lizard-care

How to Care for Your Rhino Iguana

February 19, 2021

rhino iguana

Rhino iguanas (Cyclura cornuta) are large, diurnal, terrestrial lizards native to Hispaniola. Their preferred habitat is coastal but arid, including tropical dry forest, lowland scrub, and coastal forest.

Rhino iguanas are robust lizards with a typical iguana appearance, but they can be identified by the large bulge on top of their head, crests along the spine, and of course, the horn-like protrusions on their snout. These horn-like protrusions are what gave the rhino iguana its name! Rhino iguanas are known to grow up to 4.5’ long.

Because of their size and housing requirements, rhino iguanas are an advanced-level pet reptile. When cared for properly, their lifespan may exceed 20 years.

Minimum enclosure size for rhino iguanas

The absolute minimum enclosure size for a single rhino iguana is 8’L x 4’W x 4’H. This may seem huge, but keep in mind that these are large lizards that need access to an appropriate temperature gradient and enough room to accommodate their active lifestyle. 

Of course, if you can manage it, larger is always better! Regular supervised free-roaming opportunities are also recommended.

Housing multiple rhino iguanas in the same enclosure is not advised.

Do rhino iguanas need UVB?

Yes! Rhino iguanas require access to UVB light to survive in captivity. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, supplies all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and provides other benefits.

If you are housing your rhino iguana outdoors in an appropriate climate, then artificial UVB lighting is unlikely to be required. However, if you are housing your iguana indoors, then you will need artificial UVB lighting.

Here are the best UVB bulbs for rhino iguanas housed in a 8’x4’x4’ enclosure:

For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture like the Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics. Position the lamp on the same side of the enclosure as the heat lamp. The UVB lamp should be mounted inside the enclosure, with the basking platform placed so the lizard’s back will be 17-18” below the lamp.

Rhino iguanas are also likely to benefit from bright grow lights as part of their environment. Add a ~6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent grow lamp to provide extra illumination, as well as help any live plants in the enclosure to thrive.

Lights should be on for 11 hours/day during winter and 13 hours/day during summer to simulate seasonal changes in day length. All lamps should be turned off at night.

Best temperature for rhino iguanas

Rhino iguanas should have a basking air temperature around 106°F, as measured by a wall-mounted digital thermometer placed near the basking site. Temperatures in the rest of the enclosure can vary between 75-88°F, and can drop as low as 70°F at night. It is best to place another digital thermometer on the cool end of the enclosure to get a good idea of your temperature gradient.

Provide heat for your rhino iguana with a cluster of halogen heat bulbs placed above the basking platform. You will need enough lamps to evenly heat an area at least the size of the iguana’s body. 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. 

Heating should be turned off at night. If your home gets cooler than 70°F at night, use a radiant heat panel connected to a thermostat to boost ambient temps.

If you are housing your rhino iguana outdoors in an appropriate climate, then supplementary heating is unlikely to be required. However, bear in mind that rhino iguanas should not be exposed to temperatures below 62°F for any length of time!

Best humidity levels for rhino iguanas

Rhino iguanas may prefer fairly arid to semi-arid habitats, but it’s important to remember that they are a coastal species, which means that they still need a moderate amount of humidity in their environment. Air humidity should be maintained around 60%, and measured by a digital hygrometer in the middle of the enclosure. 

To increase and/or maintain appropriate humidity levels, use a pressure sprayer or automatic misting system 1-2x/day. Pouring water into the substrate can also be helpful, but the top of the substrate should remain dry.

Best substrate for rhino iguanas

Providing a layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) in the enclosure will help maintain correct humidity, cushion your iguana’s body, provide a digging medium, and also help make your enclosure more attractive! 

We recommend the following substrates for rhino iguanas:

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

How to decorate a rhino iguana enclosure

An empty enclosure makes for a bored lizard, 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 ideas to get your started:

  • hideouts/caves
  • sturdy branches
  • ledges/platforms
  • large hollow logs
  • live, edible plants

Training and designing enrichment activities are also good ways to help keep your iguana engaged, as well as provide a nice opportunity for bonding!

What to feed to a rhino iguana

Rhino iguanas are herbivores, which means that they need a plant-based diet in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. Rhino iguanas should be allowed to eat their fill every day on this schedule:

  • Leafy greens daily
  • Vegetables every other day
  • Fruit 3x/week
  • Commercial diet 3x/week

Make sure your iguana gets plenty of variety in its diet!

Leafy greens for iguanas: dandelion greens, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, escarole, watercress, endive, chicory, chard, kale, spinach, bok choy, cilantro, parsley

Other vegetables for iguanas: green beans, snap peas, okra, parsnip, yucca root, bell peppers, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, squash

Fruits for iguanas: figs, dates, papaya, mango, cactus fruit, berries, kiwi, apples, bananas, grapes, nectarines, pears, melon

Commercial diets for iguanas (moisten before feeding): Zoo Med Natural Iguana Food, Mazuri Small Tortoise Diet LS

Supplements

You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your lizard from developing a deficiency. Use Repashy Supercal LoD 2-3x/week for juveniles and 1-2x/week for adults for calcium. Use Rep-Cal Herptivite weekly for juveniles and every other week for adults.

Water

You will also need a large water bowl to help keep your rhino iguana hydrated. Change the water at least twice a week and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.

How to handle your rhino iguana

Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Rhino iguanas generally tame down well, but it takes patience and persistence to build a bond with this pet.

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

Rhino iguanas are generally too large to be held, so it’s best to avoid picking them up. However, if you need to, here’s how to do it: Don’t grab the lizard from above. Instead, scoop from below.

Then support as much of its body as possible. Getting your iguana accustomed to being picked up will make things easier for when you’re in a situation where it is required.

*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!

 

"Rhino Iguana" by _paVan_ is licensed under CC BY 2.0


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