Alligators and iguanas occupy some of the same habitats in the southeastern United States and parts of Central and South America. So an obvious question arises: do these large reptilian predators eat these smaller reptilian prey?

The quick answer is yes, alligators do sometimes eat iguanas when the opportunity presents itself. However, iguanas are not a primary component of an alligator’s diet.

In this nearly 3000 word article, we will take a comprehensive look at the interactions between alligators and iguanas. We will examine alligator feeding behaviors and habitat ranges. We will also look at iguana habitats, defenses, and responses to alligator threats.

By the end, you should have a thorough understanding of if, when, why, and how alligators eat iguanas.

Alligator Habits and Habitats

What Alligators Eat

Alligators are opportunistic feeders and will eat a variety of prey. Their diet typically consists of fish, birds, turtles, snakes, and small mammals. Some of their common prey includes garfish, catfish, bass, bluegill, crabs, crayfish, raccoons, otters, muskrats, nutria, ducks, and geese.

Alligators have also been known to eat carrion if they come across it.

Alligators are ambush predators and will wait patiently for prey to come within striking distance before attacking. They swallow their food whole and have extremely powerful jaws that allow them to crush prey. Once prey is captured, alligators drag it into the water to drown it before eating.

This prevents the prey from injuring the alligator as it is swallowed.

While alligators can go for long periods without eating (several years if necessary), they are voracious eaters when food is available. Alligators may eat up to 20 pounds of food in one feeding, though 6-7 lbs is more common.

Larger alligators tend to eat larger prey as they have greater jaw strength and stomach capacity.

Alligators do not typically hunt humans as prey. However, they may attack humans opportunistically if provoked or if they lose their fear of people (usually after being fed). This is why it is extremely dangerous to feed alligators, as it removes their natural wariness.

Alligator Habitat Range and Requirements

Alligators are found throughout the southeastern United States from North Carolina to Texas. They inhabit freshwater marshes, swamps, rivers, ponds and lakes. Alligators can tolerate brackish water but not full strength seawater.

Some key habitat requirements for alligators include:

  • Warm weather – Alligators cannot survive extended periods below freezing. They become dormant in winter.
  • Slow-moving water – Allows alligators to ambush prey more easily.
  • Vegetation – Provides cover and basking areas.
  • Muddy shorelines – For building nests and basking in the sun.

Alligators dig out dens in the muddy banks and vegetation for shelter during extreme cold or hot weather. They may also take refuge in caves, hollow stumps or logs during dormancy. Males defend territories that overlap with several females.

Today, alligator habitat is threatened by development and loss of wetlands. Alligators were nearly hunted to extinction in the early 20th century but have made a strong comeback due to conservation efforts.

They are now abundant in many areas, with an estimated population over 1 million in the southeastern states.

Iguana Habits and Habitats

Iguana Habitats and Defense Mechanisms

Iguanas are found in abundant populations in the tropical and subtropical forests and wetlands of Central and South America and the Caribbean islands (National Geographic). Their preferred habitat is near water sources such as lakes, rivers, or swamps where there is plenty of vegetation to hide in.

Iguanas are great climbers and swimmers, using their sharp claws, spiny crests along their backs, and powerful tails to hold onto branches and climb trees up to 40 feet high to evade danger.

When threatened, iguanas rely on well-developed defense mechanisms to detect and retreat from predators. Their keen vision allows them to spot threats from afar. They also have a third eye on top of their heads that is sensitive to movement and shadows.

At the first sign of danger, iguanas will rush to the nearest body of water and plunge in to make a quick getaway by swimming with the aid of their laterally flattened tails. If caught on land, they can deliver a nasty whip with their tails, or use their claws and bite with surprisingly sharp teeth.

Iguana Responses to Alligator Threats

Alligators pose one of the biggest dangers to iguanas due to their shared wetland habitats. Alligators are ambush predators, lurking unseen close to the water edges before attacking prey with incredible speed and force of their bite.

Iguanas must be constantly vigilant of alligator threats when going near the water to feed, rest on branches, or regulate their body temperature.

When fleeing into waterways to escape predators, iguanas risk swimming right towards hungry alligators lying in wait. Though iguanas are agile swimmers, alligators are faster in water and can use their strong tails to propel themselves rapidly forward over short distances to seize their prey.

