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Detroit Free Press, August 25, 2010

Scaly stowaway in auto parts finds home at the zoo
By Bill Laitner

A stowaway from Mexico made it all the way to Sterling Heights in a shipment of auto parts before getting caught and given a new home in Royal Oak — at the Detroit Zoo.

“This is a unique and rare rescue situation,” Detroit Zoo Curator of Reptiles Jeff Jundt said, of the zoo’s taking possession about a month ago of the stowaway, a foot-long rare reptile called a Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana.

The gray-and blue critter was spotted scooting across a loading dock on July 29 at Ford Motor Co.’s Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Sterling Heights, zoo spokeswoman Patricia Janeway said. The species is found only in the Yucatan Peninsula, in an area of 1,200-square miles — about twice the size of Oakland County, Janeway said.

After glimpsing the reptile, a Ford safety engineer called Sterling Heights Animal Control officers, who caught the iguana and housed it temporarily at the Sterilng Heights Nature Center, zoo officials said. Sterling Heights then asked the Detroit Zoo to provide a permanent home for the creature, which is rarely seen in zoos, Janeway said.

Curator Jundt provided this description of the lizard: “The Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana is one of the smallest iguana species, which grows only to be about a foot long. Its body sports a variety of colors, including a black chest with white spots, gray tail with a blue tint and a red lower back. The species sometimes uses its tail, covered with spiny scales, for defense by lashing it back and forth.”

The zoo’s newcomer, an adult male with a 5-inch body and 7-inch tail, is being held in quarantine “to make certain it is healthy before joining the Detroit Zoo’s black iguana in the fall at the Holden Museum of Living Reptiles,” Jundt said. While in quarantine for 90 days, the creature’s colors are mostly bland slate-gray, but Jundt said he expected the male iguana’s coloration to brighten up “with more hues of blue” after released into into the larger, more comfortable quarters with the black female iguana. But the two won’t mate.

“They’re two different species and our black iguna is actually two to three times larger. She hangs around a lot on the ground and this guy is quite arboreal, so he’ll spend his time climbing around on our tree branches,” Jundt said.

Copyright © 2010

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton