Common Green Iguana

Iguana iguana

Order: Squamata

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • Iguanas require a great deal of space. An adult can reach 5-6 feet in length and will need vertical space to allow for climbing. Exercise areas as well as outdoor areas to access natural light in the summer are recommended.

Diet Requirements

  • Common green iguanas are mostly herbivorous. In the wild, they eat plants including clover, berries, fruits, flower buds, and young leaves.
  • In captivity, they are fed an herbivorous salad.

Veterinary Concerns

  • Tail tip injuries and losses are common with this species.
  • Some animals rub their noses raw.

Notes on Enrichment & Training

  • Check out the Reptelligence Facebook page and Reptelligence website for enrichment and training inspiration.
  • Iguanas respond to high levels of enrichment and should be provided with a rotating schedule of enrichment.
  • Iguanas at the Philadelphia Zoo have been target trained, trained to voluntarily crate and to allow putting a harness on. It requires regular training sessions to maintain this behavior and can be broken down (as will most trained behaviors) if those working with the iguanas are not consistent.


Colony or Breeding Management

Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.

Individual Identification

Dimorphism or practiced ways to individually mark species (such as those in colonies, like giant millipedes).

Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines



Tips on Presentation

  • Green iguanas are large, colorful, and can be quite dramatic. They have good messaging and can be a crowd-pleaser, but they can also be a challenge for inexperienced handlers. An institution must commit to the regular handling and training (of both animal and staff) that is necessary to keep this species successfully in a program animal collection.

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling

  • Iguanas require frequent handling to be tractable enough for presentations. Many iguanas are available as rescue animals from the pet trade and great care should be taken to evaluate the animal prior to acquisition. Most iguanas from the pet trade have not received sufficient handling to be good program animals. While some may respond to handling after entering a program, it may take a great deal of time as well as some challenge to handlers from whipping tails and even lunging and biting. However, if tractable, iguanas are impressive and rewarding animals to work with in a program setting.
  • Depending on the individual, iguanas can be handled with a harness and leash or without any equipment. Because their personalities and handling history can be so variable, there is not a singe recommend way to handle and present them. They can be held, displayed on the ground, or displayed in a portable “tree.” They are excellent and fast climbers so it is not recommend to present them in or near an actual tree.
  • Iguanas have long claws that usually require clipping so it is recommended to condition the animal for foot handling and clipping from an early age.
  • Some institutions have had difficulty with male iguanas once they reach sexual maturity; at the Philadelphia Zoo, castration has helped address issues with seasonal aggression in adult male iguanas.

Potential Messaging

  • In general, animals seen at the zoo do not make good pets. Most have specialized dietary, veterinary, housing, and social needs that are difficult or impossible for even dedicated pet owners to meet. Always ensure that your future pet has not been taken from the wild. Capture of wild animals for the pet trade has significantly damaged the survival prospects of species such as sloths, tamanduas, and many parrots. Captured animals are typically mistreated by profit-motivated traffickers and dealers, resulting in many animal deaths; well-meaning animal lovers may feel like they are rescuing animals by purchasing them but are really perpetuating the cruelty. In addition, many exotic pets are released by their owners when they become too dangerous or demanding, often with devastating effects on local ecosystems. Animals that should never be kept as pets include all bats, primates, and exotic carnivores. Birds, fish, and reptiles have specialized needs, are frequently wild-caught, and damage the local environment if released; guests should be advised to educate themselves and proceed with caution. Domestic dogs and cats are almost always the best option! Many deserving animals are available for adoption at animal shelters.
  • One of the best ways for people to help the rainforest is to reduce their use of paper. Many rainforest trees are felled each year for paper that ends up in countries all over the world. Much of the tropical paper pulp products that end up in the United States come from South America, particularly the Amazon Rainforest. Please ask guests to go paperless in the office whenever possible, to print on both sides, to recycle any paper or cardboard they do use, and to purchase products made from recycled paper. At home, they can substitute re-usable cloth towels for disposable paper towels and cleaning wipes and purchase toilet paper made from recycled material rather than super-plush toilet paper which is made from old-growth forests.
  • One of the best ways for people to help the rainforest is to reduce their use of tropical woods. Many rainforest trees are felled each year for lumber, furniture, and other products that end up in countries all over the world. Much of tropical wood imported into the United States comes from South America, particularly the Amazon Rainforest. Flooring, musical instruments, picture frames and other products made of rosewood should be particularly avoided to slow deforestation on Madagascar and to avoid the extinction of endangered or vulnerable rosewood tree species from forests all around the equator. Ask guests to consider used or vintage furniture or new furniture made of wood that has been reclaimed from old structures. There are many alternatives to conventional lumber including flooring and other products made from fast-growing bamboo, and decking made of recycled plastic formed to look like wooden boards.

