(Iguana iguana)

By Reptile & Amphibian Magazine Editorial Staff

The Common Green Iguana is unarguably the most popular reptile kept in captivity in the United States, and it is quickly recognized even by "non-herpers." As their common name implies, the typical Green Iguana is colored varying shades of green--from brilliant emerald to a more ashy gray-green. However, coloration can vary depending on where an individual originated from geographically, and color morphs do appear sporadically (such as "blue" iguanas). The tail is ringed by black bands, and a row of tooth-like scales runs from the nape of the lizard's neck and down its back.

Native range: Central and South America

Habitat: tropical jungles

Adult length : 40-60"

Cage & Accessories: Hatchlings and juveniles can start out in a 20-gallon "long" aquarium, but quickly outgrow these quarters. A full-grown adult needs a lot of room, and the minimum dimensions should be 6' x 6' x 4'. Iguanas are active lizards, and need a variety of climbing areas (thick, sturdy branches propped up work well) and basking rocks and ledges. A pool large enough for the lizard to soak (such as a dish pan) will be used frequently. Live plants add a nice touch, but be prepared for the iguanas to snack on the leaves, so first make sure they are non-toxic (pothos and spider plants are two choices). For substrate, newspaper is easy to clean and inexpensive. If you desire a more attractive alternative, try cage carpeting (like astroturf) or pea-sized gravel; both are more labor-intensive to keep clean, but for a showcase cage, they are worth the work.

Temperature: 65-72F nighttime low, 82-95F daytime high. To achieve this range, use an under-tank heater to heat the entire cage to the low 80s. Add an incandescent spot light over a rock or branch so the iguana can bask. Experiment with light bulbs of different wattages until the basking area reaches the mid-90s. The cage should have a temperature gradient, so the lizard can choose the temperature that is most comfortable at that time. For example, iguanas will bask under the light after eating a meal (this helps with digestion), and then move to a cooler spot later.

Lighting: Green Iguanas also need a full-spectrum fluorescent light to thrive in captivity. Without it, they can get metabolic bone disease (MBD), because they cannot effectively process calcium (and specifically D3) without sunlight. These special lights mimic sunlight, and are sold by a variety of manufacturers under different names (such as Duro-Lite and Vita-Lite). If you are fortunate to live in warmer climates, it's a good idea to give your Iguana real "sun baths" outdoors when the weather is nice. Artificial lights will do in a pinch, but nothing beats exposure to pure sunlight. Light coming in through a window will not work, because glass filters out beneficial rays in the wavelengths lizards need. So, if possible allow your Iguana to bask outside in a wire enclosure, or in a secure pen where he can enjoy the warm sun.

Diet: Iguanas are mainly herbivorous, although they will eat a small amount of live food, and this is not harmful to them. In fact, a varied diet is best. They will eat leaves, flowers, and fruits of plants, and 90% of the diet should consist of a salad made up of one or more of the following greens:
dandelion leaves
romaine lettuce (not iceberg)
Chinese cabbage
You can mix in some fruits as a treat:
sweet potatoes
The last 10% of the diet should consist of animal-based foods:
pinkie mice
meal worms
wax worms
Two to three times a week, dust the crickets or "salad" with a calcium supplement (Osteoform or Rep-Cal).
If this sounds like a lot of work ... it is. If you cannot commit yourself to shopping and chopping just for a lizard, don't despair! There are a variety of prepared iguana chows on the market which are very nutritious. Just pop open a can of iguana chow, or pour some dried greens into a bowl, and Iggy is fed for the day. Even if you normally feed him salad, you can still sprinkle the chow over his food twice a week to make sure he's getting a balanced diet.

The Green Iguana makes a great pet ... if you're prepare to take care of it's specific heating, lighting, and food requirements ... and if you're prepared to house a six-foot lizard once it's full-grown. This colorful, gentle species will no doubt continue to be the number-one pet lizard for a long time.



Return to Herp Hacienda Library Menu

Return to Herp Hacienda Main Menu