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Green Iguana

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Species group:

Other common names: Common Green Iguana

Scientific name: Iguana iguana

The basics:
In years past, the Green Iguana was one of the most popular lizards in the pet trade, with the 7-inch-long hatchlings widely considered to be excellent “starter lizards”. But with an adult size of 4-6+ feet, and the potential of serious aggression from males in breeding condition, these tropical beauties are not for everyone. However, serious, experienced, adult keepers often find them to be among the most impressive and responsive of all reptile pets.

The Green Iguana’s huge range extends from southern Mexico through Central America to Paraguay, and also includes Puerto Rico, St. Lucia and other Caribbean islands. Large feral populations thrive in Florida and Hawaii. Highly arboreal, Green Iguanas are nearly-always found near water, into which they plunge from overhanging branches when frightened.

Appearance / health:
This largest of the Western Hemisphere’s lizards is a truly impressive – some say “dinosaur-like” – creature. Males, which sport huge dewlaps, sharp claws, and 2-3 inch-long spines down the back and tail, may approach 7 feet in length. Females exhibit smaller dewlaps and crests, and top out at 5 feet. Youngsters are brilliant green in coloration, while adults may be grayish or yellowish-green, turquoise, greenish brown, or (in the northern populations)nearly orange. Several color morphs, including albino and deep orange, have been developed by breeders.

Well-cared-for Green Iguanas are quite hardy, with captive longevities approaching 20 years. Respiratory diseases can take hold if your pet is kept at sub-optimal temperatures, and intestinal blockages caused by ingested substrate are sometimes a concern. Metabolic bone disease is common in animals that are not provided with ample calcium and/or UVB exposure. Females without access to a suitable nesting site may retain their eggs.

Temperament:
Green Iguanas are ever-alert, and even long-term pets are easily startled by noises or sudden movements. They vary greatly in personality – while some become docile, while others remain wary of people. Many pets become quite responsive, learning to predict feeding times and seeming to distinguish between owners and strangers.

However, they can inflict severe injuries, requiring stitches or other medical attention, with their teeth, tails, and nails. Iguanas must be restrained when handled, and the mouth and tail should never be allowed near one’s face. Large Green Iguanas are not suitable pets for children.

Of special concern is the fact that males under the influence of hormonal surges may become dangerously aggressive without warning. This condition may occur at any time, and lasts from 2 weeks to 3 months or longer. As years may pass without incident, predicting such behavior is impossible.

Housing:
Hatchlings may be started in a 30 gallon aquarium, but will need a 55 gallon tank within 12 months. Once your lizard reaches 3 feet in length, a homemade or commercial cage will be necessary. An enclosure measuring at least 12 x 6 x 6 feet is essential for the proper housing of an adult. Outdoor cages or dedicated indoor rooms can be excellent options.

Green Iguanas are highly arboreal and will be stressed if kept in enclosures that do not allow climbing opportunities. Stout branches and wooden shelves should be provided. A water bowl large enough for bathing must always be available. Cypress mulch has been used as a substrate with success, but impactions due to substrate ingestion are possible. Newspapers, washable cage liners or outdoor carpets are preferable.

Green Iguanas will not thrive without daily exposure to ample UVB. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances than do florescent models, and also provide beneficial UVA. Green Iguanas require a temperature gradient of 85-95 F and a basking temperature of 100 -110 F. Large enclosures will allow your pet to thermo-regulate by moving from hot to cooler areas. This behavior is important to long-term health, and is usually not possible in small cages. Humidity should be kept at 65-75%, but there must be dry basking areas available as well.

Diet:
The majority of your Green Iguana’s food intake should consist of a variety of fibrous, calcium-rich vegetables such as kale, romaine, dandelions, bok choy, collards, mustard and turnip greens, beet tops, escarole and similar produce. Peas, squash, beans, carrots, peppers and mixed frozen vegetables can make up approximately 20% of the diet. Spinach binds calcium and should be avoided. Bananas, pears, apple, figs, melon, berries, kiwi, peaches and other fruits should make up no more than 10% of the diet. Boiled brown rice may be given as a fiber source, but this is not necessary if a varied, fibrous diet is provided.

In their natural environment, young Green Iguanas consume both insects and vegetation before switching to a plant-based diet as they mature. While success has been had by using insects as a protein source for youngsters, most keepers are better off relying upon legumes, such as boiled lentils or pinto, navy and kidney beans. These should make up 5-10% of the diet until age one, after which time they can be used as occasional treats.

A number of commercial iguana diets are available. While their long-term use as a sole diet has not been studied, adding some to your iguana’s salad should provide additional nutrients. Most meals provided to growing animals should be powdered with a Calcium source. Vitamin/mineral supplements should be used 2-3 times each week. Both can be reduced to once weekly for well-nourished adults.

Green Iguanas will lap water that is sprayed onto branches, but should also be provided with a large water bowl for drinking and soaking.

Breeding:
Breeding behavior usually commences in late winter and early spring. Males may become very aggressive towards people (see above) at this time. Pairs must be watched closely, as courtship and copulation is accompanied by a good deal of biting. Females without access to nesting sites may retain their eggs.

Outdoor accommodations are best, as female Green Iguanas dig deep nest cavities. An upside-down 55 gallon trash can (with a side entrance hole) half buried in soil is ideal. The can should be placed in a sunny location and filled with slightly moist sand or a sand/peat moss mix. Females housed indoors may use a square-sided garbage can or similar container turned on its side in an area warmed by a ceramic heat-emitter or bulb.

Clutches may contain 10-75+ eggs. The eggs can be incubated in a mix of 2 parts vermiculite to 1 part water (by weight) at 82-85 F for 55-100 days. The hatchlings measure 6-9 inches (with tail) and may reach 2 feet in length by 1 year of age.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

wonderful

loving pal, magnificent lizards, rewarding pet, great reptile pet

challenging

expensive vet, sharp pointy claws, bites, Metabolic Bone Disease, tail whip, habitat requirements

interesting

luke warm baths, biggest impulse buys, commonly abused lizards, free roaming time, proper socialization

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