Acquisition Information


Comments from the Rating System

  • Maryland Zoo in Baltimore: Good if handled regularly and from a young age. Maximum growth is large.
  • Oakland Zoo: Undesirable temperament change at maturity
  • Pittsburgh Zoo: Caring for our green iguanas was fairly simple. Their personalities were unsuitable for program use. We showed them in their classroom “habitat” only.

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Common green iguanas live in Central and South America, and the southern parts of the Lesser Antilles and the Virgin Islands. They have been introduced in other areas, such as Florida, Hawaii, and many of the Caribbean islands. Preferred habitats are tropical and subtropical forests along the banks of rivers.

Physical Description

Although called green iguanas, these animals are actually variable in color. The adults become more uniform in color with age, but juveniles may appear blotchy or banded between green and brown. Color of an individual may also be based upon the mood, temperature, health, or social status of the animal. Color alteration may also aide these animals in thermoregulation: in the morning, when body temperature is low, skin color tends to be darker, which helps the animal absorb heat from sunlight. However, as the hot mid-day sun radiates upon them, these animals become lighter or paler, helping to reflect the sun’s rays and minimizing the heat absorbed. Keeping all of this in mind, males are generally a dull green color with an orange chest, females are a brighter green, and juveniles are the brightest green.
Both sexes as permanently visible dewlaps. They have a crest of large lanceolate spines extending from the neck to the base of the tail. These spines are soft and leathery. Females have smaller spines; tthe dorsal crest of the male can be up to 8 centimeters high.
Common green iguanas are built for an arboreal lifestyle: they have long, strong arms and legs, long toes with sharp claws, and a long tail that aides in balance. Counting the tail, these iguanas can reach 6 feet in length.

Life Cycle

Breeding usually occurs in the dry season to ensure that the young will hatch in the wet season when food is plentiful. Clutch sizes vary from 30 to 70 eggs, and the eggs incubate for 2 to 3 months. Young iguanas are 10 inches long when they hatch, but they can grow to be three feet long during their first year of life.
Depending on the care given, an iguana in captivity can live anywhere from 8 to 20 years.


Common green iguanas enjoy sunning themselves on branches as high as 20 meters off the ground. If frightened, a common green iguana will dive into the nearest body of water; they are good swimmers and can even dive below the surface of the water. If the iguana is in a tree when it is disturbed, then it will jump to the ground with a large crash. The tail can also be used as a sort of whip for defense. Visual defensive displays include displaying the dewlap under the head, puffing up the body, and elaborate head bobbing displays.
The spines and dewlap of the male iguana are features that attract females. If a male has battered and chewed spines, then he has a low position within the mating hierarchy.

Threats and Conservation Status

In general, iguanas are not considered an endangered species. However, because of their popularity in the pet trade and as a food source in Latin American countries, green iguanas are listed in CITES Appendix II.

Did you know…

  • Iguana meat is considered a delicacy by some. In Central and South America, they are farmed for food and called gallina de palo, or “chicken of the tree.”
  • Iguanas have a “third eye,” called a pineal gland, on the top of their heads. The pineal gland can differentiate between light and shadow, and secretes hormones to regulate the amount of time the iguana spends in the sun.
  • Iguanas are agile climbers, and can fall up to 40 feet without being injured. They can also run very quickly, despite their clumsy appearance.


Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.


Cover Image: By Christian Mehlführer, User:Chmehl (Own work) [CC-BY-2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Contributors and Citations

  • The Philadelphia Zoo
  • Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
  • Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters