Green Iguanas

a close up of a Green Iguana's head as they look at something to the side

Green Iguanas are native to Central America as far north as Mexico and down as far as southern Brazil. They are one of the largest lizards in the world and they are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants. They are usually not aggressive towards humans, and will allow themselves to be handled without fear.

Green Iguanas are very territorial, and will defend their home against intruders. They are also very curious animals, and will approach anything that moves. They are very agile, and can climb trees and shrubs.

Green Iguana are a relatively new addition to the family pet community. With the rise of exotic pets and its popularity, Green Iguanas have become a popular pet choice. Green Iguanas are a larger, and somewhat difficult to care for reptile that are relatively low maintenance.

Green Iguanas do best with families that have older children and are more interested in watching their pet than handling them. At their adult length they’re a handful even for adults. If you have a nice backyard with a lot of space, lots of sunshine, and years of reptile experience these animals could be a good pet for you

This should not be the first reptile your family owns. They are a pet for families with years of reptile experience. They are great lizards, but for most they will be too much. If you think that they will be too difficult to care for then you should not get a Green Iguana for your family. Enough of these are already given up each year because families realize that they cannot provide the care needed for them.

Green Iguana Information

  • Average Length: 4 to 6 feet
  • Average Weight: 20 pounds
  • Skin Appearance: Leathery with scales
  • Skin Colors: Green to Brown
  • Grooming Needs: Low
  • Shedding: Every few months
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: No
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: No tolerance to cold
  • Good Family Pet: No, excessive handling can stress them
  • Safe with Children: No
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: No
  • Good for Less Experienced Pet Owners: No
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: Egg Binding, Respiratory Infections, Parasites, Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) and Bladder Stones
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 15 to 20 years

Physical Appearance of Green Iguanas

a Green Iguana walking across a tree branch

Green Iguanas are long lizards and can grow up to 6 feet long. Half of their length can be their tail. Their body is covered in leathery scales with a row of spines extending from the head to their tail. They have a flap of skin that hangs from their throat which is called a dewlap. The dewlap helps them regulate body temperature.

They have short legs with five toes on each foot. The toes have sharp claws that help them climb and hold on to branches. Green Iguanas have strong tails which they use to protect themselves from predators. They use their tails to whip others and it can cause a lot of pain and sometimes a serious injury.

Green is the most common color but they can also be bright green or pale blue. Young Iguanas may have bands of green and brown on their skin but adults grow to a uniform color.

Depending on their age, mood and environment Iguanas can change their color but it is not as prominent as in the Chameleons. Green Iguanas usually get darker with age and sometimes change their color to help regulate their body temperature.

Males and females have slightly different physical appearances. Males have a more prominent dewlap and well-developed pores on their legs. Another difference is that males are larger than females.

Temperament of Green Iguanas

a close up of a Green Iguana walking across a giant leaf

Green Iguanas are active during the day and rest at night. Young Iguanas are fast and active but as adults they tend to become lazy lizards. Adult Iguanas will spend most of their time basking in the light or resting on branches.

Handling Green Iguanas is a gradual process and you will need patience. For the first few days after getting them, let them get used to their new home before handling them. Once your Lizard is comfortable in their new home, start handling them daily. Regular and repeated handling will help them get used to your touch.

Baby Iguanas usually do not bite, but excessive handling can stress them. While Baby Iguanas can stay in small groups, adults are solitary and territorial reptiles. Adult males should be kept individually and keeping them together may result in fights.

While they generally remain calm, excessive handling or sudden movements can make them feel threatened. If they feel threatened they may use their tail or claws to hurt you. Green Iguanas can whip their tail very fast which can cause a lot of pain and even serious injuries if it hits you.

Their Compatibility with Children

Green Iguanas do not generally like being handled. Adult Iguanas have strong claws and tails that can easily hurt children, and it is best not to allow children to handle them.

If you have young Green Iguanas, you may allow children to handle them. Children should be gentle, calm and trained on how to interact with them. Sudden movements can threaten your pet which can result in bites or tail whipping.

Children should always wash their hands after handling any reptile. This is because reptiles can be potential carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Washing their hands should prevent your children from contracting bacterial and fungal diseases.

Living Space for Green Iguanas

a Green Iguana with gray stripes on their tale is resting on a tree branch

Creating an ideal enclosure for the Green Iguanas is not very easy. They can grow up to 6 feet long and prefer staying in trees. They have to be kept in an enclosure that is large enough for them to move around and climb. It’s very difficult to do this indoors.

An outdoor cage with a wired mesh can be used to create the ideal enclosure for them. Outdoor enclosures should have an area with an overhead cover to protect them from rain as well as to keep them from escaping.

