Housing Iguana iguana (Common Iguana) - Care, Pictures, Breeding
This page belongs to our "exotic pets series" articles which are not dedicated to fish, but to Iguana iguana - Common Iguana in this case! You're welcome to share your experiences at the bottom of this page!
Iguana iguana are lizards that have evolved over millions of years to become what they are today and make for a fascinating creature not only to keepers but to visitors to zoos etc. as they are one of the largest lizards that inhabit our planet and can display varying colours with each specimen that is observed.
They are commonly referred to as the Common Iguana or even more commonly referred to as the Green Iguana due to the intense green colouration of the juvenile specimens, adult specimens will undergo colour changes to develop their own individual markings.
The Iguana are arboreal (tree dwellers) in their natural habitat which ranges from Brazil right up to Mexico and they have even found a way to form populations on the Caribbean Islands. In more recent years native populations are starting to develop around Florida and Texas.
This lizard is often sold as a relatively small juvenile without the new keeper realising just how large these creatures can grow, a mature specimen can reach up to 5 feet in length, quickly outgrowing their enclosures so bear this in mind if yo are considering purchasing the Iguana as a pet.
Healthy juveniles will display a solid green colouration. Dependant on natural habitat some juveniles may display a blue colouration) but as adults the colours can range from a blue background with black markings or even a reddish/pink colouration with the same darker markings.
What they all have in common is a row of spines that runs from the whole length of their back right down to the tip of their tails, the same tails can also be used as an attack weapon, inflicting injuries to anything that gets in it’s way. The tail can also be discarded when they are threatened by a predator and all else fails to discourage the unwanted attention, discarding the tail confuses the predator giving the Iguana time to escape before it becomes a meal, the tail will regenerate over a few months.
They are excellent climbers having evolved large claws on their hind legs, these same claws also allows them to free fall from branches if they need to escape quickly and on the descent they can slow themselves down clasping at branches and leaves allowing them to land perfectly unharmed even from a great height.
Unfortunately they also possess sharp teeth which are used for chopping and grinding down their food, these same teeth can also inflict a nasty bite so always treat these lizards with respect. With all of their armament they are definitely not a lizard for novice reptile keepers, experience should be gained with other species before attempting to keep the Iguana lizard.
Generally Iguana lizards are docile and peaceful creatures but being forewarned should prevent any accidental injuries from occurring.
Caring for the Iguana can also be quite demanding so the following section with enlighten you to their special demands giving you some idea as to the amount of work involved.
Caring for the Green Iguana Lizard
There is one myth concerning Iguanas that needs clearing up before you even attempt to create a home for one of these lizards, their growth is not restricted by the size of their enclosure, the growth rate of juveniles is very fast and it does indeed slow down but the growth does not stop altogether, they will continue to increase in size until they reach their natural adult size of at least 5 feet in length. Juvenile Iguana lizards will obviously require less space than adults so while the juvenile is growing you can plan for the larger enclosure that the more mature specimen will require.
Whatever the size of the Iguana that you have, the enclosure must be at least twice the length of your specimen, if you have a juvenile of 6 inches then the enclosure must be at least 12 inches in length, if the Iguana is 3 feet in length then the enclosure must be at least 6 feet in length, even looking at this example it soon becomes clear that a lot of space is required. As Iguana lizards are arboreal, the enclosure will also need to have a lot of height to accommodate any branches or similar that are added for your lizard to climb on, they will spend most of their time in the upper regions of the enclosure. Aim for a height of at least 6 feet but the good news is that the width of the enclosure only needs to be half the length of your lizard, do not attempt to keep Iguana in any enclosure that is smaller than any of these recommendations.
You may think that with the Iguana being arboreal that the choice of substrate for the enclosure is not critical, this is not true, if the incorrect substrate is used it can be ingested by the Iguana and cause health problems, loose substrates such as bark, soil or sand are not a good choice, solid substrates such as old carpeting, newspapers, or even vinyl floor covering are far more ideal, the Iguana will not be able to ingest these, they can be replaced quickly for cleaning purposes and they do not cost a fortune. Spare coverings can be kept to one side ready to replace in the enclosure while the soiled coverings are being cleaned and they will also ensure that bacteria or fungal sores cannot accumulate as with loose substrates.
