One of the most common and recognizable lizards in the pet world is the iguana. Almost one million baby green iguanas are imported into the U.S. annually, and one of the best options in adopting one is from a rescue group or shelter; unfortunately, baby iguanas are inexpensive and have become disposable, so many end up in shelters.
Green iguanas are naturally found throughout tropical and subtropical North, Central and South America. In the past 30 years, Southern Florida has gained its own population of green iguanas as a result of careless owners releasing them in the wild. There are many types of the lizard on the market: erythristic, blue, albino and more.
Size and Color
Green iguanas can reach lengths of six to seven feet and weight about 20 pounds. Males are more significant in size than females, which rarely exceed five feet in length. Males also have longer dorsal spikes along their neck and back, as well as large pores that are visible along the inner thigh. The pores, called femoral pores, are often filled with a waxy substance.
Green iguanas can live up to 15 to 20 years in age.
Iguana Caging and Substrate
Use a 20-gallon terrarium for baby and young iguanas up to about 18 inches long. A baby iguana in a huge cage can sometimes have difficulty finding its food, water and heat source. This also makes it easier to catch and handle the lizard. However, make sure to upgrade the cage as the iguana gets bigger.
An adult iguana needs a lot of space: It requires a cage enclosure of at least eight feet by four feet wide by four feet high, though six feet in height is better.
Don’t put male iguanas in the same cage, or they will fight each other.
Cage carpet or large wood chips are the preferred types of bedding. Use cypress mulch or large wood chips for larger iguanas that are kept inside.
Lighting and Temperature
Iguanas need a lot of heat. Strong UV fluorescent lights and calcium are required to prevent metabolic bone disease. Do not use hot rocks or heating pads, as iguanas often burn their legs and stomachs. Iguanas dying from severe burns are a common occurrence.
Provide a hotspot of at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit. To help the lizard thermoregulate its body temperature, the heat must come from above; iguanas have an unusual scale-like organ called a parietal eye, pineal body or third eye located on top of the head behind the eyes. This organ can detect light, dark and movement, and it is essential for thermoregulation purposes and to warn the lizard of approaching predators.
One side of the cage should always be cooler so the lizard can move between hot and colder temperatures. Make sure the cooler end is in the low to mid-80s.
For albino iguanas, the sun does not harm them, and the iguana requires UV light if kept inside.
Food and Water
Always provide clean, fresh water. If possible, provide a water dish large enough for the lizard to soak in it. Since smaller iguanas may not be able to find the water bowl, mist them daily and soak them once a week to make sure they are hydrated.
For the diet, vegetables should represent a high percentage of the diet with mustard greens, collard greens, broccoli, beet greens, turnip greens, alfalfa hat, bok choy, kale, parsley, Swiss chard, watercress, clover, red or green cabbage, bell peppers, green beans and dandelions. A smaller percentage can include cactus, various squash, sprouts, parsnips, okra, cucumber, asparagus, mushrooms, carrots, cooked sweet potatoes, peas and corn.
Fruit can include apples, pears, bananas, mango, grapes, star fruit, raisins, peaches, tomatoes, guava, kiwis and melons, as well as figs (which is high in calcium), apricots, dates, raspberries and strawberries. Fruits may be eaten preferentially and should be used sparingly as a topping; a diet that is high in fruit can cause diarrhea.
For treats, flowers such as geraniums, carnations, dandelions, hibiscus, nasturtiums and roses may be offered.
Add a calcium supplement to the food about two to three times a week. Avoid a diet that is high in protein, as it can lead to renal failure and death for the lizard.
If you use a commercial food source, such as Mazuri Tortoise Chow, moisten it first.
Food preparation for baby iguanas should be different than for adults. For vegetables, cut each piece so that the iguana can pick it up and swallow it whole. Iguanas can’t chew their food and have to swallow it in one piece.
Iguana Handling and Temperament
These beautiful lizards make personable pets. Iguanas are intelligent, friendly creatures and can become affectionate over time. Unlike snakes and other reptiles, they can identify their caretakers and have personalities.
Baby iguanas usually do not bite but avoid handling them until they get used to their new home and start eating.