Green iguanas are fascinating reptiles that have captivated many pet lovers around the world. They are known for their striking appearance, impressive size, and complex needs. But before you adopt one of these prehistoric-looking creatures, you should know what it takes to provide them with proper care and a suitable environment.
Green Iguana Species Overview
The green iguana (Iguana iguana) is a large herbivorous lizard that belongs to the family Iguanidae. They are native to the rainforests of Central and South America and some Caribbean islands. They are also considered invasive in some parts of the United States, such as Florida and Hawaii.
Male green iguanas can grow up to 6 feet in length and weigh up to 17 pounds, while females can reach 5 feet in length but rarely get over 7 pounds in weight.
They have a green body with dark bands or stripes, a long tail, a row of spines along its back, and a flap of skin under the chin called a dewlap. They also have sharp teeth, claws, and a powerful bite.
Green iguanas are arboreal animals – meaning they live in trees. They are active during the day (diurnal) and feed mainly on leaves, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Although they spend a lot of time in the trees, they can also swim, dive underwater, and travel along the ground when needed.
Like many other lizards, green iguanas possess an exciting defense mechanism – the ability to sever and detach their tail to escape menacing situations.
The green iguana has become a popular pet among reptile enthusiasts. Although they are relatively easy to care for once you know what you’re doing, they are not suitable pets for beginning lizard keepers. They require large, sturdy enclosures and significant time and dietary requirements that a beginner may not understand or be ready for.
Green Iguana Behavior
Green iguanas are intelligent and social animals but are not very affectionate or cuddly. They have their individual personalities/preferences and are capable of forming bonds with their owners. But, they can also be territorial, aggressive, or defensive, especially during breeding season or when they feel threatened.
Body language is their primary way of communicating, such as head bobbing, tail whipping, dewlap flaring, and biting. Occasionally they will also make sounds, such as hissing, grunting, or squeaking. These signals serve to express their mood, dominance, interest, or dislikes.
Green igaunas spend a lot of time basking but they need some mental and physical stimulation to prevent boredom and stress. They enjoy exploring, climbing, swimming, and playing with toys. Simple things like balls, ropes, or mirrors make for some of the best iguana toys.
They can be trained to perform simple tasks, such as coming when called, using a litter box, or wearing a harness to go for walks.
Green iguanas can be handled, but they must be approached and handled with care and respect. They should be picked up gently and securely, supporting their body and tail. They should not be grabbed, squeezed, or restrained. They should also not be handled when shedding, eating, sleeping, or stressed.
How to Care for a Green Iguana
Green iguanas are not easy pets to keep. They require a lot of space, time, and attention. They also have specific environmental and dietary needs that must be met to ensure their health and well-being. Here are some of the main aspects of green iguana care that you should consider before getting one.
I mentioned that they are arboreal animals before – their enclosure needs to replicate this in some fashion. Green iguanas need a large, sturdy enclosure big enough for them to climb and bask in at their full adult size. Meaning it should be twice as long as the iguana itself and at least 6 feet tall.
The minimum accepted enclosure size for a green iguana is 10’L x 5’W x 6’H but many of them truly need an enclosure bigger than that.
There should be plenty of objects resembling rocks and tree limbs so they have places for climbing, basking, and mental enrichment. One of the best things you can do is provide a water source big enough for them to fully submerge their bodies. If you can, this will help with shedding, hydration, and humidity – leading to a healthier pet lizard.
The temperature in the enclosure should range from 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit on the cold side to 85-95 degrees in basking spots. Humidity should stay between 65-75% and can be accomplished with hand misting, auto misting, humidifiers, or the large water source I mentioned before.
Green iguanas need a full-spectrum UVB light for calcium metabolism and bone health. Without it, they will suffer severe health complications.
Green iguanas are herbivorous animals – they eat plants. Their diet should be varied and balanced, consisting of mainly dark leafy greens that are high in calcium. Vegetables, such as carrots, squash, zucchini, and bell peppers are great in addition to the leafy greens. They love fruit, but fruit should be given sparingly, as it is high in sugar and can cause digestive problems.
A green iguanas diet should consist of 80-90% calcium-rich dark green leafy vegetables with fruit and orange/red/yellow vegetables making up the remainder.
The best calcium-rich vegetables for an iguana are bok choy, kale, romaine, dandelion, alfalfa hay, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, beet greens, parsley, and Swiss chard.
I can’t stress enough that green iguanas need variety. Being fed one or two of these exclusively will cause nutrient deficiency
Animal products should make up no more than 5% of an adult green iguanas diet and 10% for a juvenile. Things like crickets, mealworms, pinky mice, and hard-boiled eggs are appropriate for an iguana. As a general rule, green iguanas don’t need animal products. They are too high in protein to be a main part of their diet and can cause kidney damage, obesity, and gout.
Like any animal, a green iguana should have access to fresh water at all times. They will also need a calcium supplement, which can be sprinkled on their food or given as a liquid. This helps prevent metabolic bone disease – a common and serious condition in iguanas.
Green iguanas are prone to several health issues, some of which are related to their care and environment. Some of the most common problems include:
- Metabolic bone disease
To prevent these health issues, it is important to provide the iguana with a proper habitat, diet, and hygiene. It is also important to monitor the iguana’s behavior and appearance, and to seek veterinary attention if any signs of illness or injury are noticed.
How Do Green Iguanas Reproduce?
The green iguana has a polygynandrous mating system, meaning that both males and females mate with multiple partners. The breeding season occurs in the dry season, which varies depending on the location. During this time, males display more dominant behaviors, such as head bobbing, tail whipping, and color changing.
In the wild, the female iguana chooses her mate from a group of males that occupy a mating territory. She may mate with the same male multiple times, but rarely with different males in the same season. The male iguana may mate with other females throughout the season, which lasts longer for him than for her.
The female will lay her eggs about 65 days after mating/ovulation. She digs a nest chamber in a sandy or soft soil area, where she deposits anywhere from 11 to 76 eggs. She will then cover the nest and leave it – providing no parental care to her soon-to-be-born children. The eggs hatch after 90 to 120 days, depending on the temperature and humidity. The hatchlings are immediately independent and must fend for themselves.