Green Iguana Care Sheet (By Vet Technician)

Green Iguana Care Sheet

Green iguanas are large green lizards that are found throughout Central America.  These unique reptiles are also kept as pets. Green iguanas look like modern-day dinosaurs with their bright scales and spiny backs. Though these pets might seem intimidating to care for, they can thrive in captivity with experienced owners.

I’ve never been fortunate enough to own a green iguana myself, but have cared for a rescued individual through my work as a veterinary technician. This green iguana was so fun to observe and prepare food for, and it liked to climb up onto high perches in its enclosure.

Unfortunately, our temporary housing was never big enough for the iguana and we were all happy when it was adopted into a home. So, working with this iguana made me realize how much space these reptiles need.

If you’re looking to adopt an iguana or just want to learn more about them, keep reading this care sheet to get all the details you need!

Green Iguana History and Facts

Green iguanas are found in the wild in a variety of locations. Their native habitat ranges from Southern Mexico all the way down to Brazil. Despite this, iguanas have also been introduced into areas like Thailand, Hawaii, and the Cayman Islands. The island of Anguilla became inhabited by these lizards after a hurricane washed them ashore!

Green iguanas went through a time when they became rare in some parts of South America. Iguanas were hunted for their meat and called “chicken of the trees”.

In the 1960s some countries took measures to protect the population of iguanas present. Now, iguana populations seem to have recovered well.  In fact, in many areas iguanas are considered to be invasive pests.

Now, green iguanas are commonly kept as pets by reptile lovers.  Green iguanas are the most traded reptile globally and accounted for almost 50% of the U.S. exotic pet trade for almost 20 years.  Sadly, many of these iguanas aren’t well cared for and only survive in their new homes for a few years.

Green Iguana Lifespan

Different species of iguanas have vastly different lifespans. One rhino iguana living in captivity reached the ripe age of 40 years before passing away.

Green iguanas don’t live quite so long and on average might live somewhere around 20 years. Sadly, it seems like their lifespans in captivity might be even shorter than that.

How Big Do Green Iguanas Get?

Green iguanas are one of the largest species of pet lizards.

From head to tail, adult green iguanas can be 4 to 6 feet long.  Male green iguanas are larger than females and can weigh up to 9 pounds while females will usually weigh anywhere from 3 to 6 pounds.

Green iguanas have long powerful legs and even longer tails.  Not only are green iguanas big but they need plenty of space to run and jump around.  If you want to adopt a green iguana, its large size should be a consideration.

Green Iguana Appearance and Anatomy

Though many of the green iguanas we see in captivity are bright green, they occur naturally in a wide range of colors.  I guanas can be yellow, blue, lavender, black, reddish brown, and orange!

Green iguanas are well known for the dark bands marking their tails.  Green iguanas have spines running along the lengths of their backs that not only look cool but also help to protect them from predators.

Green iguanas have many adaptations to survive in the harsh warm jungles they originated from. The tail of a green iguana is whip-like and can stun and injure prey and predators alike. These lizards have long nails and sharp serrated teeth and can deliver a rough bite.

Iguanas have good vision and can see at long distances during the day. In addition to their two eyeballs, iguanas also have a sensory organ called the parietal eye.  While many lizards have lost this special sense, iguanas have maintained it. This primitive eye helps the iguana to detect changes in light and dark ad can help them detect predators lurking above.

Green iguanas have a recognizable dewlap underneath their chins. This piece of skin helps them to cool off when it’s too hot outside and also helps them communicate and ward off predators.

Health Concerns With Green Iguanas

It’s only natural that different types of pets are prone to different injuries and illnesses. While boxers might be more likely to get tumors than other dogs, green iguanas are at risk of getting metabolic bone disease, mouth rot, and intestinal parasites.

For the most part, these diseases can be avoided with proper husbandry and care.  If you suspect that your green iguana isn’t feeling good, it’s a great idea to take them to a veterinarian.

