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Types Of Iguanas

Types Of Iguanas

These prehistoric-looking lizards are a genus of herbivorous lizards native to tropical areas of Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean islands, Fiji and Madagascar.

The University of Florida also reports that iguanas are running free in south Florida due to people setting their pets loose.

Interesting Facts About Iguanas

Iguanas have a keen vision and can see shapes, shadows, colors, and movement at long distances. They employ visual signals to communicate with other members of the same species.

Iguanas have a third eye. Unlike the other two eyes, this third eye – also known as parietal eye – is quite simple in its physiology and can only detect changes in lightness and darkness. But that’s more than enough to evade predators.

Whenever the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the Iguanas’ muscles essentially become paralyzed and they fall into a state of hibernation.

This doesn’t happen often in the hot tropics of Central America. But in places like southern Florida, where they’ve been introduced by humans, an unseasonable winter cold snap can literally cause scores of these scaled critters to lose their grip on tree limbs and fall to the ground.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Iguanas are among the most endangered animals in the world. In the wild, Iguanas’ numbers are dropping drastically due to the loss of habitat and predators.

There are 35 recognized species of Iguana, according to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web. However, ADW reports that the Iguanid family is undergoing “much systematic revision.”

The Most Common Types of Iguanas

  1. The Green Iguana – Iguana iguana
  2. West Indian Rock Iguana – Cyclura
  3. Spiny-Tailed Iguana – Ctenosaura spp.
  4. Desert Iguanas – Dipsosaurus dorsalis
  5. Chuckwallas – Sauromalus spp.

The remaining members of the Family Iguanidae are rarely available to reptile hobbyists. And some would be completely impractical to keep in a private facility.

1. The Green Iguana – Iguana iguana

Green Iguana
Green Iguana

The Green Iguana is native from southern Brazil and Paraguay and is also found as far north as Mexico. Moreover, it has been introduced from South America to Puerto Rico and is very common throughout the island.

In the United States, feral populations also exist in South Florida, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Quick Facts

Other Common Names: American Iguana

Color: Green. But they frequently bear blotches and stripes of other colors, including blue, orange, black, white, and everything in between.

Length: It grows to between 5 and 7 feet (1.5 to 2 meters) long from nose to tail.

Other Distinctive Features: They bear spines along the back. Also, they have prominent jowls, and large dewlaps beneath their chins.

Green Iguanas from Guatemala and southern Mexico predominantly have small horns on their snouts between their eyes and their nostrils, whereas others do not.

Behavior & Temperament: Green Iguanas vary in terms of temperament. While some become quite tame, others remain nervous and defensive. Given their size and willingness to bite or lash out with their whip-like tails, they’re capable of inflicting serious injuries.

Reproduction: Oviparous

Clutch Size: 20 – 71

Egg Laying: Once per year during a synchronized nesting period

Hatching Development: The hatchlings emerge from the nest after 10–15 weeks of incubation. Once hatched, the young Iguanas look similar to the adults in color and shape, resembling adult females more so than males and lacking dorsal spines

Feeding: Primarily herbivorous. But they will eat animal-based foods from time to time (particularly as juveniles).

Conservation Status: Least Concern

Green Iguana Facts

Green Iguanas are tough. They can drop from a branch up to 40 feet (12 meters) high, hit the ground, and survive, according to National Geographic.

Green Iguanas have very sharp teeth that are capable of shredding leaves and even human skin. These teeth are shaped like a leaf, broad and flat, with serrations on the edge.

The similarity of these teeth to those of one of the first dinosaurs discovered led to the dinosaur being named Iguanodon, meaning “Iguana Tooth”, and the incorrect assumption that it had resembled a gigantic iguana.

Video On Green Iguana

2. West Indian Rock Iguana – Cyclura

cuban iguana (cyclura nubila nubile)
Cuban Iguana (Cyclura nubila)

These Iguanas from the genus Cyclura currently comprehend nine described species and eight subspecies. But the Black Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura similis) is the only one regularly available to keepers.

Currently Recognized Species
Quick Facts

Lifespan: The record for the longest-lived captive-born Rock Iguana is held by a Lesser Caymans Iguana, which lived for 33 years in captivity.

