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Reptiles/Keeping of an Iguana


I have some questions for you concerning the habitat of iguanas. I am considering owning an iguana but would like some advice. First I plan on building my own cage. Can you tell me what kind of material is best? I have seen sites used wood, PVC, mesh, and plexiglass glass. I was considering using wood and mesh. Also I understand that iguanas need moisture or humidity. Would it be smart to build a cage where it can hold water on the bottom or part of the bottom? Or will spritzing and regular bathing be okay? I also would like to know what kind of trees or branches I could put in there for the iguana to satisfy its need to climb. I have been researching but have not found anything solid. I understand iguanas are intelligent so yet another question I have is; are there ways I can make him work for the food. Best example to portray what I am asking is like when zoo keepers hide things for gorillas and it order for them to eat is figure out the puzzle or find the food. I just want to make sure that if I do decide to purchase an iguana he gets god exercise of not only body but mind. If there is anything else you can advise me about before making a purchase, I would be very grateful. Thank you for you help and time.

Hi Shannon,
It is great you are asking questions prior to getting an iguana!!  I am going to include a basic care sheet that I wrote to help people out with caring for an iguana. in it are links to even more info.  Lots of links within the links to iguana habitats also...
Personally, I prefer enclosed habitats... ones that don't have mesh sides.  You loose too much heat and humidity with the mesh habitats.  For the southern states, mesh can work fine due to the more humid states but...even there, when air conditioning is used, the mesh habitats can present a problem.
My habitats are all wood frame with waterproof drywall that is painted.  The fronts of two of them are old patio doors which work wonderfully!!  The 3rd cage has 2 interior doors with plexi inserts in them.  It is very important to have venting for air vent up near the top and one near the bottom, opposite sides/ends.
I use warm mist humidifiers in my habitats..I have small "cages" built around the humidifiers so the igs cannot knock them over or get on them.  I have the humidifiers on timers that can be set for 15 to 30 minute increments and have them run a few or several times a day, depending on the time of year.  
having a large pool in the bottom can be a bad thing as they will use it as their bathroom.  Can get very hard to clean daily.   Misting and bathing..I don't have to mist, but I do bathe mine daily or every other day as they potty in the tub when bathed.
I use the open wore closet shelving for ramps and shelves in my habitats..easy to clean and gives them good footing for climbing.  I also hang the "lipped" shelving on the walls so they climb up it and also use knotted sisal rope that is hung for them to climb. If you choose to use a branch for climbing, then it needs to be something that has been cleaned well....not easy to do when you have a 4-5 ft branch!!!  You don't want a branch that "sheds".  Using one that is sand blasted works well..something such as a fruit wood or maple. You will have to wrap some sisal rope around it so the ig can grip it most likely.
Many igs are just content to lay and bask all day long, moving from the hot area to a cooler area to their food dish..but some are much more active.. I have 3 and each has a different level of activity, from couch potato to using every inch of his cage daily.
I know that many people have taught their iguanas to sit up for treats, such as fruits. I'm sure that if you have patience and a willing iguana they can be taught other methods, although they are not the most patient of reptiles!!   Generally, if they can't see their food, they don't go looking for it. Of course if they happen to smell it, they might go in that direction.
You might want to consider rescuing/adopting an iguana needing a forever home.
Hopefully I've been able to answer your questions!!


Iguanas have many, many special care needs..when those needs are not met, iguanas will suffer in many ways...which can include metabolic bone disease, no growth,kidney and liver disease....and death...its important to give an iguana all the recommended care to help them thrive in captivity....below is the basic care an iguana needs...anything less and they will not do well in captivity.. If their care is not right...they will not be active or eat..PLEASE read the entire care sheet...and print it out if needed...also be sure to read the enclosed links I listed at the bottom.....

Don't let the pet store tell you that an ig will only grow as big as the cage it is in!!! That's NOT true!!! Don't waste your money on a 10 gallon tank...that's big enough to bring them home in, but that's about it. To give you an idea how fast they grow, an iguana will outgrow a 75 gallon tank within the first year. Start with nothing smaller than a 55 gallon tank,but, since iguanas are arboreal, a tank does not offer the height an iguana needs.That's a very good reason to start with a cage that is bigger.The size that is required for an adult iguana is 6-7 feet high, at least 6-7 feet wide and no less than 3 feet deep.Its important to remember air circulation and also that you have to keep the humidity up. Also, that you have to be able to provide the lighting and heating from the top, so a screen or mesh top is needed, or a solid top with holes cut out and covered with screen for the lights to shine through.(the screen covering the opening prevents the ig from being able to touch the heat source) If not, you will harm your ig health wise.