These lizards don’t do well in captivity and should be treated with the most caution.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic bone disease (MBD) is the most common medical issue seen in green iguanas.  Metabolic bone disease is a symptom of a lack of vitamin D or a lack of UVB rays.  Since green iguanas are diurnal, they need UVB to synthesize vitamin D.

MBD causes swelling and softening of the jaws and limbs.  In the worst cases, MBD can cause bones to weaken so much that multiple green stick fractures can be observed on x-rays.

Mouth Rot

Mouth rot is also called infectious stomatitis and is caused by a bacterial infection. This particular infection attacks the mouth of the iguana and causes swelling, hemorrhaging, and softening of the jaw bone.

Mucous can also be overproduced in the mouth and can continue to cause respiratory issues. Mouth rot needs to be treated with antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian.

Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal parasites are something most animals are prone to. Pinworms and roundworms are especially common in green iguanas and may present no symptoms.

The eggs of these parasites can be observed in a fecal examination and treated by a veterinarian. Reptile mites are external parasites that can also plague green iguanas despite their strong, tough, skin.

Luckily, both internal and external parasites are easily treated by the administration of an antiparasitic.  Just make sure you keep your iguana away from other reptiles in the house if they are carrying something!

Green Iguana Behavior and Temperament

Despite their reputation as solo animals in captivity, green iguanas are incredibly social. During mating season, you can find green iguanas gathered close by to each other. Males will claim small areas of territory where groups of females will flock.

Interestingly, iguanas usually pick large dead trees to claim their territory. They’ll climb the tree and roam the branches to stake their claim. During mating season, females will fight within their respective groups to have full access to the male in that territory.

Both in the wild and in captivity green iguanas communicate by bobbing their heads and displaying their large dewlaps.  If your pet iguana does this, it’s likely a sign that they’re feeling threatened and you should proceed with caution.

It’s hard to give a general statement about the temperament of green iguanas. Some individuals of this species can be aggressive and easily stressed out. Others might feel incredibly relaxed with their owners and enjoy handling them.

While green iguanas aren’t easy to handle, they’re certainly smart and will soon learn that you don’t mean them any harm. Iguanas that are aggressive might be reacting to poor husbandry or handling.

In the video below you can see just how cuddly iguanas can be and why they’re such popular pets!

Green Iguana Housing and Habitat

Green iguanas aren’t easy animals to keep from a husbandry standpoint.  Not only are these lizards super-sized, but they need a tropical environment to thrive.  Larger spaces are more difficult to keep thermoregulated and so if you live in a cold climate, keeping a green iguana happy and healthy will be a challenge.

But, don’t worry, in this section, we’ll go over all the important details you’ll need to be a good iguana parent and to complete our green iguana care sheet.

Natural Habitat

In the wild green iguanas are diurnal and arboreal.  This means that like many other tree-climbing reptiles, green iguanas need vertical space.  Green iguanas are such natural climbers that they can survive 50-foot falls without sustaining any injuries.

Not only are iguanas good climbers but they can also swim well and are often found around bodies of water.  While swimming, iguanas stay submerged and use their tails instead of their legs to people themselves forward.

Since green iguanas are diurnal, they’re active during the day and can be observed eating, basking, and hunting all while the sun’s up.  Like other reptiles that are awake and active during the day, they can be incredibly entertaining pets.  However, this has implications for how you’ll need to care for them in captivity.

Housing and Tank

The tank is probably the most complicated aspect of caring for a green iguana.  As juveniles, iguanas don’t need a ton of space.  But, once they’re adults, iguanas will need a minimum enclosure size of 12 feet long by 8 feet tall, and that’s barely cutting it.

In order to thrive, iguanas need plenty of space to roam and if you’re planning on keeping them in a smaller enclosure, make sure you give them time outside of their cage every day.

The ideal material for an iguanas tank is plexiglass or glass.  You’ll want the material to be escape-proof while also providing ventilation.  In a perfect world, iguana enclosures provide enough room to walk and climb.

