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Q. Where do iguanas come from, what makes them good pets, and how long do they live?

A: Green iguanas come from tropical rainforests in southern Mexico, Central and South America Many recent movies have revived their popularity as pets due to the “dinosaur” look that adult iguanas have. As with all reptiles, they are non-allergenic, and so are appealing to those who have allergies to other traditional pets. They are quiet, and have unique personalities. A properly cared-for iguana can easily live 15-20 years, though in past years, many iguanas did not survive due to incorrect husbandry practices.

Q: Can we keep several together, how big will they get, and how do we keep them tame?

A: Iguanas are not social animals in the wild, though they are often seen near each other. They are territorial animals, and will defend their “spot” when threatened. It is not recommended that more than one iguana be in a cage. Adult iguanas average between 5-6 feet, though they can get as large as 7-8 feet.  Usually, 2/3 or more of this length is the long, graceful tail. Iguanas should be handled at least 10-15 minutes every day in order to stay tame. Even if they are not tame at first, persistence in handling them will tame them down, especially of a treat of bananas or strawberries is offered.

Q: Considering their size, what kind of cage should I use, and what other cage accessories will I need?

A: You should start off with the largest cage possible. Many people find that starting with a 55 gallon aquarium saves them the expense of buying another aquarium later on. By the time your iguana is about 1 year old, however, it will probably have outgrown even that. Most people ultimately build cages out of wood, Plexiglas and wire. The cage width should be at least 1 1/2 times the length of the adult iguana, the depth (front-back) should be at least as long as the iguana, and the height should be as tall as possible. (6 feet is recommended.) So, for a 5 foot long iguana, you need to plan for a cage that is 7-8 feet wide, 4-5 feet deep, and at least 6 feet tall(iguanas are arboreal, and need to climb).  There are plans on how to build a fantastic cage in the book “The Green Iguana Manual” by James Hatfield. These cages are well worth the time and expense to build. 

It is not recommended that you let your iguana run loose unsupervised in your home, as there are many things the iguana could damage, or could get injured by – plus, if they are wandering, they aren’t near the UVB light they must have to stay healthy.  

The substrate of the aquarium or cage should be something that would be safe for a young human child.  Bark, corn cob, gravel and kitty litter could be ingested, and are not recommended. Reptile carpet works very well for aquarium-type cages. Many iguana owners just use newspaper to line their cages.

Q: What temperature and humidity does it need?

A: Daytime temps should range between 85-90 degrees, with a basking spot of 95-100 degrees. To achieve this use a combination of under-tank heating pads, ceramic heat emitters, basking spot lights, etc. NO HOT ROCKS, as they have a tendency to overheat and burn your iguana. Use a high-range thermometer in several places to monitor the different temperature zones of your cage. Humidity should be high, and can be achieved by use of a humidifier near the cage, and helped by putting a large pan of water in the cage. This water will also be used for drinking, swimming,  and defecation so be sure to change it daily.

Q: Why does my Iguana need a  UVB bulb?
A: Exposure to unfiltered sunlight or a UVB-producing bulb such as a VitaLite, IguanaLite 5.0, or Desert 7% bulb is necessary to facilitate Vitamin D3 production.  This is the vitamin that turns calcium into a usable material for bone and nerve cell building and repair. So, without it, an iguana will quickly end up with a condition similar to osteoporosis, as well nerve damage. Sunlight that passes through glass or Plexiglas does NOT transmit UVB, and cannot be substituted. When using a UVB bulb, it must be placed 12-18 inches from where your iguana will spend the most time, and it must NOT have glass or plastic between the bulb and the iguana. (The glass in the bulb is a special glass for this reason.)
Q: What do they eat, and how much?
A: Iguanas are vegetarians.  Until recently, it was believed that young iguanas would eat insects, or other animal protein, but studies have shown otherwise. An all-vegetable diet as below should be offered daily, preferably in the morning. (Iguanas use the heat of the day to help digest, so night feedings are discouraged.) 
Iguana salad:
Choose 1 or 2 from the following list (2 lbs total):
        Dandelion greens, mustard greens, collard greens,  turnip or beet or nappa         greens, swiss chard
You may chop the greens or leave them large.  Leaves with hard stems need to be trimmed.

Add to the greens 1 or 2 of the following:
        1/2 cup cut up sweet potato, fresh green beans, fresh broccoli, grapes, kiwi,         strawberries, sugar pea pods, shredded carrot, etc.  

Add to this mixture 1/2 tsp of calcium supplement (no Vitamin D added).  You can occasionally (not often!) offer  spinach or cabbage, etc.   

NO DOG FOOD, MONKEY CHOW, INSECTS, or other animal protein-containing items.  (Animal protein is not processed properly and will eventually lead to kidney and liver damage.)  Bananas should be used as treats. (It’s like candy to them!) 

Chop the vegetables small enough for your iguana to eat or grate them; the greens can be left fairly large. Mix this all together; freeze daily portions to avoid spoilage. 

Add a crushed vitamin supplement only once every 1-2 weeks. Baby iguanas may eat 3/4 cup, adults up to 2 cups, depending on how fine you chop/grate it. Don’t forget a pan of fresh water is needed, too! Make it big enough for swimming.

Q: How will I know if my iguana is sick, and how can I tell whether it is male or female?
A: Iguanas that are healthy will appear alert,  active, and have bright, clear eyes. The coloring of an iguana depends on the origin of the iguana, but you should learn as it grows what is “normal” for yours.  Generally, a sickly grey coloring is the result of either being ill or too cold. If your iguana stops eating or defecating, feels “cold” to the touch, or gives you other reason to believe he is ill, TAKE HIM TO A VET experienced with reptiles.  Small orange or black spots that move around are mites and need to be treated ASAP. See your store for products to help with this. Bright red coloring may mean that your iguana is a male, and is going into his sexual season. 

To verify that your iguana is a male (or not), look on the underside of his back legs.  A series of large pores, usually filled with a waxy substance, indicates that it is indeed a male. Females will have very small pores. In addition, males have larger “jowls”, and have larger crests down their spine.  Keep in mind that none of these characteristics will be visible until 18 months of age minimum, sometimes later. 

Keep in mind that reptiles, as with ALL animals, may carry salmonella. See your doctor or vet for more info on the possible effects of this disease.

There is MUCH more to know about iguanas. Please see the website:  http://www.anapsid.org

If you’re shopping for iguana supplies,  you’ll need:

Large cage with lid                                 UVB-producing fluorescent light
Under-tank heater                                  basking lamp OR ceramic heat emitter
thermometer/humidity gauge               calcium supplement
cage-liner (carpet)                                  large water pan
food dish                                                 climbing branches
nail clippers                                             anti-bacterial soap