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10 Things You Should Know Before You Get a Pet Iguana
When it comes to the world of pets, dogs and cats are pretty much the standard choices.
If you don’t have the time or patience to train a young puppy, you may want to consider a less traditional option.
If you don’t think you have the personality to be a crazy cat lady, you still have other choices!
Iguanas can make a unique pet that you will treasure for years to come.
Pros and Cons
Iguanas are large herbivorous lizards that are native to Central and South America. They are unique animals that make for unique pets. There are certain advantages and disadvantages to keeping these remarkable creatures. Some of the more obvious pros and cons of keeping an iguana as a pet include
- They’re Intelligent. Iguanas are remarkably intelligent creatures. You may think of them as slow, dull animals. They are actually around the same intelligence level as dogs! If well-socialized, iguanas can be as friendly and outgoing as dogs!
- They’re Easy to Train. Thanks to their quick minds, iguanas can actually learn tricks as a dog can! Test your iguana! You may have to work with them for a while to get it right, but they’ll remember it forever.
- They Have Long Lifespans. Especially if you find a young iguana for sale, your iguana can live with you for years. The average lifespan is around fifteen to twenty years.
- They’re Temperamental. Because they are intelligent, iguanas can be prone to “bad moods.”
- They Have a Unique Diet. If you want an iguana, you have to be willing to spend the time, effort, and money to get them the foods they need.
- They Need a Special Habitat. Similarly, make sure that you’re prepared to create the right habitat for your iguana. This will help them to grow and thrive, no matter the size or cost.
Iguanas are herbivores. This means that their diet should primarily be composed of fresh fruits and vegetables. However, for a more specific breakdown, your iguana’s diet should generally contain:
- green leafy vegetables (70% of the diet)
- fresh fruits (10-15%)
- whole grains like bran or whole oats (5%)
Baby iguanas can eat the same diet. They should eat more “soft fibers” like pumpkin or turnips. You may also want to let them nibble on some celery or green beans in order to build up their diet.
Under no circumstances should you feed your iguana meat. While some people may feed their iguanas bugs or other meats, this can lead to severe liver failure. Stay away from cheese, eggs, dog or cat food, and processed grains as well. These can seriously hurt your iguana’s digestive tract.
If your iguana has stopped eating, raise the temperature in your iguana’s habitat. You may also try increasing the amount of water they have access to. If you don’t see a change, take your iguana to the veterinarian immediately. There, you can get a proper diagnosis on what’s wrong.
As mentioned above, iguanas are herbivores. This means that they don’t pose much of a threat to the world of bugs or mice. However, this does not mean that they are completely defenseless. They may lash out or attack if they feel sufficiently threatened.
Iguanas are not typically considered predators. They may be considered dangerous if they are overly aggressive and improperly socialized.
When cornered, the iguana may use its whip-like tail to hit its attacker with the sharp spines that line its back.
If they feel frightened enough to bite, the danger lies deeper than a little bit of pain.
Iguana teeth tend to break off in the skin of whatever creature they bite. This means that an iguana bite runs a high risk of infection.
Again, it needs to be stressed that iguanas are not typically aggressive.
As long as they are treated well and taken care of, they should be safe around children. This does not mean that they are recommended pets for small children.
If your iguana is acting nervous or looking like they’re about to lash out, don’t panic.
Do not try to “show them who’s boss” or force them to calm down. Instead, release them back into their habitat.
Let them get the space they need to calm themselves down until they’re ready to be handled or petted once more.
Once you’ve gotten your pet iguana, one of the most important steps you can take is finding a veterinarian who specializes in exotic pet care. Fortunately, iguanas are becoming more and more popular as pets. This means that you have a much higher chance of finding a good vet for your iguana today than you would have even twenty years ago!
General signs of illness in iguanas include loss of appetite, lethargy or lack of energy, a sudden loss of balance, twitching, or even vomiting.
Some of these issues can be treated by improving your iguana’s diet to make sure they get the vitamins that they need.
However, you should never hesitate to seek a professional opinion from your local vet.
One sudden change that you may find alarming is a shift in colors.
If you notice your iguana’s scales turning pale or any other unusual color, this could be the result of stress, fear, or improper temperature.
Iguanas are not able to thermoregulate or control their own body temperature the same way that mammals do.
As a result, they are extremely dependent on external heat sources.
Iguanas may also change color if they’re under a significant amount of stress for a long time.
An aggressive owner or other household pet or even a change in routine can cause your iguana to change.
Depending on whether you get your iguana as an adult or an infant, you may already have a good idea of your iguana’s age.
The average iguana lifespan is 20 years, so you have a framework.
As you can see from the charts above, iguanas tend to grow for the first three years of their lives. After that, their growth rate slows. Yet, they may still continue to get larger for years to come.
Another way to estimate your iguana’s age is via the development of secondary sexual characteristics.
At around one year old, male iguanas start to develop larger jowls and femoral pores. (Femoral pores are dots along the backs of the thighs that are used to scent objects).
They will also develop a noticeable bulge in the base of the tail that holds the iguana’s reproductive organs.
Female iguanas do not develop these secondary sexual characteristics.
As a result, pay attention to any of these traits in your iguana. If they develop, you can be certain of the gender of your iguana.
You can also be certain of the fact that they’re at least a year old.
One interesting side effect of an iguana’s diet is that they shed their teeth up to five times a year.
This means that they are one of the few animals that cannot be dated based on their teeth length or health.
As an absolute minimum, iguanas need a six foot cube of space to feel comfortable.
Again, this is the minimum amount of space. In general, any enclosure you build or buy for your pet iguana needs to be six feet tall, six feet wide, and six feet long.
Iguanas generally feel safe sleeping in an elevated position. Because of this, you may notice that your iguana climbs to the top of their enclosure before going to sleep. Make sure you have plenty of space for them to climb and something for them to climb on.
Iguanas, like most lizards, tend to sleep between twelve and thirteen hours per day. Don’t worry if your lizard seems just a little bit lazy! Unless they’re asleep for the majority of the day, they should be perfectly fine to snooze off every now and then.
Make sure that the areas where your iguana likes to sleep are sheltered and blocked off from light. This will make them feel safer about sleeping and emerging to sunbathe.
As for iguana’s cage floor, you may want to line the enclosure with a soft bedding or substrate. This is available at most pet stores. It will insulate your pet and also provide a place for them to relieve themselves.
Iguanas vs Snakes
In terms of reptilian pets who are enjoying a metaphorical moment in the sun, iguanas and snakes are two of the most popular choices.
If your heart isn’t set on an iguana just yet, there are some upsides and downsides to both animals, including:
- Most pet snakes are relatively small and usually docile. Iguanas can grow to be very large and require a great deal of socialization.
- Snakes need to eat only once a week, while iguanas generally need to be fed far more regularly.
- Snakes do not make as much of a mess out of their enclosures. Iguana enclosures will need to be cleaned often and in-depth.
- Snakes need to be fed live mice. This can be both expensive and troubling for small children. Iguanas thrive on a plant-based diet. They are more than content with their relatively humble fare.
- Snakes like to be left alone for the most part. Iguanas are social and engaging, even learning tricks and games to play with their owners.
- Iguanas are more intelligent and trainable, while snakes tend to be more reclusive and shy.
Iguanas are lizards. This means that just about any reptile in the “Squamata” order of animal classification is going to be related to these scaly creatures.
The order Squamata includes lizards, snakes, and amphisbaenians, otherwise known as “worm lizards”.
Among the breeds of lizard most closely related to the iguana, the nearest relatives in the animal kingdom include:
- Casque-headed lizards
- Collared lizards
- Wood lizards
- Spiny-tailed lizards
- Bush anoles
Interestingly, despite their similar appearances, chameleons and iguanas are not closely related.
Of course, as members of the same order, they are more related than, say, an iguana and a penguin!
But they are not any more closely related within the order than any other lizards.
One of the main differences between iguanas and chameleons comes down to size.
While chameleons tend to “max out” at around two feet in length, while some iguanas can grow to be over six feet long.
Iguanas and chameleons also have different diets. Iguanas are proud vegetarians or herbivores.
Chameleons subsist on a diet of bugs, which puts them into the carnivore category.
Finally, both chameleons and iguanas may change color. Chameleons are more likely to change color quickly and deliberately.
They do not change as a result of an underlying medical condition.
An iguana’s temperament is usually determined by its upbringing.
Raise your iguana in a safe, comfortable home and allow them to meet and interact with lots of different people.
This will help your iguana socialize, and you should have a cheerful, easygoing pet.
Like humans, some iguanas have been mistreated in their younger days. Even if they were not, they may just have a “bad” temperament.
For this reason, it’s important to recognize some of the more common iguana behaviors.
This will help you be able to better read your lizard’s mood.
Head bobbing and head shaking are two very different mannerisms.
Your iguana may bob their head up and down with jowls relaxed and body low.
This is a friendly gesture that usually means that they’re saying hello or thank you.
They could even be checking in to see how you’re doing.
Your iguana may shake their head from side to side and stand straight with the jowls or dewlaps extended.
This could be a sign that they’re trying to make themselves look bigger.
This may be your iguana’s way of asserting their dominance in a situation.
It could also be a clue that they’re feeling threatened.