If you live in a tropical climate, you may be able to build housing for your green iguana outdoors.  The pros of outdoor housing are that your iguana has more room, fresher air, and gets direct sunlight.  The cons are the possibility of escape, attack, and the variation in weather.

Regardless of where you keep your green iguana, your housing will have to include climbing and hiding spaces.  Add branches o your iguana’s enclosure so that they can climb all around.  Make sure they have huts and foliage to hide behind so they don’t feel too exposed and can rest when desired.

Substrate

The best substrate for a green iguana cage is one that is simple and easy to clean.  Barks and wood chips aren’t recommended for green iguanas because they’re difficult to clean and may hold too much moisture.  Ideally, brown paper can be used to line the bottom of an enclosure.

When soiled, the paper can just be removed and replaced,  The paper should be inexpensive and accessible.

Heat

Like all reptiles, green iguanas are cold-blooded.  That means that they need external sources of heat to stay warm and cozy.

Since green iguanas are diurnal, you’ll need to provide them with much of this heat during the day.  The overall temperature of a green iguanas enclosure should fall between 70F and 85F.  The temperature should stay within this range during the day and night.

In addition to this normal temperature, you’ll also need to provide a basking area for your green iguana.  The basking area can be up to 110F.

To achieve this heat gradient, you’ll need plenty of heat lamps.  For smaller iguanas, you might only need one or two lamps but for adults, you could end up using up to 6 heat lamps for a large enclosure!

Light

We already discussed how important UVB rays are for iguanas.  Green iguanas that don’t have access to UVB rays will have issues like MBD.  You need to provide a full spectrum UVA/UVB light for your iguana.

Since iguanas are tropical, you can leave this light on for 12 – 16 hours per day.  Though it might be tempting to get an infrared heat lamp to use in the evening, we don’t recommend it.

Red lamps at night can be disruptive to pets’ circadian rhythms.  Think of how difficult it would be for you to sleep if there was a red light on all night.  Instead of an infrared heat lamp, you can just use ceramic lamps to provide additional heat at night without lighting the enclosure at all.

Humidity

Since green iguanas are naturally tropical species, they need humidity to match.

In general, you’ll want the relative humidity in your iguana’s enclosure to fall somewhere between 65% and 80%.  If you live in a dry arid climate, keeping the humidity this high can be difficult.

You can check the humidity levels with a few strategically placed hygrometers.  Automated misters can help to regulate humidity and adding live plants to your iguana’s tank will also help retain water.  For more ideas on how to keep humidity high, read our article here.  

What Do Green Iguanas Eat?

In the wild, green iguanas are primarily herbivorous.  As the vegetarians of the reptile world, green iguanas are one of the few pets that you won’t have to feed live food to.

In the wild green iguana eat a variety of plant leaves, flowers, and fruits.  Occasionally, iguanas can be observed eating a random bug or snail, whether on purpose or on accident,

In captivity, green iguanas need to be fed a specific portion of plants in order to thrive.  These ratios will help to give your iguana the essential vitamins and minerals they need to thrive.

Green iguanas need a diet made up of dark leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and flowers.  Leafy greens should make up about 50% of an iguana’s diet.  Leafy greens include plants like kale, collard greens, and mustard greens.

Dark vegetables can make up another 30% to 40% of an iguana’s diet. Vegetables like squash, broccoli, and carrots are packed with beneficial vitamins and minerals for your pet lizard.

The last 20-10% of your iguana’s plate will be filled in with fresh fruits. In some cases, you can supplement your iguana’s fresh diet with some commercial pellets.  This will help ensure that your iguana is getting everything they need!

In addition to fresh raw produce, green iguanas need fresh water to drink and bathe in.  Your iguana’s water dish should be heavy enough that it won’t tip over when your pet climbs into it.  Since iguanas like to get into their water dishes, you’ll have to change their water daily and clean their dish at least once a week, if not more often.

