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Iguana Facts: What a Newbie Should Know

If this is your first time caring for an iguana, it is probably best to familiarize yourself with the anatomy and basic behaviors of an iguana. If you educate yourself, it will be easier to know when there is a problem with your new reptile pet. Here are some basic facts about iguanas that you should know.

Iguanas require heat and ultraviolet light

Iguanas are reptiles and therefore need a constant supply of heat and ultraviolet rays to stay healthy. Iguanas will not be able to function in a habitat with a temperature below 79 degrees.

Ultraviolet rays are necessary for the iguana to metabolize calcium and other minerals. Without UV rays, your iguana will likely experience bone mineral disorders that often result in its death.

Behavioral characteristics of the iguana

Iguanas can appear threatened quite easily, and when you don’t observe their gestures and behavior closely enough, you can get bitten or hit by their huge tail. Unlike cats and dogs, iguanas don’t vocalize much before biting, so be careful especially if the iguana hasn’t been fully domesticated.

When you first bring your new pet home, don’t handle it too much or expose it to strangers. It will take a few weeks for him to gradually acclimate to his new surroundings. Once you are comfortable in your new environment, gradually begin to socialize and the bonding process will be much better.

The dewlap, or the large patch of skin under the iguana’s dewlap, is also used for communication. In the wild, an iguana may lift its head to extend its dewlap and signal a basic “Hello” to members of its own species.

An extended dewlap can also mean that you are trying to protect your territory from human owner or other iguanas. During mating season, an extended double chin can mean “desire to mate.” This only applies if there are female iguanas in the same enclosure and it is mating season.

If your iguana has been domesticated and is used to your presence, an extended dewlap may mean that it has a bit of a draft and is trying to feel warmer.

Iguana mannerisms

  • Head Bobbing: Am I the man of the house?
  • Head Bobbing: (to owner) “Hi, buddy!”
  • Head Bobbing: (fast, sideways then up and down) I’m threatened, stay away!
  • Moving the tongue: Simply exploring the air. Possibly eating something.
  • Moving my tongue: I’m about to take a bite of something.
  • Sneezing: I’m flushing my system of something.
  • Tail Whipping: I am planning to attack.
  • Squirming: I don’t like being held.
  • Head and Front Leg Stretch: I feel great and I feel good!

Anatomy of the iguana

Like other reptiles, your iguana has a pair of eyes that have evolved to scan the environment for food and potential predators. It has a pair of ears that are protected by a fairly wide skin element called the subtympanic shield.

The iguana also forms spines along its back; These flexible spines are called caudal spines, and as time passes, they increase in length and become harder. Iguanas also have a layer of skin under the lower jaw known as a dewlap.

Iguanas are herbivorous (they only eat plants), so they are equipped with small, but very sharp teeth, designed to tear apart fibrous plant matter. Be careful when bringing your hands to the iguana’s mouth, because those teeth can cause serious tears in the skin. If you look closely at the top of the iguana’s head, you’ll see a prominent, clear patch of scales.

This is called the parietal or third eye. The iguana uses its third eye to detect changes in light in a certain area. This primordial eye is believed to also be used to detect flying predators, so the iguana may run for cover before becoming another animal’s lunch or dinner.

Learning about iguana behavior and gestures is essential. The basic facts discussed in the article should help decipher your iguana’s mood. Don’t forget that no two iguanas are exactly alike, so you need to know the personality of your new pet as well. Ask questions and gather as much information as possible to make sure your iguana lives well cared for.

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