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Selecting An Iguana

Things to Consider Before Buying an Iguana: The single most important factor in keeping a healthy iguana is to start off by selecting a healthy iguana from the beginning. The first step is to select a healthy well established juvenile that appears to be outgoing, alert and active. Their bellies and tail base should be well rounded and their bodies should be free of lumps, bumps, scrapes and scratches. Always check their vent for a build up of dried fecal matter and look for any swelling in the limbs. Their eyes should be well rounded and they should move about in the cage flicking their tongues. A healthy young iguana will be curious about its surrounding and will not be lying on the floor of its enclosure.

Natural History

The green (or common) iguana (Iguana iguana) is an arboreal (tree-living) and diurnal (daylight-active) lizard usually found at elevations below 3000 feet in tropical and subtropical regions from northern Mexico to central South America. It is most often found in the vicinity of rivers and streams. Iguanas have short, powerful limbs equipped with strong, sharp claws (for climbing and digging), and a long, strong tail. They can reach lengths of 6-6 ½ feet. A large flap of skin (the dewlap) hangs from the throat and helps regulate body temperature. Iguanas also have a prominent crest of soft spines (longer in Males) along the midline of the neck and back, beginning at the base of the skull. Male iguanas tend to be larger and have brighter overall coloration than females. The distinct color of males is especially pronounced during the breeding season.

Male and Female Iguanas

Males tend to have larger heads than females, in part because of swollen jowls. Both sexes have 12-13 prominent pores arranged in a row on the underside of both thighs. These glandular structures secrete a waxy substance with which iguanas mark their territory and identify each other. As the males mature, their "femoral pores" develop slight outward projections. This developmental modification probably enables the male to better grasp the female during copulation. An iguana's skin is entirely covered with very tiny scales. Iguanas cannot change their coloring (as chameleons do), but certain areas of their skin can become darker when exposed to direct sunlight. Young iguanas are pale blue-green with dark-ringed tails. They mature to a lighter, more earthy color, usually with dark vertical bars on the body and tail. Vision, hearing and the sense of smell are acute. In their natural environment, iguanas tend to be very wary, hiding or fleeing at any sign of danger. Iguanas are somewhat clumsy but accomplished tree climbers. They tend to bask by day on tree branches, often over water. When frightened or threatened, they usually drop (sometimes from great heights) into the water below. Being excellent swimmers, they quickly make their way to protective cover by pressing their front limbs along their sides and swishing their powerful tails from side to side. Iguanas can also safely land on the ground and run to protective cover after jumping from substantial heights. When threatened or cornered, iguanas can defend themselves with astonishingly quick, whip-like lashes of their tails and with their claws and jaws.


Iguanas mate in January or February. After a pregnancy of about 2 months, the female digs in moist sand or soil, usually near the base of a tree, and deposits 25-45 eggs. The hatchlings, measuring 25-30 centimeters long, emerge in about 2 weeks. They grow 15-24 centimeters a year and attain sexual maturity in about 3 years. An interesting, but unfortunate, fact is that the iguana is widely hunted throughout its range for its tender white flesh and for its alleged aphrodisiac properties. Central American natives refer to the green iguana as "bamboo chicken". Because it is timid and relatively slow, it is easily captured. Its eggs are also collected and eaten by local hunters.