Black & Green Tree Chickens

~ by Jack Ewing

In the mid 1970s on a trip to Hacienda Barú with my 10 year old daughter, Natalie, a green iguana ran across the rough gravel road.

“Oh my god Daddy, what was that horrible thing?” I laughed and told her not to worry that it was only a green iguana, and they are perfectly harmless. “They’re good to eat” I said. “They taste like chicken. It’s sometime called ‘tree chicken.” Her face turned green. “Daddy! I’m gonna puke!” I brought the car to an abrupt halt, and Natalie hung out the window and relieved herself of lunch. Later she explained that on the previous Sunday she had gone to Puntarenas with a friend’s family, and they had eaten “tree chicken”. 

In those days green iguanas were a common meal at rural dinner tables.

Black spiny-tailed iguanas were seldom eaten. I remember asking one of the workers at Hacienda Barú if people ever eat black iguanas. “We don’t eat them” he replied, “But there are people who do,” with a disgusted look on his face. Humans have always preferred meat from herbivores as opposed to that of carnivores. Green iguanas (Iguana iguana) are strictly herbivores though they will occasionally accidentally consume insects or snails found on leaves they are eating.

Black & Green Tree Chickens - Osa, Uvita, Costa Ballena - Ballena Tales

The black spiny-tailed iguanas (Ctenosaura similis) are omnivores that eat mostly fruit and leaves, but will not pass up an opportunity to eat animal protein. I once saw one catch and eat a humming bird that got too close. Our guides have seen them eat young green iguanas, birds, mice, squirrels, crabs, and a neighbor lady says that they eat her newly hatched chicks. A friend of mine tried to feed one a piece of bread, and it bit him on the hand. 

At Hacienda Barú lots of black iguanas hang out around the facilities.

They are very tame and let you get up close, but we always warn parents not to let young children near them.

INFO: Jack Ewing – Hacienda Barú

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