How Much Do Green Iguanas Eat?

Since iguanas are herbivores, its hard to overfeed them.  Juvenile iguanas need to be fed once a day and adult iguanas can be fed every day or every other day.  You should offer your iguana a small plate of fresh food.

It’s a good idea to chop up the fruits and veggies for your pet since what you’re offering them isn’t always something they would find in the wild.

Like in the video below, iguanas eat a lot so don’t be afraid to pile their plates high and see how much they really want to eat in a day!

Supplements

Since green iguanas are prone to MBD it’s not a bad idea to add supplements to their food. Calcium powder can be purchased at your local pet store.  You can sprinkle calcium power on top of meals just like a garnish.

So, How Difficult Is It to Keep Green Iguanas?

Green iguanas are not easy to keep.

Many individuals only live a few years in captivity when they should be living closer to 20 years.  Green iguanas are large and need huge enclosures.  If you live in the right area, you may be able o house your pet outside.

If not, you’ll have to dedicate a ton of indoor space to this pet. Green iguanas need fresh produce daily and poop often. Green iguanas are smart and can easily escape enclosures if they’re not stimulated.

Because of all of these reasons, green iguanas aren’t good pets for beginners.  Only intermediate to advanced keepers should even consider adopting one of these giant lizards.

How Much Do Green Iguanas Cost?

Standard green iguanas aren’t expensive. Iguanas that are 2 -3 feet in length may cost around $150.00 while adults from 4 – 6 feet in length would cost around $250.

Special morphs and individuals with albinism can cost more, edging closer and closer to the $1000 price tag.  Sadly, this trade is not very different from fast fashion. Green iguanas are sold quickly and are easily replaced.

The cost of a green iguana doesn’t stop at the purchase price.  Green iguanas need fresh produce every day of their lives. They also need plenty of heat and light and will definitely raise your electricity bill. If you have a green iguana, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll need to visit the vet regularly and pay those bills.

If at all possible, I recommend adopting one of these lizards from a reptile rescue.  Adopted individuals are usually older and harder.  They usually come with an affordable adoption fee and of course, they’re looking for a new home!

Frequently Asked Questions

Our green iguana care sheet has covered most of the iguana basics.  Here are some more specific answers to frequently asked questions.

How to Take Care of a Green Iguana

Green iguanas need a large enclosure that stays warm and humid all day long.  Green iguanas also need a plate of dark leafy greens, vegetables, and fruit nearly every day.

These lizards are prone to MBC and will need access to the sun or strong UVB rays during the daytime.  Some iguanas might like and crave handling and can end up being needy pets.

Overall, the best way to care for your iguana is to follow our recommendation above and take your new pet to the veterinarian ASAP!

What Level of Care Is a Green Iguana?

Green iguanas are at intermediate to expert levels of care. While videos portray these animals as being sweet and cuddly, a lot of work can go into taming them,  Plus, the constant feeding and cleaning are time-consuming but very necessary.

Do Iguanas Need a Heat Lamp at Night?

Unless you live in an extremely warm climate, green iguanas need supplemental heat at night. An iguana’s tank should never fall below 70F so heat lamps overnight are a must!

What Do Iguanas Like to Play With?

The most enriching activities for your iguana are probably ones that they would instinctively do in the wild.  Climbing is fun for iguanas and a great toy for them can be a new branch or level in their enclosure.

You can try adding shelves or fabric for your pet to climb up and onto.  In addition to climbing, iguanas love to swim.  Try setting up a kiddie pool for your iguana in an enclosed area.  They might love it and start to play in the pool.

Closing Thoughts

This care sheet will help you not only provide your pet with excellent care but also decide if you’re really ready for an iguana or not.  These reptiles are a big commitment and require expert levels of care.

Hopefully, you found all of the information you were looking for in this green iguana care sheet, or you can check our other care sheets for animals like the red-tailed boa, various tortoises, turtles, and more!