By standing taller, they’re trying to find a way to make themselves look or feel bigger and tougher than they are.
The specific breed of iguana that you end up choosing will depend on the amount of space you have available.
It will also depend on the amount of time that you’re willing to dedicate to raising your new lizard.
Galapagos Marine Iguana
The Galapagos Marine Iguana ranges from five to twenty-two inches in length. This length does not include an extra seven to thirty-three inches in length for the tail. They are fiercely territorial around other lizards. Due to their status as endangered animals, they are rarely sold as pets. Despite this, they are remarkably calm around humans. They very rarely lash out in self-defense. Even when handled by researchers or conservationists, they remain docile.
You may recognize the Galapagos Marine Iguana from this viral clip. The clip shows a young iguana escaping from an overwhelming number of snakes.
Galapagos Land Iguana
Less famous, but more colorful than its marine counterpart, is the Galapagos Land Iguana. This iguana is one of the few species of iguana that is actually a carnivore. They supplement their diet with insects and dead animals found around the islands. It still prefers to get the bulk of its nutrition from plant material.
The Marine Iguana forages for food beneath the surface of the waves. The Galapagos Land Iguana prefers to stay on solid ground at all times. These lizards have a bright yellow underbelly and can grow to between three and five feet in length.
The Fiji Iguana is unique in that it is the only iguana not found in the New World. This means that it is not found in North, Central, or South America. Instead, it is native to the Republic of Fiji. It is one of the most isolated examples of the iguana family worldwide.
The Fiji Banded Iguana is also the most recently discovered lizard on this list. It was first described by Australian researchers in 2008. It was not recognized as a separate breed of iguana until 2017! Locals and foreign researchers alike have known about the Fiji Crested Iguana for years. However, the two are genetically different breeds.
The Thorntail Iguana is one of the smaller iguanas. The males of this species only reach around five inches in length. They have broad, flat tails and lack the spikes that more “iconic” iguanas often display.
Thorntail iguanas hunt their prey by laying in wait. They allow their brown speckled bodies to blend into the rocks or trees. Then they wait until some unfortunate insect wanders too close. Like the Galapagos Land Iguana, ThornTails are carnivorous. To be more accurate, they are insectivorous. They specialize in eating ants, bees, and beetles. Typically, the latter two insects are only eaten by the larger lizards.
The Spiny-tailed Iguana is often referred to as the black iguana or the black ctenosaur. It is native to Central America and Mexico. It has begun to move up to the southern United States and throughout the Caribbean Islands.
The Spiny-tailed Iguana is actually the fastest lizard in the world! At a sprint, these lizards can reach speeds of up to 21 miles per hour! This impressive speed serves as their main defense against predators. On average, the males of this species grow to be about four feet long. The females are slightly shorter, with an average length between two and three feet.
Found only in the West Indies, the term “Rock Iguana” actually refers to many iguanas. Nine separate species of iguana that call these islands their home. Each island where the iguanas live features a different strain of the same general breed. This is because the difficult terrain does not allow for crossbreeding.
Rock Iguanas are particularly long-lived, even among other lizards and iguanas. One Blue Iguana (a subspecies within the family) may have been the longest-lived lizard in history. It lived fifty-four years in captivity. Some reports claim that it was already fifteen years old when it was first captured!
The Desert Iguana lives in northwestern Mexico and in the southwestern United States. Compared to some of the other iguanas listed here, the Desert Iguana is small. It reaches only around twenty-four inches in total length.
Desert Iguanas bear a symmetrical pattern on their backs and tails. The pattern starts out as spots around the legs and back but turns into stripes along the tail. They are complete herbivores. Their favorite delicacies include the yellow flowers of the creosote bush. This same bush can also serve as a quick source of shelter in the case of a passing predator!
The Green Iguana is the most commonly-recognized of the iguana species. While they can grow up to six feet in length, their average size is much closer to four or five feet. This can still make them challenging to keep as pets.
Despite their name, Green Iguanas can actually come in a wide variety of colors. They range from blue to brown to lavender! Albino iguanas are a popular color for pets, today. These iguanas may also have some of the health conditions associated with albinism.
The Florida iguana is not actually a separate species. It is a result of the Green Iguana moving into the United States as an invasive species.
The name Chuckwalla applies to a number of desert-dwelling lizards. They live in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. They are flat, stocky, and usually a dark muddy brown color. These lizards have short, thick tails and flaps of loose skin along the length of their bodies.
Chuckwallas are mostly herbivorous. Like most of the iguanas listed here, they prefer plants. They will sometimes supplement their diet with insects. As a defensive mechanism, they hide in tight spaces and take a deep breath. This expands their lungs and wedges them in place.