a Green Iguana looking at something

Green Iguana

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

The Green Iguana does best with families that have older children and are more interested in watching the animal 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 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
  • Suitable for First-Time 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

Green Iguanas are long lizards and can be up to 6 feet long, half of this length can be their tail. Their body is covered in leathery scales with a row of spines extending from the head to the 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.

a Green Iguana resting on a log

Temperament of Green Iguanas

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 under the light or resting on the 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 the Lizard is comfortable in its new home, start handling them daily. It 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 housed individually and keeping them together may result in fights. 

While they generally remain calm, excessive handling or sudden movements can make them feel threatened. This may make them 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.

a Green Iguana hunting for food

Their Compatibility with Children

Green Iguanas do not generally like being handled. Adult Iguanas have strong claws and tails that can easily hurt children, so 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.

The 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

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 may be 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 preventing them from escaping.

They need lots of natural decorations like branches that allow them to climb. The branches should 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 against doing this. A very large enclosure can make the baby Iguanas scared and also make it difficult for them to find 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 as they’ll outgrow this 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 the 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 that is along their house.

Decorations

Add lots of sturdy branches and rocks to your enclosure. Natural decorations are important to allow the 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 the 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 eat or damage 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 as they’re small and easily ingestible.

a Green Iguana climbing on a log

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

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.

a Green Iguana standing on a leaf

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 cold 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

The tank of Baby Green Iguanas can be kept humid by placing a water bowl inside the tank. They can also be misted regularly to keep the Baby Iguanas 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 foggers and electronic misting devices. The foggers 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 

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 UV 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 UV lighting. Fluorescent bulbs should be replaced every 6 to 7 months because over time they tend to 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 as it can filter out the beneficial 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.

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 check 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:

a Green Iguana resting

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

MBD is the most common disease found in pet Green Iguanas. The disease is the result of a poor diet that is low in calcium and high in phosphorus. Lack of exposure to sunlight or UV lighting can also cause MBD. Symptoms include:

  • Swelling of the lower jaw
  • Swelling of limbs
  • Softening of facial bones 
  • 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 Iguanas less than 2 years old.

a Green Iguana basking on a log

Treatments can range from injecting the Iguana with mineral supplements to medication and dietary modifications. To keep your Iguanas 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 captive female Iguanas. This happens when females are unable to lay eggs. A female Iguana having 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 Green Iguana has these symptoms, take them to a vet immediately. Egg binding is serious and can result in death. Calcium supplementation, creating a nesting area inside their enclosure and feeding them a healthy diet should help prevent egg-binding.

Parasites

Parasites like pinworms can cause diarrhea or weight loss in Green Iguanas. In most cases infected reptiles will not show any signs but mites and ticks may be found on the skin of some reptiles. The problem generally spreads from one infected Iguana to another. An X-ray examination will help your vet decide the best treatment to use. Topical or injectable medications are commonly used to treat the parasites.

Respiratory Infections

Poor enclosure conditions like excessive cold or humidity and stress can lead to respiratory infections or pneumonia in Iguanas. Symptoms include:

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

Take your Iguana to a vet if they have any of the above symptoms. If the infection is severe, the animal may need hospitalization.

Bladder Stone

Blood in Green Iguana’s droppings could mean that your pet has bladder stones. The disease happens when excessive minerals in the diet result in the formation of crystals 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

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. You can trim their nails using a reptile nail clipper. 

To trim their nails your Iguana will have to be restricted. It is 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 as they need the claws to climb and hold onto branches. It is important to avoid pulling their tail while trimming their nails because it can stress them.

Small Green Iguanas should be bathed 2 times a week. If they do not soak themselves in the water bowl, you can bathe them yourself. Soaking should help them with shedding 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 secured 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.

a Green Iguana ready to move
leafy green reptile food

Feeding A Green Iguana

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 as 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 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. This 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 choice 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.

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