As expected, you will need to provide climbing structures inside the enclosure, dried branches can be used as can dowelling that is firmly fixed to take the weight of your Iguana, shelving on the walls of the enclosure will provide resting and basking sites but make sure that these are constructed of wood capable of taking the weight and are fixed securely. Aim the climbing structures to reach the shelves easily and provide a good gripping surface on the shelves, shiny planed wood can cause your Iguana to slip so a rougher surface is required.
Hiding places are definitely important to the Iguana, this will make them more settled in the enclosure allowing them to escape from view if they wish to do so, these can be made very simply from wood or even strong cardboard boxes but make sure that they are not too large so that your Iguana can fit snugly inside, also remember to make sure that access to the hide is available at both ends and not restricted.
Your Iguana will need a water bowl in the enclosure, you may not notice your pet drinking all of the time but it does need to be there just in case your lizard is thirsty, Iguana also like to bathe so the water bowl will probably also be used for that purpose as well, the bowl itself should be shallow and seated firmly to prevent it from toppling over, the water inside should not be too deep, it has been known for lizards to drown when the incorrect bowls have been used, the water inside the bowl will also help to keep the humidity levels higher. The water should be fresh and replaced daily to prevent soiled water from being in the enclosure for too long, prevention is better than a cure so reducing the risk of any infections will pay off.
Humidity has just been mentioned, this is a very important aspect to keeping your lizard healthy, higher humidity levels replicate the Iguana’s natural habitat so a daily spray from a misting bottle should help to keep this at an acceptable level. With most enclosures having a wire mesh front it can be difficult to keep the humidity high so some keepers will add a humidifier in the same room as the enclosure, Iguanas are also very clean reptiles so give them a bath on a regular basis, this will keep the skin moist and hygienically clean, investing in a reliable humidity meter will give you piece of mind, a level of 70-75 % is what you should be aiming for.
The temperature of the enclosure will also need to be monitored, yet again invest in a reliable thermometer placed inside the enclosure so that you can easily read off how warm the enclosure actually is, the temperature should range from 29-35°C (85-95°F), this can be achieved by using heat lamps, even a house light bulb will provide heat and if all else fails you can use a heat mat but keep one end of the enclosure warmer than the other end to give your Iguana the choice of which area it wishes to occupy.
This next section covers basking lamps, these will also provide additional heat when in use but are mainly for allowing the Iguana to bask under a UV source, this is very important to the Iguana and they should be situated at one end of the enclosure. There are many UV bulbs available that will fix into a standard light bulb housing or you can buy a UV kit complete and ready to go once switched on, The UV is soaked up by the Iguana and aids bone development and general well being, without this basking source the Iguana could soon develop growth and health problems. The basking lamp does not need to be switched on 24/7, a few hours a day will suffice, this also applies to the normal lighting of the enclosure but make sure that if everything is switched off during the night time that the heat in the enclosure does not drop too low, the heat mat should keep things ticking over but once on a while it is worth checking the thermometer during the night just to make sure.
Maintenance of the enclosure is very important, everything should be cleaned on a regular basis, the shelving, branches and the floor of the enclosure will need scrubbing to keep them clean and free from bacteria, the water bowl will need fresh water added daily to prevent any infections and your Iguana should be bathed routinely to keep it clean, the Iguanas will enjoy their bath so there should be no problems performing this act at all.
Feeding the Iguana iguana
Iguanas are herbivores, they require high fibre diets with no meats or fats, there should be a definite balance between vegetables and fruits to keep the diet varied and try lots of different choices to keep your Iguana interested and eating healthily. They do not eat large meals but tend to nibble throughout the day so placing a lot of food in the enclosure at once will only cause problems if the food is allowed to remain there and start to decay, it is far better to prepare a mixture of foods and keep offering snacks throughout the day so that all of the food is consumed. There are plenty of vegetables that can be offered and these are usually cheap to purchase, examples are green beans, turnips, carrots, sweetcorn, even leaves from dandelions will be accepted as long as they have been washed thoroughly and haven’t come into contact with any fertilisers or pesticides.
Fruits are also easy to supply, bananas, apples, pears, peaches etc. can be offered but any fruit will need to be chopped down so that your lizard can swallow the pieces easily.
Juvenile Iguanas will require more meals than adults but on a smaller scale, after a few feed times you will soon realise the correct amounts to offer. As with all creatures vitamins and minerals are a very important aspect to any diet, these are required for general growth and well being, calcium is very important for bone development and if not supplemented it is very easy for the Iguana to suffer from calcium deficiency. The supplements are available from most pet stores and are just sprinkled over the food before offering the meal, some vitamin pellets are also available for reptiles, if these are purchased as dehydrated pellets it is very important to soak them and allowing them to expand before feeding.