Reproduction: Mating takes place at the beginning of or just before the first rainy season of the year (May to June) and lasts for two to three weeks.

Egg Laying: Females lay from 2 to 34 eggs, with an average clutch size of 17. Females of most species guard their nests for several days after laying their eggs, and incubation lasts approximately 85 days. It has been noted that Cyclura eggs are among the largest lizard eggs produced in the world.

Feeding: Herbivorous. They consume leaves, flowers, berries, and fruits from different plant species. Their diet is very rarely supplemented with insect larvae, crabs, slugs, dead birds, and fungi. Individual animals do appear to be opportunistic carnivores.

Conservation Status: Some of the taxa are Endangered and even Critically Endangered.

Video On Rock Iguana

Book: Cyclura: Natural History, Husbandry, and Conservation of West Indian Rock Iguanas (Noyes Series in Animal Behavior, Ecology, Conservation, and Management)

3. Spiny-tailed Iguana – Ctenosaura spp.

Black Spinytail Iguana - Ctenosaura similis
Black Spinytail Iguana – Ctenosaura similis

The genus Ctenosaura represents the most diverse group of iguanas with 13 currently recognized species and at least two unrecognized species.

Currently Recognized Species

These species inhabit on both coasts of Mexico and Central America.

Quick Facts

Length: They are up to 4.9 to 39 inches (12.5 to 100 centimeters) long.

Other Distinctive Features: The name is derived from two Greek words: ctenos (κτενός), meaning “comb” (referring to the comblike spines on the lizard’s back and tail), and saura (σαύρα), meaning “lizard”.

These keels likely serve a protective function, as the lizards will whip perceived threats with their tails.

Lifespan: Spiny-tailed Iguanas can be long-lived, easily living to 15 years of age. Many male spiny-tails can live up to 25 years of age or more.

Behavior & Temperament: Interacting with them can be challenging, as many are nervous, flighty, and defensive, even when raised from a young age. They won’t hesitate to bite the hand that feeds them.

A great way to build trust and calm new Ctenosaura is by hand-feeding them. Once they are comfortable with your presence and are taking food from your fingers, you can begin to pick them up.

Reproduction: Females reach a reproductive size at 2-4 years. They congregate and mate during specific times of year that varies between populations.

Male iguanas possess a pair of intromittent organs, the hemipenes. When not in use the hemipenes lie adjacent to the cloaca within the base of the tail.

Egg Laying: Females lay 4-7 eggs in burrows dug in sandy substrate.

Feeding: Generally omnivorous, feeding on fruits, flowers, foliage, and small animals.

Conservation Status: Despite laws to protect them, most Spiny-tailed Iguana populations are declining in the wild due to hunting, loss of habitat, and poaching for the pet trade.

Every effort should be made to purchase captive-born-and-bred animals because they generally are hardier and less skittish, and purchasing them helps take the pressure off wild populations.

Video On Spiny-tailed Iguanas

4. Desert Iguanas – Dipsosaurus dorsalis

Desert Iguanas (Dipsosaurus dorsalis)
Desert Iguanas (Dipsosaurus dorsalis)

Desert Iguanas occurs in southeastern California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah, and western and south-central Arizona in the United States. The Mexican distribution includes eastern and southern Baja California, northwestern Mexico, and some of the Gulf of California islands.

Quick Facts

Color: They’re largely clad in a combination of white, dark grey, and rich reddish-brown tones. The belly is pale.

Length: 16” average; 18” maximum (40-45 cm).

Other Distinctive Features: During the breeding season, in both sexes, the sides become pinkish.

Lifespan: The record lifespan for wild Desert Iguanas is just over seven years. A captive male, who was nearly adult size when acquired, lived for a bit over 14 years; presumably, he was as much as 17 years old.

Lifestyle: Desert Iguanas are extremely tolerant of high temperatures and can be seen active during mid-day even in the hottest summers.

Behavior & Temperament: Desert Iguanas are generally disinclined to bite. But they’re quite flighty and nervous. However, freshly captured and very warm individuals may bite and can break the skin. Eventually, they become accustomed to gentle handling.

Reproduction:  Desert Iguanas emerge from hibernation in mid-March.  Breeding occurs in April and May.

