Diego Zoo. In the authors terrarium the females burrowed the eggs in 10-15 cm deep sand, or in terrariums with natural plants into the flowerpots (ca. 20cm diameter). Fertile eggs are about 40 x 20 mm and weigh 8-10 grams. The eggs are incubated in Vermiculite with a water-ratio of 1:1. Other incubation substrates weren’t tested. The whole clutch is incubated in normal plastic boxes of 20 x 20 x 10 cm. On the upper edge or on the cover of the box six 3-5 mm-big holes were made which were closed first. Incubating every single egg instead of the whole clutch in a single box results in a decreased hatching result. Probably the not hatched babies were stimulated by the already hatched ones. The same observations could be made with other iguanas (Iguana, Cyclura, Sauromalus). Every second day the eggs have to be controlled. At a temperature of 28-29.5 the babies will hatch after 120-200 days. At lower or higher temperatures the percentage of deformed babies was very high. Hatchlings weight about 8-14 grams and mostly the sexes are already recognizable on the colouration. Until the baby slit the egg with its eggtooth it is important not frighten the hatchlings from this moment on. Otherwise it could happen that they hatch in panic before they have resorbed all the egg yolk. The whole procedure can take 2 days, untill the hatchlings have left the egg. For another day the hatchlings are left in the incubation box, but the holes on the edge or the cover were opened to guarantee enogh air ventilation. On the third day they were taken off the incubation box and put into another incubation box without substrate. The ground is covered with humid soft-paper. Here the hatchlings rest for two days until the rest of the yolk and the umbillical cord has fallen down. Now the babies were put together in terrariums of 80 x 60 x 60 cms. If they are single housed, they will sometimes refuse any food. The food should consist of the same things as for the adults and the terrarium is set as for the adults too. Normally they start to feed the 10th-14th day but it can happen that they start at the age of 14-30 days. Some of them will eat more insects as the adults, they should have the possibility to do it till the age of 1 year. Youngs should be fed 7 days a week. Once a week they should be weighted. If an animal loses 10% of its weight in one week it has to be fed with the tweezers. A proper method for „hand-feeding“ is to put the fooditem into the mouthancle. Normally the babies start to chew and to swallow immadiately after this procedure. While the animal is chewing on the first food item it should be tried to give the second one on the same way. Another possibility is to put a drop of baby-food (Alete, Milupa etc..these small glasses) on the nose. When the animal starts to lick it the next drop should be applied. At the age of three-six months the small iguanas should move into bigger terrariums. The best would be to put them in these terrariums where they could remain as adults.
Comments and Discussion
If the required conditions are fulfilled, Fijis make long-living terrarium animals. I got my animals in the early 1990s at this time the animas were about 4 years old, so that a lifespan of 20-25 years is realistic. Ill animals have characteristic signs like bad appetite, dark to black colouration and deep lying eyes. Fijis need intense care and daily observation. Everybody who can fulfill this will have a lot of joy with them.