Iguanas F.A.Q.

1. Do iguanas make good pets?
What do you mean by a “good pet“? If you mean a creature that is easy and cheap to look after, then no iguanas do not make good pets! Iguanas can grow to 5 or 6 feet in length, they can become aggressive particularly during the breeding season, they require specialised housing that can be quite expensive to set up, they need a balanced and varied diet, and they can be very expensive to take to the vet!

2. Where do iguanas come from in the wild?
Green iguanas (Iguana iguana is their scientific name) come from Central and South America, from Mexico down to Brazil. They are mainly found in rainforests, but some are found in drier areas. They are quite flexible in their habitat requirements. There are even feral populations established in several areas as a result of unwanted pets being released (eg. Puerto Rico, Florida).

3. Do iguanas vary in colour?
Green iguanas are not always quite so green. Colour is variable, ranging from emerald green to almost white with black and green speckles. Different populations tend to have different colour schemes. Iguanas can also vary their colour over the space of several minutes, almost like a chameleon but not as dramatic. Iguanas turn darker when cool, and lighter when they’re warm in the sun. They turn greyish when stressed, bright green or even blue when happy, and breeding males turn rusty orange during the breeding season.
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4. Do iguanas grow quickly?
In their first year, iguanas don’t grow very much until they’re at least 8 months old. After this, if you’ve been feeding them properly and they are kept properly, they will start to grow very quickly. Within a couple of years, your iguana may be 2 to 3 feet in length, and some iguanas will attain 5 feet after only 3 to 4 years. Before you know it, that cute little baby iguana you bought will have taken over your entire room. You need to plan ahead when you get an iguana – your iguana needs plenty of space, just like you.

5. How long do iguanas live?
If cared for properly, iguanas should live for at least 15 years. The oldest iguana on record was over 30 years old when it died, but this is quite exceptional. But there’s no doubt – an iguana is a long term commitment, just like a cat or a dog.

5. What do iguanas eat?
Iguanas are herbivores. In other words, they are vegetarians – they eat plants and other vegetables. In captivity they should be fed a balanced and varied diet consisting of greens, mixed vegetables, fruits and occasional treats such as flowers. Melissa Kaplan has a highly recommended diet at her site.

6. Should iguanas be fed insects, meat or dog/cat food?
Insects, meat, dog and cat food have often been recommended for iguanas in the past, but this is now outdated information. A large percentage of relatively young iguanas (5 to 8 years) die from kidney failure as a result of diets too high in protein (ie. use of insects or meat). The advice of any switched-on vet these days is the same: avoid using insect or any form of meat for iguanas. Of course, iguanas are inquisitive and opportunistic creatures and many will eat whatever you put in front of them. Just because they eat something doesn’t mean it’s good for them! So remember, NO crickets, mealworms, dog or cat food, or baby mice! You can read more about this in a discussion on animal protein issues.

7. Do iguanas need special lights?
These days we know that iguanas need UVB for the formation of healthy bones and bodies. Most iguanas indoors do not get access to enough sunlight, and therefore you will need a proper reptile UVB light (typically around 5% UVB). Plant grow lights are not good enough, although at the other extreme very powerful lights like mercury halide can actually burn your iguana. Ask your vet or quality reptile pet store for advice on choosing a light. Iguanas also need a light or source of heat for basking to maintain a preferred body temperature.

8. What are the proper temperatures that an iguana needs?
Iguanas are ectothermic reptiles – that means they need to absorb heat from their environment in order to survive. You need to provide your iguana with sufficient heat, which might involve a spotlight, a ceramic heat emitter, a radiant tube heater, central heating, heated water or any other method of providing heat. Typically, iguanas need a maximum temperature of 98 F (36.7 C) and a minimum temperature of 80 F (26.7 C) during the day – in other words, a thermal gradient so the iguana can choose its preferred body temperature. At night, iguanas can safely cool to 65 to 70 F (18.3 to 21.1 C).

9. Do iguanas need water?
Iguanas obtain much of their water from the food they eat, but they still require access to clean drinking water. You may not see them drinking very often, but it needs to be there. Most iguanas also like to bathe in tepid water, often for several hours at a time, so a large water bowl or bathing area is a must. Iguanas should be maintained in relatively high humidity (at least 80%) which is difficult to achieve in a temperate country. Regular misting, fresh food with high water content, and access to drinking water are all essential to prevent kidney failure.

10. Do iguanas need branches for climbing?
Yes, iguanas are arboreal – this means they prefer to live in the trees. They enjoy having branches and ropes to climb, and will often attempt to climb anything they can get their claws into (including your leg, and your delicate net curtains). Climbing is also essential exercise for iguanas to ensure they have strong bones and muscles. Branches also happen to look great, especially with iguanas lying comfortably astride them!

11. Do iguanas have teeth?
Yes, iguanas do have teeth! They are hard to spot unless the iguana is yawning, and while they appear quite small they are very sharp. Why does a vegetarian require sharp teeth? Very simple – many plants are quite tough, and iguana teeth are designed to perforate leaves like a postage stamp, which the iguana then simply tears off. Did you know that iguanas also shed their teeth every few months?

12. Can iguanas get aggressive?
Iguanas begin life afraid of everything, and may try and run away or bite if they are disturbed. With regular contact, most iguanas become quite calm and open to handling. However, they can become aggressive if suddenly startled, when defending their territory, and particularly during the breeding season. Mature male iguanas turn bright orange and can often be extremely aggressive towards their owners. They should be handled with extreme care, and a big male iguana can send you to hospital for stitches very easily.

13. What happens during breeding season?
When mature, male and female iguanas go through a breeding season which can last for several weeks (typically 1 to 2 months). Most iguanas act a little strange during this time, going off their food, trying to bite, getting agitated easily, becoming very skittish and even chasing their owners. Males in particular can become very aggressive and should be treated with extreme caution. Some owners give their male iguanas artificial playmates to spend their aggressive (and often amorous!) tendancies upon.

14. Why does the skin of iguanas flake off every so often?
Every few weeks, iguanas shed their skin. The outer layer of skin, like all reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds is dead and does not stretch. Hence, it must be shed off so the iguana can increase in size. We shed our skin also, but in tiny flakes which are hardly noticeable. Iguanas shed their skin in larger patches over a few days. It’s perfectly normal, although some iguanas have problems shedding smoothly if it’s too dry for them. Bathing can help to alleviate this problem. Shedding starts with the iguana taking on a grey or milky appearance, which then clears and finally cracks and starts to shed. Unlike snakes, iguanas do not shed all their skin at once, but rather in patches over a period of several days. The legs and head typically start first, ending with the body and tail.

Written by Steven Woodward and Adam Britton
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