They need lots of natural decorations like branches that allow them to climb. The branches need to be strong enough to hold their weight.

Green Iguanas are strong and will look for opportunities to escape. All the sides of the cage, including the top, should be tightly secured to prevent them from escaping.

Enclosure Size

Baby Iguanas can be kept in small 20-gallon tanks. These tanks are usually18 inches long, which is a good length for the small Iguanas. Some owners prefer to keep baby Green Iguanas in a larger enclosure but we recommend using the smaller size. A very large enclosure can make the baby Iguanas scared and also make it difficult for them to find their food and water. Small tanks will make them feel safe and make it easier for them to find food. Before they get to 6 months you’ll want to find something larger for them because they’ll outgrow their starter home at around 5 months of age.

Adult Iguanas can grow up to 6 feet and will need a large enclosure. The recommended enclosure size is 12’Lx6’Wx6’H. The general rule is to keep your Iguana in an enclosure that has a length twice their size and a width equal to their length. If you plan on keeping them indoors, rethink this idea. If you plan to house them outside most people will usually build something custom that is along their house.

Decorations

a close up of a Green Iguana's head as they rest on a tree branch

Lots of sturdy branches and rocks should be used to build your enclosure. Natural decorations are important to allow your Iguanas to climb and bask under the light. It is also important to have their home not appear completely artificial if you want them to be happy.

They will need several hiding places that can be created by placing cardboard boxes, half logs, PVC pipes or terracotta pottery inside their enclosure.

Artificial plants can also be added to their tank. They are easy to clean and the Iguanas shouldn’t damage them. Living plants can also be added but Iguanas are herbivores they may damage or eat them.

Substrate

Green Iguanas may ingest the substrate, especially the younger ones. To minimize the amount they can eat, use a substrate that clumps together well, or holds its shape. Good substrate options include linoleum, larger ceramic tiles or river stones. Avoid sand or gravel because they’re small and easily ingestible.

Best Climate for Green Iguanas

The large size of their enclosure can make it difficult to regulate the temperature conditions. While this is difficult, it is very important to give them an enclosure with ideal temperature. Because of the difficulty in housing this reptile, we recommend that you only get a Green Iguana if you have prior experience handling reptiles. Improper care can quickly lead to your Iguana becoming sick or dying. 

Temperature

a Green Iguana basking in the sun as they lay on black paver stones

Green Iguana needs more heat than other reptiles. While a single lighting bulb should keep a baby Iguana heated, adult Iguanas will need multiple heating bulbs. Depending upon the size of the enclosure they may need many bulbs.

An important thing to know is the heat source should be placed at the higher ends of the cage. Green Iguanas have a unique organ above the head called the parietal eye. This is a sensory organ that helps them thermoregulate their body. A heating source above them will allow them to use their parietal eye to properly heat themselves without overheating.

Avoid using surface heating sources like heating pads and hot rocks. Surface heating sources can burn the skin on their stomach and legs. These heating sources do not engage the parietal eye which prevents the Iguanas from sensing the heat. 

The bulbs should be placed in a way that lets you create a warm area and basking area inside the enclosure. The temperature in the basking area should be between 95°F to 105°F. The temperature inside the rest of the enclosure should be kept around 85°F. The temperature during the night needs to be kept between 75 to 80°F.  

Humidity

Baby Green Iguanas can be kept humid by placing a water bowl inside the tank. They can also be misted regularly to be kept hydrated.

The humidity should be kept in the range of 60% to 80% with 70% being the sweet spot. You can keep the humidity high by adding a fogger and electronic misting devices. The fogger or misting devices can keep the humidity level just right automatically. If you don’t use an electric device then water bowls can also be placed under heating lamps to help promote evaporation. With the high levels of humidity their enclosure should also be well ventilated to prevent the growth of mold. It can be a bit of a challenge to keep humidity levels high while also letting the enclosure be ventilated.

Lighting 

a Green Iguana looking up at something

We recommend that you keep a normal day and night cycle inside their enclosure. If you have an outside enclosure that is well lit, a separate lighting source might not be required. Due to the poor natural lighting in homes, indoor enclosures will need a separate lighting source.

Green Iguanas also need access to UVB lighting because it helps them absorb calcium and regulate vitamin levels inside their body. Fluorescent bulbs or mercury vapor bulbs can be used to provide the UVB lighting. Fluorescent bulbs should be replaced every 6 to 7 months because over time they will lose their efficiency. Mercury vapor bulbs work longer and don’t need to be replaced until they stop emitting light. 

Place the bulb in a way so as it is not blocked by glass or plastic because glass will filter out the beneficial UV rays that your reptile needs.

