How to Care for Your Cuban Rock Iguana

How to Care for Your Cuban Rock Iguana

Cuban rock iguanas (Cyclura nubila) are large, diurnal, terrestrial lizards native to Cuba and surrounding islands. They prefer coastal areas with sandy/rocky beaches for habitat, and although they are good climbers, they are most often found on the ground.

Cuban rock iguanas have 3-4’ long, dark gray to dull red bodies, often with a pattern of broad, dark, transverse bands. They have robust, muscular bodies, a thick tail, tubercle-encrusted jowls, and a crest of spines down the length of their spine. They are easily identifiable by their eyes, which have a gold iris and red sclera.

Although Cuban rock iguanas are relatively tame compared to some other iguanas, they are not easy animals to keep as pets. They’re fairly large, require a spacious enclosure, and are capable of causing serious injury, which makes them advanced-level pet reptiles. However, with good care, they can be rewarding companions that live as long as 60-70 years.

Minimum enclosure size for Cuban rock iguanas

The absolute minimum enclosure size for a single green iguana is 8’L x 4’W x 6’H. Of course, if you can manage it, larger is always better! Young iguanas less than 18” long, however, can be temporarily housed in a well set-up 40-55 gallon tank while you build the adult-sized enclosure.

Housing multiple Cuban rock iguanas in the same enclosure is generally not recommended.

Do Cuban rock iguanas need UVB?

Yes! Cuban rock iguanas require UVB lighting for their survival. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, supports the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and provides other benefits.

Here are the best UVB bulbs for Cuban rock iguanas housed in a 8’L x 4’W x 6’H enclosure:

  • Arcadia Desert 12%, 46”
  • Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 10.0, 46”

The bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture like the Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics T5 HO. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamps. Since the UVB will be mounted inside the enclosure, place the basking branch/platform so the lizard’s back is 16-18” below the lamp.

Cuban rock iguanas also benefit from plant grow lights as part of their environment as well. Add 6’ of ~6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent grow lamps to provide extra illumination, as well as help any live plants in the enclosure to thrive.

Lights should be on for 13 hours/day during summer and 11 hours/day during winter. This facilitates healthy hormonal cycling by simulating natural seasonal cycles, and may encourage better long-term health.

Best temperature for Cuban rock iguanas

Cuban rock iguanas need a basking surface temperature of at least 120°F, and between 75-85°F on the cool side, as measured by a temperature gun. Nighttime heat is not required, as this species is known to endure nighttime temps as low as 50°F without negative effects.

Provide heat for your iguana with a cluster of halogen heat bulbs placed above the basking branch. You will need enough lamps to evenly heat an area at least the size of the lizard’s body, around 4 bulbs. Halogen bulbs are the best way to imitate the warmth of sunlight indoors, and considered to be a superior form of reptile heating by experts. 

Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. Radiant heat panels, however, can be helpful as a secondary heat source for maintaining warm air temperatures if needed. Use a thermostat to regulate the panel’s heat output.

Best humidity levels for Cuban rock iguanas

Although Cuban rock iguanas are a tropical species, they can tolerate fairly low humidity, so a good range to shoot for is between 40-80% on average. Humidity should be measured via wall-mounted digital hygrometer, placed in the middle of the enclosure.

Increase humidity by misting your iguana’s enclosure with a large pressure sprayer or automatic misting system. Mist first thing in the morning and then again at night if needed.

Best substrate for Cuban rock iguanas

Cuban rock iguanas are fairly terrestrial, so providing a layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) in the enclosure is important. It helps maintain correct humidity, cushion your lizard’s body, provides a digging medium, and also help make your enclosure more attractive!  Play sand or a 60/40 mix of clean topsoil and sand usually makes an appropriate substrate for this species.

Substrate should be at least 6” deep (preferably deeper) and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with any contaminated substrate.

How to decorate a Cuban rock iguana enclosure

An empty enclosure makes for a bored iguana, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!

Here are some enrichment item ideas to get you started. At minimum you will need at least one place for the iguana to hide and a sturdy basking branch/platform, but it’s best to go beyond that minimum!

  • hideouts/caves
  • more branches
  • sturdy ledges
  • live, nontoxic plants 

All climbing branches should be securely anchored into the walls/floor of the enclosure to prevent collapse. Because iguanas are herbivorous, any live plants that you use should be nontoxic and edible.

What to feed to a Cuban rock iguana

Cuban rock iguanas are 95% herbivorous, which means that they mostly eat plants. They should be fed as much as they can eat daily, mostly dark leafy greens, but also flowers and some fruit. Green and yellow vegetables are also acceptable, and should be chopped into bite-sized pieces to help prevent choking.

Leafy greens for iguanas: collard greens, cactus pads, spring mix, arugula, kale, alfalfa, bok choy, carrot greens, spinach, dandelion greens, hibiscus greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, parsley, romaine lettuce, escarole, watercress, clover, Mazuri Iguana Diet

Other vegetables for iguanas: broccoli, rapini, zucchini, cauliflower, sweet potato, bell pepper, squash, carrots, okra, sprouts, pea pods, green beans, shredded carrots

Flower and fruit options for iguanas: berries, mango, cantaloupe, apple, banana, papaya, hibiscus flowers, dandelion flowers, nasturtium flowers

Cuban rock iguanas are known to occasionally eat carrion in the wild, so it’s a good idea for 5% of their diet to come from an occasional rodent feeder or large insects (1x/month only). Too much protein in a Cuban rock iguana’s diet is likely to damage their kidneys!

Provide as much dietary variety as you can manage for balanced nutrition!


You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to help prevent your lizard from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy SuperVeggie, lightly dusted on all salads.


Cuban rock iguanas get most of their water from the food that they eat, but it’s still a good idea to always have a bowl of fresh water in the enclosure. Change out the water whenever it gets soiled, and scrub it with animal-safe disinfectant at least once a week.

How to handle your Cuban rock iguana

Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Cuban rock iguanas are generally easier to tame than other iguana species, but it still requires patience and effort to succeed.

If you want to build a trusting relationship with your pet, you will need to develop a foundation of positive interactions. Hand-feeding works well as an initial bribe, and it’s best to get the lizard to come to you rather than simply grabbing it. 

Here are some more tips for success:

  • Don’t grab the lizard from above. Instead, scoop from below.
  • Support as much of its body as possible.
  • Start with short handling sessions at first, then gradually make them longer.
  • Put the lizard back in its enclosure only when it’s calm.
  • Interact regularly to maintain tameness.
  • Wear welding gloves if you’re worried about getting bitten.


*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!

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