Monday, June 8, 1998
Forget film; real dragons
eat seaweed, snort salt
When I went to see "Godzilla" recently, I had
Previews of the film had teased me with scenes of a
gigantic lizard rising from the depths of the ocean, only to run into
trouble with a big colony of human beings.
What fun, I thought. The grand pooh-bah of marine
iguanas visits New York.
The movie's opening scenes were promising. Marine
iguanas lie scattered over a bunch of lava rocks when an atomic blast
Lazily, these lizards push their bodies up with their
front legs and check it out.
The filmmakers don't show it, but I know, in real life,
what these iguanas did next: sneezed out some salt, plopped back down and
went right back to sleep.
Hey, marine iguanas need their rest. These Galapagos
natives, which grow to 3 feet long, are the only lizards in the world that
swim in the ocean and live solely on seaweed.
The distinct blunt snouts of these reptiles allow them
to nip close to the rock-clinging plants.
Female and young marine iguanas usually get their
seaweed from rocks exposed during low tide. Big males, however, are more
These lizards often take to the sea, swimming with
their heads above water and moving their muscular tails sideways to propel
Marine iguanas can dive to 35 feet and stay under
water, eating seaweed on the ocean floor, for at least an hour.
This is pretty hard work for a cold-blooded reptile in
the chilly waters of the Galapagos.
Like all cold-blooded animals, the marine iguana's body
temperature varies with that of its environment. At night, marine iguanas
sleep in rock cracks or under leaves. Some even climb shrubs to snooze on
In the morning, the cooled lizards haul themselves onto
black lava rocks near the shore. There, the sun and rocks heat the
lizards, giving them the energy to jump in the water and graze.
When they get either full or cold, they head back to
the warm slabs and hang out, sometimes by the hundreds, getting their body
temperatures back to a comfortable 95 to 100 degrees.
Marine iguanas accumulate a lot of salt during their
days in the ocean, but these reptiles have highly effective salt glands
connected to the nostrils.
To get rid of excess salt, the lizards sneeze the
crystals out in an impressive white spray.
The sight of these primeval lizards -- basking in the
late afternoon sun, their heads held high, their demeanor so regal --
nearly moved me to tears the one time I visited the Galapagos.
And they're totally fearless. I could walk, even lie,
among the iguana crowd and not cause so much as a flicker of an eyelid.
Of all the amazing animals and breath-taking scenery of
the Galapagos Islands, the marine iguanas remain high on my list of
And that's why I was so disappointed with the movie.
Godzilla eats fish. OK, OK, so maybe he's part water
monitor. The filmmakers did give us a glimpse of a few monitor lizards at
the start of the movie.
Monitor lizards are big, scary meat-eaters with a
striking resemblance to dragons. Some monitor lizards take to the water to
hunt, eating fish and anything else they can catch. Others readily climb
tall trees in search of prey.
OK. So even if Godzilla is part marine iguana, part
water monitor, I still hate him being portrayed as just a thug with big
feet, stomping on people, eating cars and demolishing buildings.
Real-life lizards are far better. A true Godzilla would
bask on the tarmac at Kennedy Airport, rain salt all over Manhattan, then
eat Central Park.
Maybe in the sequel.