Water Source

Clean water should always be available inside their enclosure. A small water bowl can be used for baby Iguanas. If their enclosure is a bit large some baby Iguanas may have difficulty finding the water bowl, so misting them regularly is important.

For adult Green Iguanas a large water pan should be placed inside their enclosure. The water bowl should be large enough for them to soak and relax. The water source should be secured to the floor to prevent the bowl from flipping over.

The Attention a Green Iguanas Needs

Green Iguanas usually do not like being handled but some can become receptive to human handling with time. When handling them try to be slow and calm. Sudden movements can scare them which may result in your Iguana becoming aggressive. They may bite you, scratch you with their sharp claws or whip you with their tail. While it might not sound very bad their tail can really hurt you if it hits you.

Baby Iguanas may be more receptive to handling than adult Iguanas.

To take good care of your Green Iguana it is important to regularly check the conditions inside their enclosure. Several thermometers and a hygrometer should be kept inside the enclosure to monitor the conditions. The thermometers should be placed at both the basking areas and the cooler areas of the tank.

Always remember to secure their enclosure tightly after feeding them or cleaning their cage. Iguanas are strong and will look for opportunities to escape.

Health Issues

Common health issues of Green Iguanas are:

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

Metabolic Bone Disease is the most common disease found in pet reptiles. The disease is caused by your reptile not having enough vitamin D to properly absorb calcium. Being exposed to UV lighting helps them create vitamin D that they can use to absorb calcium.

 Symptoms include:

  • Lower jaw swelling 
  • Limb swelling
  • Facial bone softening
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy

An X-ray can help identify the extent of the disease. Sometimes MBD can lead to fractures, thin bone tissue or thickened bone shafts. The disease is more common in reptiles less than 2 years old.

If left untreated the disease can also lead to death. Consult your vet immediately if you find any of the above mentioned symptoms in your reptile.

Treatments can range from injecting your reptile with mineral supplements to medication and dietary modifications. To keep your reptiles from having MBD, they should be fed a diet rich in calcium (or calcium supplements) and have daily exposure to UV lighting.

Egg Binding

Egg binding is a condition that can affect some captive female lizards. This happens when females are unable to lay eggs. A female lizard with the disease will become lethargic, weak and have sunken eyes. Lack of proper nutrition and poor living conditions are usually what causes the condition.

If your pet has these symptoms, take them to a vet immediately. Egg binding is serious and can quickly lead to death. Calcium supplementation, creating a nesting area inside their enclosure and feeding them a healthy diet should help prevent egg-binding.

Internal Parasites

Intestinal Parasites like roundworms, hookworms or pinworms can cause serious health issues in reptiles. In mild cases, the disease may not show symptoms but in severe cases it can result in:

  • Lack of an appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Behavioral issues
  • Diarrhea
  • Loose Stool
  • Throwing up food

Captive lizards generally contract parasitic infections from other infected reptiles, contaminated food or objects. Regular cleanings to their enclosure can reduce the chances your reptile will be infected from parasites in their environment. Take your pet to your vet if they have the above symptoms.

Parasitic infections have the potential to destroy the digestive tracts of your turtles and must be treated as soon as signs are noticed.

Mites

Mites are tiny black insects that are parasites. They feed off the blood of your reptile, and they can be quite the pain in the butt to get rid of once you have them. Most times they will be caught and sold already having mites, or they’ll get them from another pet.

Symptoms of mites on your reptile:

  • Long soaks in their water
  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on your reptile or objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on you from handling your reptile

We recommend contacting your vet to find out what treatment they recommend for killing mites. Keep in mind that mites don’t tend to stay in one place, and any other snakes or reptiles kept in the same room could be infested with mites as well. Distance between pets is key, just as washing up between handling pets is key to not spreading mites from pet to pet.

Ticks

Ticks are blood sucking parasites that are just as bad for your lizard as they are for people. They can pass on quite a number of terrible diseases to your reptile. Depending on what the ticks carry, or if left untreated, they can cause your reptile to die.

Symptoms of ticks on reptiles:

  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Long soaks
  • Weight loss
  • Red spots or deformities on their skin

Usually with the above symptoms, especially red spots on their skin people will be suspicious of either ticks or mites. Ticks are a lot easier to see than mites are and with a close inspection of your reptile you should be able to spot them pretty easily.

The treatment is fairly straightforward and can be done at home, or you can have your vet do it. Once you find a tick attached to your lizard, rub it with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball, then use tweezers to pull the tick off. Using alcohol first should help the tick release their grip and make them easier to pull off. If you are at all worried about diseases your reptile might have gotten from the ticks you can have your vet take a look and they may prescribe medication based on what they find.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are a common health issue in reptiles. Poor enclosure conditions like excessive cold or humidity as well as stress can lead to respiratory infections or pneumonia. 

