Iguanas as Pets

Included among the iguanas we find some of the largest and most sought-after of all pet lizards. Much of our fascination with these lizards centers upon the giant sizes attained by some (to 6+ feet in the case of male Green Iguanas), the fantastic crests and dewlaps they sport, and their generally responsive natures.

Male Green Iguanas may become very aggressive and attack owners when in breeding condition, causing serious wounds. This behavior is less common, but not unknown, in other species. They are not suitable pets for children. The mild-mannered, moderately-sized Desert Iguana is the best choice for most folks.


Thirty-eight species are classified in the family Iguanidae. The Green Iguana, Iguana iguana, and the Desert Iguana, Dipsosaurus dorsalis, are pet trade staples. Several of the 15 Spiny-Tailed Iguanas, Ctenosaura spp., are also popular with herp enthusiasts. All 8 species of Rhinoceros Iguanas, Cyclura spp., are highly endangered; those available in the pet trade command high prices.

Also included in the family Iguanidae is another lizard-keepers favorite, the Chuckwalla (Sauromalus obesus), and its 4 relatives; Chuckwallas are discussed as a separate group elsewhere on this website.

Range and Habitat

Iguanas reach their greatest diversity in Latin America and the West Indies, but they are also represented in the USA and Mexico. Huge Green Iguana populations, the end product of released pets, are established in Florida; their natural range extends from Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago into South America. The Desert Iguana is native to the American Southwest, while the Rhinoceros Iguanas are limited to Cuba, Jamaica, the Bahamas and other islands in the Caribbean. Spiny-Tailed Iguanas are native to Mexico and Central America; two species, the Black and the Western Spiny-Tailed Iguanas, have been introduced to Florida and Texas.

Iguanas occupy deserts, rainforests, city parks, farms, arid woodlands, swamps, grasslands, riverside thickets, and many other environments. Some are highly specialized for life in deserts or arid, rocky scrub, while others, such as the Green Iguana, are highly arboreal but readily adapt to a variety of habitats.

Appearance and Temperament

At an adult size of 5-6+ feet in length, male Green Iguanas are the longest lizards in the Western Hemisphere. The ponderous Rhinoceros Iguanas, shorter but much stouter in build, are sometimes referred to as the “bulldogs of the lizard world”. Spiny Iguanas average 3-4 feet in length, while the Desert Iguana tops out at 12 inches.

Adult male Green Iguanas often become very aggressive when in breeding condition, attacking trusted keepers and sometimes causing wounds that require stitches and other medical attention. This behavior is less common, but not unknown, in other species.

Iguana Housing

While many iguanas make long-lived, responsive pets, all except the Desert Iguana are too large for typical terrariums when fully grown. Custom made cages measuring at least 4’ x 6’ are required as homes; the Green Iguana also needs substantial climbing room. Exposure to UVB light is essential. A wide variety of fruits, vegetables and greens, along with insects for younger individuals, are required for proper nutrition.

Iguana Diet

Most iguanas begin life as omnivores, consuming a variety of insects, plant leaves and fruits, before switching to a largely herbivorous diet as they mature. Rhinoceros Iguanas, however, continue to take insects, land crabs and even carrion into adulthood.