Handling your Iguana correctly
It is only natural for any pet owner that they wish to form a strong bond with their pet and handle them to show that they care, over time strong bonds will form with careful owners but this has to be built up over time so handling needs to be approached carefully when you first start to keep your Iguana. As with any creature there may be some specimens that can be nippy but this is usually down to them being unsure of their new surroundings and they need to feel settled and stress free. Iguanas can nip and they do possess claws so you will need to treat them wit respect, they are not naturally aggressive and the teeth and claws are only usually used as a defence mechanism so if you follow the correct handling steps then any nipping and scratching should diminish.
Handling periods for a new Iguana should be restricted to shorter periods of time, for the first few handling sessions it may be a good precaution to wrap the Iguana with a towel of some soft blankets to prevent it from scratching you. Hold the Iguana with both hands but not too tightly and support the Iguana on your chest, make sure that the tail is prevented from thrashing about and talk to the Iguana so that it helps to soothe the lizard, in time your Iguana will realise that you are not a threat to it and will learn to trust you.
Juvenile Iguanas can be fast when they want to be so always make sure that you are in full control and that there is no chance of them dropping from your hands and falling, it is not advised that young children are allowed to handle the Iguanas even when supervised by an adult.
After handling always wash your hands thoroughly, they can pass on diseases to humans such as salmonella so hygiene is very important.
Like all reptiles the Iguana needs to shed it’s skin as it grows, their skin cannot expand like the elastic skin of mammals so it is replaced as the Iguana develops and the first signs of this maybe a loss of appetite, the old skin may take on a grey colouration just prior to shedding and the Iguana may start to rub itself against the branches as the skin begins to peel. Under normal circumstances the shedding will take place without any problems or the intervention of the owner. Do not be tempted to try to speed up the process by picking away at the old skin, it is their for a reason and underneath the new skin may not be ready yet. Bathing will help in the process and it is very important to keep checking the toes of the Iguana to make sure that the old skin has been released and is not stuck, if this does seem to be the case then bathing the toes will help.
Breeding the Iguana iguana
In their natural habitat, the Iguana is a loner and will only normally make contact with another Iguana during the breeding season so it is very important to know the sex of your Iguana to make sure that you do actually have a male and a female lizard together when you wish to start off the breeding project.
With juvenile and pre-adult specimens sexing is extremely difficult and can only be performed by a qualified veterinary surgeon unless you are an expert which most of us definitely are not, with adult specimens there are a few tell tale signs that help us to determine the sex.
Adult males tend to have larger heads when compared to a female of a similar body size, the males will also develop larger cheek scales and will often develop fleshy bumps behind the eyes and on the top of the head, maturity is normally between 1-2 years of age.
If you turn the lizards over and look between the rear legs, mature males will display pores along the inner sides of the legs, these are known as “femoral pores” and the males will emit a substance that is very waxy in appearance.
Breeding can be a very aggressive time with the Iguanas so it often pays to add a couple of females to one male and make sure that the females are slightly larger than the male, also make sure that the females are not too large or they can inflict serious injuries to the male lizard.
Nesting boxes will need to be provided as the female will need to burrow out a nesting site for her to lay the eggs, the box should be fairly deep and contain play sand, potting compost r a combination of the both, it should be damp enough to support itself as the female digs.
When the Iguana mates it will insert its hemipenes into the female and deposit a sperm sac, the female will gestate for about 8 weeks prior to laying the eggs. The eggs will be covered over once laid and are expected to hatch in about 90 days dependant on temperature. For a higher success it is best to use an incubator that has vermiculite to act as the substrate, this should be dampened to keep the humidity levels high and when transferring the eggs always handle them carefully and wear surgical gloves to prevent any form of cross-contamination from our own hands.
The incubation is between 90-120 days checking the eggs on a regular basis. Any eggs that are going mouldy need to be removed from the incubator being very careful and yet again wear the surgical gloves.
Once hatched the hatchlings will be very active and bright green in colouration, it is recommended that you feed them with a natural yoghurt initially to load bacteria into their gut and them they can accept the same food as the adults but chopped very finely to aid digestion.
There are many cases of the Iguana being abandoned when they get too large for their owners or they are not getting the correct care, always think carefully before purchasing an Iguana and make sure that you do have the facilities to care for them properly.