How to Care for Your Desert Iguana

February 11, 2021

desert iguana


Desert iguanas (Dipsosaurus dorsalis) are 16”-18”, diurnal, heavy-bodied lizards native to the deserts of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Desert iguanas generally have a gray to cream base color with darker gray pattern on their backs.  Some may also have yellow or reddish markings.

Desert iguanas are considered to be intermediate-level reptiles.


One desert iguana should be kept in no smaller than a 3’L x 2’W x 2’H enclosure. 

Desert iguanas need to be able to dig in their environment, so recommended substrates include a deep layer of natural sand and sandy soil. In addition to substrate, desert iguanas need places to hide and things to climb. Branches, cork bark, rocks, and live drought-tolerant plants can all be useful for these functions.

Although desert iguanas are arid animals, they still need moisture in their environment. Mist the substrate periodically to keep it moist enough for the desert iguana to be able to burrow successfully. You will also need to provide a small, shallow water dish.

Heating and Lighting

Desert iguanas require a high air temperature of 90-100°F, as well as a basking area with surface temperatures of at least 120°F. The air temperature in the remainder of the enclosure should be in the 90’sF during the day, and in the upper 60’s to low 70’s at night. Use a cluster of two high-wattage halogen flood bulbs on one side of the enclosure to create a high enough basking temperature.

You will also need a UVB lamp to keep your desert iguana healthy. Use a high-intensity T5 HO Zoo Med or Arcadia UVB bulb, half the length of the enclosure and mounted in a reflective fixture. The bulb must be replaced every 12 months to prevent decay.

Food and Supplementation

Desert iguanas are herbivores, which means that their diet should consist primarily of healthy green leafy vegetables and other vegetables such as squash, peppers, green beans and flowers such as dandelions. Spinach, which binds calcium, should be provided only occasionally. Although lettuce generally doesn’t have much nutritional value, small amounts can be provided to increase moisture intake. Fruit is also appreciated but should only be used as a treat. 

Food should be light dusted with a calcium and multivitamin supplement like Repashy SuperVeggie.

*This care sheet contains only very basic information. If you are new to desert iguanas, please do additional research to obtain additional information from more detailed care sheets.

Image by Raymond Lehman from Pixabay 


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