Egg Laying: It is believed that only one clutch of eggs is laid each year.  Mated females may lay up to eight nearly round eggs, usually, in a nest. She excavates in the sand.

Deposition sites are made of slightly moist soil in places where the subsoil temperature will stay between 28 C and 38 C (82 F and 100 F). In the wild, they take 60 to 75 days to hatch, with incubation time reduced at the higher temperatures.

Hatchlings tend to be 50 to 60mm (5 to 5.3 inches) in total length and may grow at a rate of 22mm per year, snout-vent length. Thus, they tend to grow and mature quickly, reaching reproductive size in about 33 months.

Feeding: Primarily herbivorous, the Desert Iguana crawls into the branches of creosote bushes and other shrubs to feed upon the leaves and flowers.

Additionally, it eats insects, carrion, and fecal pellets of its species, which aids in the digestion of plant cellulose by establishing the proper gut fauna.

Conservation Status: Least Concern

Videos On Desert Iguana

5. Chuckwallas – Sauromalus spp.

Chuckwalla (Sauromalus Ater)
Chuckwalla (Sauromalus Ater)

Chuckwallas are native to the arid western portions of North America. There are about half a dozen or so species in the genus (depending on the authority consulted). But the common chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater) is the only one available in the pet trade with any regularity.

Currently Recognized Species
  • Sauromalus ater Duméril, 1856 – Chuckwalla norteña.
  • Sauromalus australis Shaw, 1945 – Chuckwalla peninsular.
  • Sauromalus hispidus Stejneger, 1891 – Chuckwalla espinosa.
  • Sauromalus slevini Van Denburgh, 1922 – Chuckwalla de Monserrat.
  • Sauromalus varius Dickerson, 1919 – Chuckwalla de San Esteban.
Quick Facts

Color: There is a lot of color variation in both sexes and the color can change with temperature, surroundings, and mood.

Length: Chuckwallas can reach a length of 16 inches, almost half of which is its tail. Males are larger than females.

Other Distinctive Features: Females and young have light crossbands on their bodies and tails. Also, all Chuckwallas have loose skin flaps around their neck and sides for defensive measures.

Lifespan: In the wild, Chuckwallas live up to 15 years. And in captivity, they can live up to 25 years.

Lifestyle: Chuckwallas are diurnal, being active during the day. In the morning they bask to warm up and then start searching for food.

Behavior & Temperament:  Chuckwallas are rather shy, inoffensive lizards who’ll rarely react aggressively to their keeper’s hands. Their docile, friendly temperament makes them a pleasant reptile that is a joy to handle.

Reproduction: Chuckwallas reach sexual maturity between 3-4 years of age. They mate in the spring. About two months later, females lay their eggs underground.  Field studies indicate that females may not breed each year. They may breed in years of heavy rainfall that are preceded by a year of moderate rainfall.

Egg Laying: They lay between 5 and 16 eggs at a time. The gestation period is 72 days.

Feeding: Primarily herbivorous, Chuckwallas feed on leaves, fruit, and flowers of annuals and perennial plants. Insects represent supplementary prey.

Conservation Status: Chuckwalla is not on the list of endangered species.   Since Chuckwalla inhabits deserts (Mojave and Sonoran deserts), that is, remote and inhospitable places, Chuckwalla is protected from negative human activity (including over-collecting from the wild due to pet trade).

Interesting Fact: Chuckwallas are experts at water conservation. They rarely need to drink. Instead, they get most of the water they need from the plants they eat. Their accessory lymph sacs also provide them with ‘canteens’ to help them avoid dehydration in the hot, dry summer months.


Iguanas are cool lizards but they are best reserved for advanced keepers.  On the one hand, because they mean a long term commitment that can live 15 to 20 years if cared for properly. Depending on the species, iguanas can live up to 60 years.

On the other hand, because even though iguanas are typically sold when they’re small, they grow up to be extremely large animals requiring a lot of living space and specialized care.

People tend to acquire iguanas without fully understanding their basic needs for a healthy life. This includes a warm environment (75 to 95 F), access to UVB light, a properly sized habitat, and a healthy diet of vegetables.

It is advisable to learn exactly what kind of commitment you would need to make before considering adoption.

More Iguana Stuff

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