lizard-care

How to Care for Your Green Iguana

February 15, 2021

green iguana

Green iguanas (Iguana iguana) are 5-6’ long, diurnal, semi-arboreal lizards native to North, South, and Central America. They prefer a tropical to subtropical forest habitat, where they spend their time foraging for food on both the ground and in the trees.

Green iguanas are best known for their green coloring, but captive breeding has made other colors such as red, blue, and yellow available. They have robust, muscular bodies, a long tail, spikes down the length of their spine, and a dewlap under the chin.

Green iguanas are not easy animals to keep as pets. They’re fairly large, require a spacious enclosure, and vary in tameness. They do not tolerate poor care or mishandling well. With good care, a green iguana can live up to 20 years.

Minimum enclosure size for green iguanas

The absolute minimum enclosure size for a single green iguana is 12’L x 6’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. 

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

Do green iguanas need UVB?

Yes! Green 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, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits.

Here are the best UVB bulbs for green iguanas housed in a 12’L x 6’W x 6’H enclosure:

You will need two bulbs arranged in a line to cover half the length of the enclosure. For best results, house the UVB bulbs in reflective fixtures like the Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics T5 HO. Position the lamps on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamps.

If the UVB is mounted over mesh, place the basking branch so the lizard’s back is 13-15” below the lamp. If the UVB is mounted inside the enclosure, place the basking branch so the lizard’s back is 17-18” below the lamp.

Green iguanas also benefit from plant grow lights as part of their environment as well. Add a 8’ 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 12 hours/day.

Best temperature for green iguanas

Green iguanas need a basking surface temperature around 120°F, and between 75-85°F on the cool side, as measured by a temperature gun. Nighttime temps should not get lower than 75°F.

Provide heat for your iguanas 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 6 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, particularly at night. Use a thermostat to regulate the panel’s heat output.

Best humidity levels for green iguanas

Green iguanas are a tropical species, so the humidity inside their enclosure should be fairly high: 60-80%. Humidity should be measured via wall-mounted digital hygrometer, placed in the middle of the enclosure.

Increase humidity by misting your iguana’s enclosure 2x/day with a large pressure sprayer or automatic misting system. Mist first thing in the morning and then again at night if needed. If you need more help maintaining humidity, install a cool mist humidifier connected to a humidistat.

You will also need a large, shallow tub of water for your iguana to drink from and soak in. Change the water whenever it gets soiled, and give the tub a good scrub with disinfectant at least weekly. Using a siphon (or better yet, a powerful mechanical water pump) and a hose will make maintaining your iguana’s tub faster and easier.

Best substrate for green iguanas

Although green iguanas spend most of their time in the trees, they do occasionally spend time at ground level. Providing a layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) in the enclosure will help maintain correct humidity, cushion your lizard against falls, provide a digging medium, and also help make your enclosure more attractive! 

We recommend the following substrates for green iguanas:

Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can help with humidity as well as add enrichment value.

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

How to decorate a green 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!

Since green iguanas prefer to spend their time either in the trees, at bare minimum you will need a large, sturdy branch for them to bask on and foliage to hide in. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:

  • hideouts/caves
  • more branches
  • sturdy ledges
  • additional live or artificial foliage

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 green iguana

Green iguanas are 100% herbivorous, which means that they only eat plants. They should be fed as much as they can eat daily, with 60% of their diet coming from dark leafy greens, 30% other vegetables, and 10% fruit. Vegetables should be chopped into bite-sized pieces to help prevent choking.

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

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

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

Fruit options for iguanas: berries, mango, cantaloupe, apple, banana, papaya

Edible flowers such as hibiscus and dandelion can also be offered.

Supplements

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.

How to handle your green iguana

Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Green iguanas can vary significantly in tameness — some tolerate humans much better than others do, and they can deliver a nasty bite when they’re cranky. Be patient!

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.
  • Handle 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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