Supplying uvb can be done in a few ways. By special lights that come in fluorescent tubes or special screw in bulbs (mercury vapor)that are designed to produce uvb and heat. The tubes do not produce heat. UVB is needed by the Iguanas to be able to absorb the calcium in the foods they eat. With out the uvb, they will develop metabolic bone disease. There are tubes that say ''full spectrum'' but they do not produce any uvb.
With the correct tubes, they must say that they produce BOTH uvb and uva. The uvb needs to be 5% or higher. Repti Sun 10.0 and the Repti Glo 8.0's are a great source for uvb. The old "favorites" are the repti sun 5.0 or the Iguana light..which are the same tube, just different package. These need to be positioned 6-8 inches over the iguana for the 5% and 8% and 8-10 inches for the 10% so that they get the uvb that is needed.  The tubes need to be replaced every 6-9 months as that they stop producing UVB long before they stop producing light.Using a fixture that holds two uvb tubes of at least 3 feet in length will provide adequate uvb for your iguana. On the mercury vapor , they also produce heat. They also produce the uvb and uva. The best on the market now are the Mega Rays.( The distance from these are greater than the uvb tubes and the directions must be followed that are listed for the light. When using the mercury vapor lights, you don't need to have one light for uvb and one for heat. The Mercury vapor lights provide both.

For daytime heat, if using the tube uvb, regular household incandescent light bulbs produce heat. I like the halogen bulbs as they produce a nice bright light for your ig. The wattage will depend on the size of your iguanas enclosure. and the room temperature.Of course, the best uvb is from the sun and if you are in an area that you are able to take your iguana outside in a proper enclosure, (Never a tank or enclosed, solid cage)


Igs MUST HAVE a basking light...they digest their food by the heat.

This light/heat can be provided by a regular halogen bulb or lights that are sold as basking lights. Depending on the size of the cage, you may need anywhere from a 60 watt to a 100 watt bulb. If you use a mercury vapor bulb for the uvb, that also provides heat, but it still may be necessary to use another light/heat source to maintain proper temperatures throughout the cage.

The basking area temps must be maintained at about 92 to 96 gradient higher...they NEED the heat to digest their food!! If the temperatures are too low, digestion is slowed, too high and the food digests too fast and nutrition is not utilized as it should be.

This, again, is for 12 hours of daylight (the same time your UVB lights are on).You can place this bulb in a silver dome fixture(be sure it has the ceramic socket) and it MUST be placed so that your ig cannot climb on it..or touch it. On top of your screen cage is safe but..if your ig likes to hang from the top of the will have to raise it up some how to prevent burns. Remember..if you must move it, monitor the temps again!!!!!!

This cannot be stressed enough. In order to maintain those temps,it is VERY important to use thermometers. Using a GOOD digital is a necessity!!

A THERMOMETER IS A MUST!! It needs to be at the igs level....where he lays in the basking area to see what the temp is there...if your thermometer is NOT where he lays,you will get an improper reading for his basking area and you will burn your ig (watch for panting or mouth gaping open - signs of overheating)or the temperatures in the basking area will not be in the correct range. The best are the digital ones that have the probe. Some also give the humidity reading along with the temperature in two different areas.

You will need a basking shelf or branch. The placement of this depends on what height you need to maintain the temps mentioned above and keep your iguana within the recommended distance of the uvb source. Be sure to make it at least twice the width of the ig. Keep in mind the distance the UVB light needs to be from the ig also. This is almost the hardest area of the cage to get requires a lot of monitoring of the temps until YOU ARE SURE they are correct.

Keep a shallow dish of fresh water for your ig at all times.

Some igs will 'poo' in their water dishes, so you may have to change it more than once/day. Providing a 2nd water source, such as some type of low pan for a small ig, or a cat litter box(filled with water) for an adult ig is a good idea.Keep water shallow enough that your ig can touch the bottom freely, as too many younger igs have been known to actually drown!

