Green iguanas are among the most popular reptiles available to keep as pets. They are colorful, interesting animals and can become friendly and affectionate companions with proper taming and socialization. Raising an iguana is both fun and rewarding for people who are able to meet their specific housing and dietary needs.
The most distinctive features of green iguanas are their bright colors and their large size. Green iguanas are the longest of all iguanids (lizards in the family Iguanidae), so don’t be surprised if the little hatchling you purchase grows up to be longer than you are tall.
- Size: A full-grown male iguana can reach up to 6.6 feet (2.2 m) in length, although usually two-thirds of that length is the tail alone. Females are usually 12–18″ (30.5–45.7 cm) shorter than males. A properly cared-for iguana reaches 3 feet (0.9 m) by the end of its second year of life and is likely to be at least 5 feet (1.5 m) in length by its third or fourth year.
- Color: Despite their name, green iguanas are not always pure green. They can range from gray to brown, and they may have spots of other colors as well.
Iguanas are not born tame, and they require a lot of handling, attention, and socializing if they are to become friendly pets. If you spend a lot of time with your iguana and treat it with love and respect, you’ll have a tame pet. An iguana that’s handled only occasionally and spends all its time in its cage will view people with suspicion and fear. Your iguana’s temperament depends a great deal on how you choose to care for it.
Green iguanas are lizards of the tropical and subtropical Americas, naturally occurring from central Mexico through most of Central America south to northern Bolivia and Paraguay. They tend to favor forests, especially those bordering bodies of water. Iguanas also live in savannas, swamps, and seashore habitats, residing in whatever trees are native to that area. In addition, they adapt well to the presence of humans, and some live in surprisingly urban areas.
In the wild, iguanas spend most of their time in the tops of trees, usually near a body of water. Their strong, sharp claws help them anchor into the bark of trees, and their powerful limbs enable them to climb easily and fast. They come down to the ground occasionally, mostly to move between trees and to lay eggs.
Iguanas usually flee from danger and stay near water to avoid predators—when they feel threatened, they can jump from a tree branch into the water. Iguanas are good swimmers and can stay submerged underwater for quite some time. Doing so usually allows them to evade predators, but if all else fails, they use their tails as whips and can administer powerful, painful bites.
Is Your Home Right for a Green Iguana?
Iguanas require a great deal of care, so before you acquire one for yourself, make sure that you’re prepared for and capable of providing the care an iguana needs to live a long, healthy life. Take the following characteristics into consideration before bringing an iguana into your home.
- Size: The large size of an adult iguana makes it necessary for you to have room in your home for a very large enclosure. Even though baby iguanas are considerably smaller than full-grown ones, you must be ready to house a large lizard when you first acquire your pet.
- Teeth and claws: Angry or frightened iguanas can be dangerous. They have strong, sharp claws, sharp teeth, and powerful jaws. They also can use their tails as effective whips when threatened. This doesn’t mean that your iguana will ever harm you or anyone in your household. But, you should be aware of its defensive capabilities and have its claws trimmed regularly to be safe.
- Environment: Iguanas come from tropical parts of the world. They live mostly in rainforests and similar habitats and spend much of their time basking in sunlight. This means you must provide your iguana with a tropical environment within its enclosure, as well as access to natural sunlight (or a proper substitute). The heating and lighting your iguana requires are likely to cause your electric bill to rise significantly. Keep this in mind before deciding to purchase this animal.
- Life span: A well-cared-for iguana can live for at least 10 years, and life spans of more than 15 years are becoming more common as our understanding of iguana care improves. Before acquiring your iguana, be willing and able to make a commitment to keeping it for well over a decade.