Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)
Popularity: Iguanas make good pets but they require a lot of care and get very large – possibly larger than you, so know what you are getting into when you adopt one.
Origin: Central and South America
Native habitat: tropical forest, like to hang out near water
Size: 6 feet or more
Lifespan: 15-20 years
Appearance: Green iguanas are not always green. They may also be lavender, black, pink, red, orange, bright blue, or darker blue with black markings. They have a row of spines along their backs and tails.
Diet: herbivorous – leaves, flowers, fruit, and growing shoots
Activities: diurnal, arboreal, more terrestrial in cooler months
Defense Mechanisms: The row of spines along their backs and tails helps to protect them from predators. They can whip their tails to deliver powerful and painful strikes. When grabbed by the tail, they can release it so they can make a getaway. It grows back eventually. They will also display the dewlap under their necks, stiffen and puff up their bodies, hiss, and bob their heads at the aggressors. If they are in a position to, they will often just run into the water.
Misc characteristics: Iguanas are good climbers, and good fallers. They can fall 50 feet out of a tree and land unharmed by using the claws on their back legs to break the fall with leaves and branches. Iguanas remain submerged when swimming while letting its legs hang loosely against the side of its body. They use powerful tail strokes to propel themselves through the water. They have outstanding vision in good lighting, poor vision in poor lighting. They have sharp teeth for shredding leaves, and they can rip flesh if they bite into it. The teeth are leaf-shaped: broad and flat, with serrations on the edge. They store fat in their necks, tails and under their jaws to use for energy when food is scarce. A female iguana digs holes to lay eggs, and in the process will dig extra, empty holes to confound predators.
Housing and Furnishings
Housing for a Green Iguana must be very large. Adults need an enclosure that measures at least 8-feet high, by 8-feet long, by 6-feet wide — even larger if possible. Height is critical to allow the lizard to climb; otherwise it will stress out and get sick. The enclosure needs to have climbing shelves or branches that are a bit wider than the diameter of the Iguana and strong enough to hold its weight. Wide shelves are better than branches because they can be made to be stronger.
Good substrates are newspaper with non-toxic ink, plain butcher paper, paper towels and indoor/outdoor carpet. Avoid particulate substrates such as sand and wood chips — it can stick to an Iguana’s tongue and get ingested causing blockages.
This reptile needs 10-14 hours per day of UVA and UVB daily. You will need to provide a full spectrum fluorescent reptile bulb for that. Place the light no more than eight inches away from the Iguana over its main basking spot. Make sure there is no glass or plastic between the light and the lizard because it blocks out the wavelengths. The best source of UVB light is the sun itself. You can set up an outdoor basking cage for this. However, do not put the Iguana outdoors if temperatures are below 80 degrees or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. When you do take it outdoors, create a thermal gradient by putting half the cage in the sun and half in the shade. An hour of sunlight provides a sufficient supply of UVB light for a day. The Iguana needs a day/night cycle. Most households provide that, but if not, make sure it gets about 12 hours of dark and 12 of light daily.
This tropical lizard needs plenty of heat. Daytime temperatures in the housing should be 80-85 degree F; nights can drop into the mid 70s. Aslo, there needs to be basking area of 90-95 degrees. Use heat lamps to create the thermal gradient and a lamp for the basking area. Use thermometers to accurately determine the temperature.
Juveniles need humidity of around 70-80 percent, and adults about 65 percent. Maintain them by misting and keeping a large container of water in the housing. You may need to use a humidifier in the same room as the housing. Use a hygrometer to measure levels. Also, allow the reptile to have a 30-minute bath in warm water without soap two or three times per week.
Green Iguanas are herbivores, so never feed them animal meat, eggs or dairy products. They need leafy calcium-rich greens such as mustard greens, watercress, collard greens, endive, and dandelions. Greens should be about 60 percent of their diet. They will also eat Romaine and green leaf lettuce, grated carrots, squash, and cucumber. Those should fill 20 to 30 percent of the diet. Avoid broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, escarole, and kale because they prohibit absorption of necessary vitamins. The rest of the diet should be fruits such as strawberries, mangos, papaya, kiwi, melon and apple. Feed them daily late in the morning to early afternoon, and let them eat as much as they want within reason. Cut foods into bite-sized pieces. Remove uneaten foods before they spoil. Always leave them a large bowl of fresh, clean water that is free of chlorine.