Symptoms include:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Bubbles in mouth
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy

Take your reptile to your vet if they have any of the above symptoms. Antibiotics are commonly used to treat the disease. If the infection is severe, they may need to be hospitalized.

Respiratory symptoms can become serious if not attended to in the initial stages. Maintaining the right temperature gradient and humidity levels inside their living enclosures can prevent your reptile from getting respiratory diseases.

Salmonella

All reptiles are potential carriers of salmonella bacteria. The bacteria is present on their skin and shells (for turtles) but doesn’t seem to harm them. A major concern is that the disease can be transmitted to humans. Salmonella can cause serious and life-threatening conditions in humans. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain in humans

As a preventive measure, we always recommend washing your hands after handling any reptiles. Pregnant women, young children and older people shouldn’t handle reptiles.

Bladder Stone

Blood in Green Iguana’s droppings could mean that your pet has bladder stones. The disease happens when excessive minerals in their diet cause crystals to form that eventually become bladder stones. These stones are generally composed of uric acid.

A Deficiency of Vitamin A and D or Calcium can cause bladder stones. An X-ray examination can help confirm if there are any bladder stones. Treatments include surgical removal and fluid therapy. This should be followed by discussing dietary changes for your Iguana to prevent bladder stones from happening again in the future.

Grooming and Care

a close up of a Green Iguana's front half as they bask in the sun

Green Iguanas should naturally wear down their nails while they climb and move around their enclosure. If their nails get too long it may become difficult for you to handle them. Their nails can be trimmed using a reptile nail clipper.

To trim their nails your Iguana will have to be restricted. It’s best to do this with the help of someone else, but it is possible to hold them and cut their nails. If you plan to do this alone you’ll want to place a towel around the Iguana’s head and hold them with both your hands. Take one foot out at a time and trim their nails. Avoid trimming too much because they need the claws to climb and hold onto branches. It is important to avoid pulling their tail while trimming their nails because it will stress them.

Small Green Iguanas should be bathed twice a week. If they do not soak themselves in the water bowl, you can bathe them yourself. Soaking them should help them shed any old skin.

Your Iguana’s cage should be cleaned regularly to make sure they’re living in a healthy environment. You won’t have to worry as much about your Iguana having infections and diseases if their enclosure is clean. The enclosure decorations and floor should be cleaned daily. The fecal matter inside the cage should be removed regularly.

The enclosure should be completely cleaned using a disinfectant once a week. You’ll want to take your reptile out of their enclosure and place them in a secure area. After removing them scrub the tank decorations like branches and walls with a 3% bleach solution or a reptile-safe disinfectant. Rinse all the parts carefully and let them dry completely. Place everything back inside after the enclosure is completely dry.

Feeding A Green Iguana

leafy greens are great food for Green Iguanas

Green Iguanas need to be fed a vegetarian diet. A large portion of their diet should be leafy vegetables like collard greens, mustard greens, dandelions, turnip greens, yellow squash and whole green beans. Broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potato, bell pepper, zucchini are also good for them, but in smaller amounts. Avoid giving them iceberg lettuce because it lacks calcium and other important nutrients that Iguanas need. 

The vegetables should be washed before feeding them. They want to eat pesticides as much as you do. When you prepare their food try to get them a mix of different vegetables so they have a variety to eat. By giving them a variety it should encourage them to eat several different foods getting them the nutrients they need for a healthy diet. 

Small amounts of fruits can also be fed to them twice a week but not more. A diet consisting of large amounts of fruits can give them diarrhea. The fruits we recommend are melons, papaya and banana. 

Smaller Iguanas should be fed chopped vegetables and fruits. Iguanas do not chew their food, they swallow it whole. To prevent choking or digestive issues in young Iguanas, finely chop the fruits and vegetables before feeding them. Giving them chopped foods will allow them to swallow their food without difficulty.

Young Iguanas need to be fed daily while adult Green Iguanas can be fed every other day.

Calcium and vitamin supplementation should be added to their food regularly. For younger Iguanas the supplementation should be added in small amounts to their food each day while adults should be given supplements every other day.

Related Questions:

Can Insects be Fed to Green Iguanas?

Green Iguanas are herbivores and should only be fed veggies and fruits. Insects are high in protein and can cause kidney diseases if they eat them. Dog food and trout chow should also not be given to them because these are also high in protein. A vegetable and fruit diet with regular mineral supplementation is the best food for them.

Do Green Iguanas Know How to Swim?

Yes, they are excellent swimmers. In a captive environment, it is almost impossible to give them a place to swim but there should be several water bowls inside their enclosure. It will let them soak themselves and help keep them happy.