Green Iguanas -- Semi-Domesticated Dragons   

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LA
Stunt double for the T. rex in Jurassic Park (minus the teeth).

LA
Nice young iguana pretty much ignoring everything.  Looks like he needs food.

LA Pic
Much better crest on this teen-ager.  He's prettier than most.

Igs Start Small.  Green iguanas start life much as any other lizard – small and tasty.  The baby 7 to 10- inch-long iguanas hatch from their eggs, burrow into the open, and head for cover.  The speedy ones survive – about 10%.  Lots of critters love eating tasty and tender baby green iguanas for lunch.

Sold as Food.  Even people love to eat Iguanas.  South of the NAFTA border, iguana vendors weave their tails into a braid and wear them as a headdress as they sell them on the street.  They call them chickens of the trees -- pollo palos, dude.  We’ve had some shippers send them woven together.  (It would seem their tails would snap off.)

In our neck of the woods, we rarely eat iguanas.  Since they “taste like chicken,” we eat chicken instead.  Shipping costs less.  We have no KFI franchises around here.  We prefer iguanas as pets rather than snacks.

 

LA Pic
Excited iguanas can and will bite -- not like a monitor, but you'll jump.

LA
This guy's been neutered.  He never tries to bite at all.

Not Cuddlers.  Lizards – iguanas included – are not cats or dogs.  They don’t cuddle up to you, bring your slippers, or come running when you whistle.  In fact they make very poor pets for children.  Iguanas perceive the frantic grabbing of children as very serious threats.  Tail slaps, nasty scratches, and even painful bites can result from their panicky attempts to evade children’s “clutches.”

Go Slow.  You need to move very slowly when “taming” your iguana.  He’ll get used to you eventually.  Just don’t expect him to come running when you call his name.

LA Pic
When you first get him, your iguana stays as far away as possible.

Not Trainable.  Obedience ranks rather low in his behavior repertoire.  Your iguana pretty much does as he pleases.  You need to meet his demands rather than vice versa.

Iguanas Need Heat.  Keep your iguana at 85o to 90o during the day or he will not survive long.  Iguanas employ a hind-gut fermentation digestive process that enables them to survive on plant materials that would starve us (and other animals).  Not too many creatures could survive on a diet of tree leaves -- other than caterpillars.  Tiny organisms in iguana intestines enable them to digest nearly any vegetation.  Room temperature at night works out fine.

Warning:  If you heat his cage with a light from above, he will attempt to get as close to the heat source as possible.  If your iguana can reach the bulb, he will grab the bulb and burn himself.  Iguanas cannot judge how much heat is too much heat.  Protect him from hot light bulbs.  If you heat his cage with a heating pad from below, he will spend much of his time up and away from his heat source. 

LA Pic
Lots of good climbing spaces in this cage.  Heat comes from light on top.

LA
Iguanas climb to the top of their owners also.

Iguanas Need Climbing Sites.  Iguanas normally live in trees.  Given the opportunity, your iguana will climb as high as possible and stay there as long as possible.  He’ll come down for food and climb right back up there again.  They love tree branches and carpeted boards for climbing on and for loafing on – the closer to the top (and the heat) the better.

Warning:  Look for and remove all sharp projections.  Avoid branches with cracks that could snag his tail and pull it off -- been there, done that.  Nice rough bark provides an ideal surface for keeping his nails worn down a bit.

LA Pic
Younger iguanas prefer shredded foods.

Vary His Diet.  New iguana foods appear on the market very frequently these days.  That means more and more manufacturers recognize the growing popularity of these semi-domesticated dragons.  We like these prepared foods.  However, we still recommend feeding a wide variety of leafy greens, diced vegetables, and cut-up fruits.  At the younger ages, occasional feedings of small amounts of moistened dry dog food also helps.

Dietary Warning:  Growing iguanas and sexually mature iguanas need different menus.  Growing iguanas need much more nutrition during their first two to three years.  Start cutting back on the extra vitamins, proteins, and calcium at this point.  Too much of a formerly good thing can cause serious problems in the adults – particularly adult males.

