Are you ready to take care of a domestic iguana? They may seem like one of the most fascinating companions out there with their quiet, intelligent, and majestic nature, but many potential iguana keepers don’t realize how demanding and difficult they can actually be compared to other reptiles, such as turtles, geckos, or bearded dragons.

Unintentional ignorance could spell disaster for your scaly companion! So, before deciding on whether or not to welcome one into your home, here are five things you should know about them.

They grow really big

Iguanas get huge fast and need a ton of space, so don’t expect that lizard to stay five inches for long. A well taken care of iguana can reach up to four to six feet in length and can live for up to eight to twenty years, so committing to one is an incredible responsibility. As a rule of thumb, the enclosure should at least be twice the size of the iguana with the tail included.

Keep things toasty

Just like other cold-blooded animals, iguanas count on outside sources to regulate their body temperature. In the wild, they depend on the sun to provide the heat their body needs to properly function. However, captive iguanas don’t always have that opportunity, so it will be your responsibility to provide alternatives, such as a basking bulb on top of the enclosure.

Provide both a warm area, with temperatures ranging from 35 to 37 degrees Centigrade, and a cool area of 23 to 27 degrees within the enclosure. Use heat bulbs or bring them outside during the day, but under strict supervision at all times as they can easily escape while outdoors. Avoid using heating rocks as much as possible as they are notoriously known to cause burns.

Humidity ensures happiness

Iguanas need a very humid enclosure because it helps them shed old skin and stay hydrated at the same time. In the wild, the common Iguana iguanas is found in tropical climates where humidity reaches around 40 to 50 percent on a dry day and around 60 to 80 percent on a wet day. As a potential keeper, mimic such conditions as much as possible.

Ideally humidity levels should be around 70 to 80 percent and can be promoted by regularly misting the space with water, installing automatic misters or foggers, or providing a large water bowl within the enclosure.

Veggies, please

In a technical sense, iguanas are omnivores as they have been seen eating insects and worms. However, it is highly encouraged to keep them strictly vegetarian as too much protein isn’t really necessary.

Their food is generally low-cost but perishes quite fast. A good diet consists of dark leafy greens, such as water spinach (kangkong), mustard leaves (mustasa), kale, and collard greens, with the occasional bell pepper, okra, spinach, hibiscus flower, green beans, etc.

It’s always good to mix up their daily salad once in a while, not only to provide a variety of flavors but also to give them a wider array of vitamins and minerals.

They can be dangerous

If you want to become lifelong best friends with your scaly companion, it’s important to get to know them. Some may call it taming but it’s more of them adjusting and tolerating their new environment.

Once you share your home with an iguana, you’ll need to regularly and religiously interact with them without stressing them too much (don’t aggressively grab them or, worse, yank their tails).

Challenge accepted

Each keeper has their own preferred method of acclimation, but what’s important is to just get the job done. If you want to them to crawl around the house, stay on your shoulder or just not bite your hand off, it’s best to slowly have them get used to you.

This process can take months or even years, so it’s important to be very patient. At the same time, it’s best to have them tolerate you as soon as possible because once they get old enough, they can become extremely dangerous and aggressive if not socialized. Adults are capable of giving bites so deep that will need multiple stitches, so be extremely careful when handling larger, unfamiliar iguanas.

Becoming besties with your iggies

Iguanas can be a handful to take care of and you’re going to do a ton of research, have a lot of commitment, and buy expensive items. However, all that can be extremely worth it. Iguanas are fantastic companions to keep for the right person! Sure, they don’t really move much and just stare at you from time to time, but that’s the beauty of having a reptile companion; that’s their unique charm.

They aren’t cuddly, but they are quite fascinating to observe and take care of. Seeing them grow healthy and happy is a reward in itself and if handled with tender love and care, they can transform from a skittish scardey-cat into a loyal lifelong best friend.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s October 2018 issue