Igs do need to have humidity. They are mostly of the Tropical Rain Forest.
This means you need a humidity gage.   50% is the minimum... I wouldn't go above 70-75%, although most of us can't get that high...that's why misting your ig several times a day helps. You can use humidifiers or vaporizers can be necessary to get a humidity level that is needed. Also, what I have found that works best for me at least is to have my igs humidifiers(warm mist) on timers.  The timers are about $6-7 each and you can set them in 1/2 hour incruments.  I have mine set to run for 1/2 hour every few hours during the day. This seems to work well.

Basically, temperatures in the entire cage need to be varied, sort of like in "zones". The basking area (branch or shelf nearest the heat source) has already been covered.

You need to have a gradient temp in the area of 75-96. Sound confusing? Basically, you need the "basking" area, a middle temp area and a cool area. Basking area..92-96.....mid range gradient temp..88-92 (Ambient)and cool side 75-84.Igs cannot regulate their body temps. They rely on the sun (natural or by way of light bulb) and the shade (cooler area of the cage) to do that.
NIGHT..... LIGHTS OUT!!!!!! At night, if the temperatures drop below 75-80 degrees(depending on the iguana age)you need to provide a heat source in the form of a ceramic heat emitter(which can also be used during the day) or a special nighttime bulb(red or deep purple) that does not produce any bright white light.Some iguanas do not like the colored lights and do try to hide from them. Its up to you to see this and switch to a ceramic heat emitter to prevent your iguana stressing.
Iguana Iguanas are herbivores.... They DO NOT need animal protein, they cannot digest it... it will KILL them!! (Kidney disease)
Basically, the diet needs to consist of Collard Greens, mustard greens, turnip greens,dandelion greens,escarole, endive, chicory, arugula,(torn in pieces smaller than their head) winter squash (butternut or acorn squash), parsnips (grated or shredded) all placed in a shallow dish. (This is not a complete foods list, but is a good start.)
There are 'good' foods and foods for treats (those used only once in awhile). Fruits are be given a few times a week. (This doesn't mean that you cannot give your ig a piece of fruit every small piece a day is fine.) Again,I cannot stress enough the importance of diet. NO COMMERCIAL prepared ig bugs, worms, tuna, chicken, monkey biscuits,dog or cat foods, eggs, cottage cheese... NO animal protein!!!!!


This is what you use on the floor of your igs enclosure.

DO NOT USE anything that is bark, litter, loose substrates!!...Many are toxic and more so, your ig will ingest these items and it will KILL them. You can use paper bags, newspaper, paper towels, no pile carpeting or towels(wash first,and be sure there are no loose strings )

HEAT ROCKS KILL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!they can overheat, they cause burns (igs cannot feel the heat) they will KILL... if you have one and you ig loves it.cut off the cord and place it on his basking shelf and it will absorb the heat of the basking light. Never use heat rocks or heated caves!!!!

This list is by no means complete!!!! Below are listed some very good informational sites.They will be with us for 15-20 plus years with proper care and a little luck. Providing them with the proper needs will help them live a long, healthy, and happy life. Remember, we are the ones that pulled them out of the natural's our job to give them as close to a natural habitat as possible. (contains some outdated information on uvb) a yahoo group dedicated to raising baby iguanas

Find a Vet before you need one!!! Reptiles need Vets trained to treat find one in your area:

The information contained in the care sheet was originally written by me for use at the iguanaden website(2003) and also in the book"The Iguana Den's Care and Keeping of Giant Green Iguanas"(2005)

If you have any  questions, or don't understand something please let me know  


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I am well versed in all aspects of the care and keeping of green iguanas, leopard geckos and bearded dragons. This includes all husbandry issues pertaining to the above species. I am not a vet so I cannot answer medical questions. I research other reptiles and am able to give general information on other species of lizards. I prefer not to answer snake questions as that I have not researched them enough.


I own 3 green iguanas, two of which are rescues. I own two leopard geckos, both rescues. I've had my reptiles for 11 years. I spend many hours researching the care of my reptiles to keep up to date on all information pertaining to keeping reptiles that I have. I own a yahoo group dedicated to raising healthy iguanas.

Scales and Tails Exotic Pet Rescue (one of the founding members)

One of the Co Authors of the Book "The Iguana Dens Care and Keeping of Giant Green Iguanas"

I was a Vet Tech for 6 years. Research, experience and learning from the experience of others that have raised reptiles for many years.

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