LA
New trade in that was fed a poor diet.  Note the poor color.  He's not green.

Young iguanas Need Supplements.  Since they grow so fast their first two to three years (0.5 ounce to 2.5 pounds), they need extra vitamin, protein, and calcium supplements to maintain proper skeletal growth. 

Warning:  Cut way back on all supplements when they reach sexual maturity.  They get nearly everything they need from vegetation at this stage.  Supplements at this stage of life can cause way too many problems.

Iguanas Need a Cage.  They need the protection, security, and warmth a cage provides.  Provide one at least twice as long as he is.  Consider that a minimum.  Give him the room he needs to grow and prosper.  We used to recommend aquariums, but the new Reptarium cages work remarkably well.  They let UV light in better, have very good ventilation, and come with excellent locks.  Heat them with a warm basking light.

Warning:  Wire cages promote injured noses – especially if the cage is too cramped.  Some iguanas go to the end of their cages and rub their snouts back and forth.  You can stop this damaging rubbing by putting a piece of carpet over the area he likes to rub against or by breaking up the wall with several big rocks.

Add a Water Dish.  Actually, you rarely see an iguana drink water.  They evidently get water from their food or absorb it when they soak in their water dish.  The bigger the dish the better.  The soaking helps them shed more easily.  Iguanas shed in patches rather than their entire wardrobe at once (like snakes).  The water dish also provides the extra humidity they require.  Big iguanas really need more water area than a “dish.”

Warning:  Change their water daily.  Fecal material in their water causes a bacterial population explosion that can spread and/or aggravate many diseases.  And remember that you should always wash your hands after working with reptiles.  We also suggest you wash their water bowls some place other than your kitchen sink.

LA Pic
Sorry.  You can't get the rhinocerous iguana this millenium.

Why Keep These Dragons?  Iguanas fascinate people – young and old alike.  In many ways the people who keep iguanas as pets have advanced the field of knowledge about them.  As their habitat disappears in many areas, the captive-bred specimens outnumbered the wild iguanas long ago.

 

LA Pic
We haven't seen the rhinos for several decades.

Breeding Suggestions.  Adult iguanas each need their own living quarters.  If you have thoughts of breeding them, the process is now considered a likely event as opposed to an impossible event.

Provide Room.  You can’t breed these big guys in a standard cage.  Males need lots of elbow room.  Females need room to get away from over-exuberant males (which describes most of them).  You probably need several females to each male.

LA Pic
Mature male iguanas develop large femoral (thigh) pores.  You can't sex babies.

Seek out Other Iguana Owners.  Since adults need their separate spaces, few people can afford to house a breeding herd of these semi-domesticated dragons.  Those that can bring their males and females together on a mutually agreeable basis will likely breed them successfully.

Big Nest Areas.  Females need large containers filled with dirt or sand in which to lay their eggs.  Large garbage cans with an entrance hole cut in the lid seem to work.  Iguanas lay eggs in February in the wild, twice a year in captivity.

Harvest the Eggs.  Iguana breeders remove the eggs from the nest site and incubate them artificially.  Aquarium heaters work well.  Use a tray of vermiculite or its equivalent held up by a stack of bricks in a covered aquarium with water in the bottom.

Keep the Eggs Warm.  Iguanas (all reptiles) do not constantly turn their eggs as birds do.  Place the eggs where you want them to stay for two to three months.  Incubate the eggs at 84 to 87.  The eggs hatch in 70 to 90 days.

Experiment.  Use standard reptile egg-hatching techniques or adjust them to your own situation.  It was considered next to impossible to breed them less than two decades ago.  We learn more about iguanas every year.  As many other reptiles become harder to get, the iguanas are being kept by more people than ever. 

LA Pic
Spiny-tailed iguanas appear seldom today.  They like meaty foods and fingers.

LA Pic
Spiny-tailed iguanas prefer you leave them alone.

LA Pic
Club-tail iguana -- not as common as the green iguanas.

LA Pic
Really impressive adult male.

Last Word.  As iguana owners work at breeding their specimens, we’ll learn even more about these fascinating reptiles.  LA.


More Info?  Go to Iguana Q&A I

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