Green Iguana 

By Snaketracks / September 18, 2021

The green iguana is one of the more popular lizards kept as pets. Although known as the green iguana, this lizard comes in a variety of colors. The color of the iguana is dependent on geographic origin, age, health, mood, social status, and even temperature. Throughout a typical day, the reptile may display a variety of colors. This lizard is also known as the common green iguana and the American iguana as it is native to South America.

This green iguana care will provide you with all the necessary information about the reptile including the description and background information and a look at the lizard’s needs as well as availability.

Green Iguana Facts

Green Iguana (Iguana Iguana) on tree branch
Green Iguana (Iguana Iguana) on tree branch
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Iguanidae
  • Scientific Name: Iguana iguana
  • Other Common Names: Common green iguana, and the American iguana
  • Adult Size:  5.74 ft (175 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10 years
  • Diet: Vegetables, commercial iguana food, and commercial tortoise diet
  • Average Price Range: $30
  • Recommended Books: The Green Iguana Manual: From the Experts at Advanced Vivarium Systems

Physical Appearance

Although called the green iguana, these lizards aren’t always green in color. The color of the reptile depends on a variety of factors with the most important one being where they originated from. Green iguana from islands including Grenada, Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire may be green to lavender, reddish-brown, and even black. green iguanas from countries south of their geographic range are blue with blue markings.

Those endemic to Costa Rica are red, while those endemic to Mexico are orange. As you can see they come in a wide variety of colors.

The average iguana will have a weight of  4 to 6 kg. Although some can reach weights of 8 kg.  They are quite large. In terms of length, adults are generally over 6 ft long. Adult males are almost always over 6 ft long. Females also reach lengths of 6 ft. These lizards can be as long as 6.56 ft or 2 meters.

Natural Habitat & Geographic Range

The green iguana is an American lizard occurring throughout South America. These reptiles have however been introduced to Central America so do not be surprised to see them there. Their native range starts from southern Mexico to Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. They are also found in the Caribbeans, on islands including Utila, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, Aruba, and Grenada.

The green iguana is an arboreal species and such can be found high in the canopies of the rainforest and forests of South America. Juveniles can be found in the lower canopies while adults can be found in the upper canopies. The species hardly ever comes to the ground. Gravid females only come down to lay eggs.

While the species is arboreal, they can also thrive in an open area. These lizards also enjoy bathing in water and may even dive underwater to hide from predators. They are excellent swimmers and can be found in pools, ponds, lakes, streams, and even rivers. You need to consider this when housing them. Provide a large water bowl that they can soak in during the daytime.

Lifespan

In the wild, the species don’t live long with a  lifespan of just 8 years. In captivity, however, they can live to be over 20 years. With proper husbandry, they can attain lifespans of 20 and above. Improper nutrition and housing can severely reduce the iguana’s lifespan.

The average lifespan of the green iguana in captivity is between 10 and 12.4 years.

Diet

The species is primarily herbivorous although juveniles tend to eat more animal protein. During the first few years of the green iguana’s life, it may also feed on spiders and insects in addition to the plant matter it consumes.

Hatchlings have also been observed to eat the feces of adults. This may be to obtain microbiota which is important for digestion. These microbiotas are needed for the digestion of the iguana’s diet.

These reptiles consume a leafy diet low in phosphorus and high in calcium. Eating normally occurs when temperatures are relatively high, from 77 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The lizard may bask after eating as basking aids with digestion. 

The lizard may not eat when shedding. Similarly, females may also refuse to feed when gravid. As with most reptiles, the iguana will not eat when stressed.

Predators

The predators of green iguanas include birds of prey such as hawks. The lizard’s coloration helps it to avoid detection. They will also remain motionless to avoid detection. These lizards prefer to bask near water ad they can dive in when threatened. Since they are excellent swimmers, this is usually a successful strategy.

They can also drop their tail which distracts the predator.

Reproduction/Green Iguana Eggs

The green iguana generally reaches maturity at three to four years. Although individuals can reach maturity at 5 years or as little as 2 years.

Breeding occurs during the dry season. This ensures that hatchling has access to food during the wet season.