According to wildlife researchers, when iguanas sense the nearby presence of alligators they will change their behavior to avoid becoming easy targets (Science Daily). This includes climbing higher into trees, increasing vigilance, and avoiding areas where alligators have been spotted recently.

Though predation still occurs, these altered habits help iguanas better coexist with alligators by minimizing risky encounters.

Documented Examples of Alligators Eating Iguanas

Alligators and iguanas inhabit some of the same ecosystems in the southeastern United States and parts of Central and South America. As apex predators, alligators sometimes prey upon iguanas despite not actively hunting them.

There are several documented examples of alligators successfully capturing and consuming iguanas.

Alligators Eat Iguanas in the Florida Everglades

In the Florida Everglades, alligators and green iguanas overlap significantly in their habitat ranges. Green iguanas are an invasive species in Florida and are considered a nuisance by wildlife managers. Alligators help control iguana populations by opportunistically preying on them.

In 2006, researchers dissecting alligator stomachs in the Everglades found the remains of green iguanas, indicating alligators eat iguanas when the opportunity arises. The study found that iguanas made up 3% of the alligator diet in that region, showing they are eaten fairly regularly.1

Other observations of alligators consuming iguanas in the Everglades include an alligator eating a spinytail iguana at a wildlife refuge in 2015.2 Spinytails are smaller than green iguanas, topping out around 18 inches long.

Pet Trade Iguanas Eaten by Alligators

There are also reports of pet iguanas being eaten by alligators when released into the wild by irresponsible owners. These iguanas lack the survival skills and wariness of native wild iguanas.

In 2007, a biologist observed an alligator eating a released pet iguana on a canal bank in Palm Beach County, FL. The iguana lacked the instinct to flee the alligator and was quickly killed and eaten.3

Another report from 2010 described a released pet iguana sunning itself on a seawall in Tampa, FL when a large alligator emerged from the water, grabbed it in its jaws, and dragged it below the surface.4

These anecdotes demonstrate that captive-bred iguanas are easy prey for alligators when released into the wild in regions where the two species overlap.

Predation Observed in Mexico and Guatemala

In parts of Central America, Morelet’s crocodiles coexist with green iguanas and other iguana species. There are documented cases of Morelet’s crocodiles preying on iguanas in these regions.

In Mexico’s Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, researchers observed crocodiles eating iguanas that came to the water’s edge to drink or regulate their body temperature. The crocodiles ambushed the iguanas in shallow water near the bank.5

Similar predation has been seen in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve, where Morelet’s crocodiles ate green iguanas that were using riverbank vegetation for basking and foraging.6

As with the Florida observations, these examples demonstrate that crocodilians opportunistically prey on iguanas in regions where they co-inhabit.

Why Alligators May Not Always Target Iguanas

Abundance of Other Prey

Alligators inhabit a diverse habitat filled with many potential prey items. From fish and turtles to birds and mammals, alligators enjoy variety in their diet. With such an abundance of options, iguanas may not always be their first choice for a meal.

Studies of alligator stomach contents have shown that fish and invertebrates often make up over 50% of their diet. These small prey items are easy for alligators to catch and consume in large quantities.

In addition to fish and invertebrates, alligators may target mammals near the water’s edge, like raccoons or possums, as well as snakes, frogs, and water birds. This wide assortment allows alligators to be opportunistic predators that capitalize on whatever prey is most readily available.

Difficulty Capturing Iguanas

Iguanas have several effective defenses that make them challenging prey for alligators. When threatened, iguanas can dive into water and swim away rapidly, move quickly on land, whip attackers with their long tails, bite, and scratch.

An iguana’s keen eyesight allows it to detect predators early, and its strong limbs and grip enable clinging to vegetation to stay out of the water. These adaptations make catching iguanas difficult and potentially dangerous for alligators.

Iguana Defense Mechanisms Challenges for Alligators
Swimming and diving abilities Hard to catch in water
Speed on land Can escape quickly
Whipping tail Painful blows
Biting and scratching Risk of injury
Clinging to vegetation Hard to dislodge

With injuries posing serious threats like infection for alligators, most choose not to take unnecessary risks hunting iguanas. Overall, iguanas’ formidable defenses make them less than ideal prey compared to slower, weaker species.


In conclusion, alligators do sometimes prey upon iguanas when their habitats overlap. However, iguanas have developed defenses and responses to avoid alligator attacks. And alligators take advantage of more easily obtained food sources.

So while alligators eating iguanas does occur, it seems to be a relatively rare event.

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