The Uncommonly Common Green Iguana

Authored by Todd Cornwell Unique Birthday Party Parties for Kids & Reptile Rescue

Green Iguana King of the Lizards

Green Iguana Iguana iguana

Courtesy of Todd Cornwell

There is no more majestic a creature than a large green iguana. At least in their minds, they are kings. So problems can arise with this not so cheap to care for, but inexpensive to buy, thoroughly impressive animal. The green iguana is one of the largest of the lizard species, easily reaching 4-6 feet long, they are very strong in both musculature, and opinions. Iguanas are very much an arboreal lizard, spending 80-90% of their life up off the ground, basking on branches, eating leaves, and staying out of harm’s way. Because of this, caging is generally insufficient for most I have seen.

Green Iguana Enclosures

The minimum caging needed for an adult iguana would be 6 foot tall, 4 feet wide, and 3 feet deep. There are a bunch of different cage designs, (plans, materials needed, etc), and other suggestions on the website The Iguana Den, they are a wonderful resource I have used.

The enclosure can be as simple as chicken wire (although you have to be careful about cuts on the feet), I prefer, mostly plywood, with windows of screen for heat/ lights/ viewing. They very definitely need high UV lighting, and a constant heat of 80-85F, with a basking area running between 115-125F. They need plenty of water, and even a reptile dripper or maybe a Exo Terra Monsoon RS400 Rainfall System, as Green Iguanas (Iguana iguana) are from the forests of Central America, and require high humidity (70% and upward). I have seen too many iggies with missing toes/nails from bad shedding from a lack of humidity, among other issues.
You will want lots of branches, thick enough to hold a 10-20 lb lizard, climbing almost to the top of the cage, shelves, or a combination of the two, to make some place the lizard can bask in varying heat levels. You want to make sure, the lighting/heating elements, cannot be touched by the lizard, they can “stand” up and burn themselves, so it takes a fine management of space and equipment to maintain temperatures, while avoiding burns.

Iguana Feeding

Feeding is again, supposed to be simple, but is more complex to get all the necessary nutrients than most people are willing to put into a pet. A cat, you pour food into a dish, an iguana needs a gourmet salad prepared. Best foods for an Iguana diet consist of: collard greens, turnip greens, arugula, beet greens, dandelion greens (store-bought, not out of your yard, you can raise them pesticide free in a garden, but you have to be careful), Escarole, Kale, chicory, watercress. Romaine lettuce is a standard “easy sell” to Iguana owners, however, while it is the best of the “lettuces”, it has very little actual nutritional value. (Editor’s Note: Dr. Bruce Bogoslavsky also has a lizard menu available here on our site Reptile Food Chart.) The Iguana Den mentioned above also has a list of foods, their preparation, and recommended quantities and mix. A full-grown, 20 lb Iguana, will consume about 1 lb of food a day! So this is a major time investment, to keep them properly fed. Excess proteins ie: bugs, are not needed, but adding commercial calcium supplements every other meal is vital. In the wild, while they will occasionally consume the odd bug on the leaf they are chomping on, they are primarily herbivores, and can develop renal (kidney) failure because they cannot process the proteins.

Green Iguana Behavior

One of the biggest “problem” areas keeping iguanas is their personality traits. Again, this is generic, as with people, personalities vary from one to the next.

Iguana Iguana

Todd Cornwell and his Green Iguana

These are the problem areas though. Males & females both need a very high interaction level. Without almost daily interaction, they can become highly defensive, lashing out with their tails causing bruising, cuts. Scratches (even gentle iguanas have large nails), and they have a very strong bite. A bite from a large Green Iguana, can require stitches.
For male Iguanas, this becomes a big issue during mating season (February – April/May), they can become highly agitated, chasing any other males (including humans), away from their territory. They can become fixated on the female of the house, and chase after any male who enters “his” kingdom, at any time of the year. This can cause stress in any relationship, I have heard this from many couples who had to “give up” their pet Iguana, because he was too “aggressive” for them. This is a natural, territorial, action, just like males lions, keeping other males from being able to breed with “his” females, and will be forever in a relationship with an Iguana. Again, not all will portray this, but it is a signature trait for male iguanas.
With all the negatives about owning one of these giant lizards, they can and do make great companions. If you are willing to take the time to interact with them, love them, and care for them properly, meeting all of their needs. There is nothing like walking down the street with your own personal dinosaur riding on your shoulders!

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