Eggs are laid about 65 days after a successful mating, and they take 60 to 85 days to develop. After laying the eggs, they take 90 to 120 days to hatch.  Incubation temperatures should be between 84 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit.

The eggs are about 1.5 cm n diameter and 4 cm in length. A single gravid female can produce as much as 65 eggs.

Green Iguana Care Guide

Green Iguana (Iguana Iguana) in Tortuguero National Park - Costa Rica
Green Iguana (Iguana Iguana) in Tortuguero National Park – Costa Rica

Generally, as far as the enclosure is huge and they have a large water bowl to soak in, the green iguana should be okay. They are also hardy. However, these lizards can be very aggressive when they reach maturity. They have sharp claws, teeth, and tails and can do serious damage with these.

As mentioned they require a huge enclosure. If you can’t meet their housing needs, then you shouldn’t get one.

Housing

Hatchlings are cute and do not require as much space as adults. A 20-gallon aquarium should be able to house them for a while. The main reason to have them in a small enclosure is to make it easy for them to find their way around and locate food and water. Hatchlings also feel safer in small enclosures.

For adults, you need a huge outdoor enclosure. This is when their care becomes much tougher to care for. These 6-foot plus lizards need a huge enclosure. The minimum requirement is a 12 x 6 x 6 ft enclosure. The enclosure should be at least 6 ft high and 12 ft long. The higher the enclosure the better it is for these arboreal lizards.

Two green iguanas cannot be kept in the same enclosure as they are very territorial and aggressive. A wire enclosure is a good choice.

You should provide a lot of greenery within the enclosure. This will provide a natural setting for the reptile.

As green iguanas are arboreal lizards, they should also be able to climb up high. Provide them with the structures (such as logs, branches, and wooden platforms) to do so. These wooden platforms should be sturdy and durable.

Temperatures

Temperatures within the green iguana’s enclosure need to be high. Even the temperatures within the cool spots need to be relatively high.

The hotspot or basking area of the lizard should be located at one end of the enclosure. The heat bulbs should be about 12 to 18 inches above the basking area of the specimen. The green iguana has a third eye also known as the parietal eye to thermoregulate. This eye is located directly on top of their heads. It is scalelike and can detect light, movement, and heat.

The basking area should have temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. The heat source needs to be above the reptile.

Install several incandescent heat bulbs (up to 6 bulbs may be needed) to provide the green iguana with the required amount of heat. You can use other types of heat bulbs such as infrared and ceramic heat bulbs.

The number of heat lamps you will need to install will depend on where you live.

The cool end of the enclosure should have temperatures of 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is essential to never use heat pads, hot rocks, or any heating device that provides heat from below. Iguanas are unable to recognize these heat sources as it doesn’t engage their parietal eye. This can often lead to serious injuries, serious enough to lead to death.

Lighting

The green iguana requires UVA and UVB radiation as these help with vitamin D synthesis. I recommend providing two rows of fluorescent UV tubes such as the Zoo Med Reptisun 15W. These provide an adequate amount of UV radiation. As you may already know, UV helps to prevent MBD (nutritional metabolic bone disease).

Humidity

Iguanas require constant access to water. They are excellent swimmers and in the wild can be found near pools, ponds, lakes, streams, and even rivers. You need to consider this when housing them. Provide a large water bowl that they can soak in during the daytime.

With juveniles and hatchlings, you need to mist them every morning using a spray bottle such as the Exo Terra Spray Bottle. You also need to soak them twice a week or more. You need to do this as juveniles and hatchlings will find it difficult to locate their water bowls. You don’t need to do this with adults.

Substrates

For adults, it is best to use cypress mulch if they are kept indoors. For outdoor enclosures, the substrate isn’t needed as far as the ground is earth. However, juveniles and hatchlings may accidentally ingest the substrate so use something digestible such as alfalfa pellets and rabbit pellets. Regardless of this, if the iguana is intentionally eating the substrate, remove them.

Recommended Products

Here are some recommended products. This list isn’t everything the lizard need. However, all products on this list are essential to the health of the iguana. You can also use different brands if you must.

Feeding the Green Iguana

Iguanas are generally herbivores and will accept all sorts of vegetables. They accept leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits (offered occasionally).

Examples of vegetables to offer include green beans, black mustard seed, yellow squash, dandelions, turnip greens, collard greens, kale, romaine lettuce, and many more. These are all foods you can find in most grocery shops and even around the house. Feeding these reptiles fruits can lead to diarrhea. Only offer fruits once a month.

Cut the food into small bits. Iguanas don’t chew their food so the food offered must be in bits. Iguanas should be fed once or twice a day. Give them enough food. As much as they will eat in one sitting.

You can also offer commercially prepared food such as Mazuri Tortoise Chow, Zoo Med, and Rep-Cal. You may need to moisten dry tortoise food a bit before offering it to the iguana. This makes it easy to eat.

Once a week add a calcium supplement to the iguana’s food, I recommend Rep-Cal Adult Iguana Food and Rep-Cal Iguana Food Juvenile.

Food high in protein is dangerous to the iguana, it leads to renal failure and death.

Breeding and Availability

Green iguanas are among the most popular reptiles found on the pet market. They are easy to find and countless babies are exported from South America to all over the world. However, providing the right conditions and care isn’t easy and many novices are unable to properly care for the thousands of hatchlings imported into North America.

Before you acquire a green iguana, make sure you can meet the needs. For hatchlings, care may not be that difficult, but adults can be tough to care for as they require particular care.

These lizards have also been successfully bred. If you want a morph such as the blue morphs or albinos, you may need to contact a breeder.

Health Problems

Some common health issues to watch out for include mouth rot, anorexia which is caused by low temperatures, a metabolic bone disease which is caused by lack of UV radiation and or calcium deficiency, kidney disease, parasites, and egg retention.

Many of the health issues can be prevented through maintaining proper temperatures, lighting, and providing a rich diet.

Signs that your iguana is unwell include lethargy, refusal to eat, constipation, and skin that can’t maintain a shape. If you see any of these signs, you need to consult your local herp vet.

A healthy green iguana will feed daily, bask daily, climb often, and defecate every 1 to 2 days.

Conservation/Threats

Although large numbers are consistently collected for the pet trade, the Iguana iguana isn’t considered endangered. They are considered to be a species of Least Concern on the IUCN 3.1. The species do not have any special conservation status and are listed under CITES Appendix II.

FAQ’s

Are Green Iguanas good pets?

No, they are not. Green iguanas are difficult to care for. Without proper care, they will die. Adults can also be aggressive. They can cause serious injuries. If you want to get a pet green iguana, be prepared to provide it with a huge warm enclosure and a proper diet.

Where is the Green Iguana found?

The native range of this reptile starts from southern Mexico all the way to Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. They are also found in the Caribbeans, on islands including Utila, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, Aruba, and Grenada.

They have also been introduced to Central America and even Florida.

What do Green Iguanas eat?

Iguanas are generally herbivores and will accept all sorts of vegetables. They accept leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits (offered occasionally). They also eat commercially prepared tortoise food such as Mazuri Tortoise Chow, Zoo Med, and Rep-Cal.

How big do Green Iguanas get?

Specimens can grow to over 7 feet long. On average, these reptiles grow to 6 feet long. In terms of weight, they measure between 6 to 8 kg.

Are Green Iguanas dangerous?

Yes, they are dangerous. These reptiles are equipped with sharp claws, tails, and even teeth. These reptiles aren’t scared to use these to cause harm when threatened. 

Conclusion

Green iguanas may be one of the most common reptiles on the pet market. Baby iguanas are easy to obtain. Care for hatchlings is also generally straightforward. However, these reptiles are difficult to care for and maintain. The needs of the species include a huge warm enclosure, and regular watering and feeding.

Adults can be territorial and aggressive and as such must be housed alone. They are even prone to attacking humans. Their sharp claws and tails mean that they can cause serious harm when they feel threatened. Many are, however, personally and nonaggressive.

Before you acquire a green iguana, know that it can be quite demanding to keep such a pet. Improper care means that most pet green iguanas never reach maturity.

If you have any extra information or questions, kindly leave a comment.

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