You’ve heard and read many times that taking care of an iguana is no easy task. Why is this? The main difficulty is that these animals, being cold-blooded, require an environment with a certain temperature, humidity, light radiation, and light to carry out basic actions such as digesting food, metabolizing minerals, maintaining their body temperature, having the ability to reproduce, etc. Iguana terrariums generally differ greatly from their natural environment and therefore require a significant effort and investment of time and money to imitate this environment as best as possible. If you fail to provide a suitable environment, your iguana will suffer, become ill, and may even die. This is why it is so important that you understand its needs before you create its habitat.
You should know that an adult iguana can be up to 4 ft long and therefore requires a terrarium according to its size. Ideally, the iguana’s terrarium should be twice as big as the iguana’s and should be tall, as green iguanas are arboreal and like to climb. Keep in mind that in one year a young iguana will need a tank of more than 80 gallons. This large habitat is necessary so that the animal has enough space to exercise unless you let it roam in a room that maintains the right environmental conditions. It is not true what they say that if the habitat is small the iguana will stop growing.
The ideal temperature should be between 89 and 95ºF in the hottest area and 80ºF in the coldest. As heat sources, you can use ceramic lamps (if you need a higher voltage) or incandescent lamps. Buy some good thermometers to place in different places in the enclosure, so you can be sure that the voltage you chose is the right one. This depends on the size of the terrarium, the outside temperature, and the ventilation.
The iguanas need a day/night cycle of approximately 12/12 hours. This is important for them to rest, otherwise, they get stressed and can become sick or more aggressive. Remember that the iguana terrarium environment must be kept heated at night and you cannot use incandescent lights. Ceramic lamps are ideal for the night, as they provide warmth rather than light. You can place different lamps that turn on and off according to the light needed or leave a low-voltage ceramic one on all the time and only turn the incandescent ones on and off. If you can, install a dimmer that does this automatically and you won’t have to remember it.
All lamps should be well protected with wire to avoid burns if the iguana climbs on them. Ceramic lamps get very hot and need proper support to avoid the risk of fire. Make sure you also make the electrical installation with wires that can withstand high voltage. Stones are not suitable for iguanas because they can cause serious burns.
Iguanas also need a source of UVA radiation, which stimulates natural behavior and gives a feeling of well-being, and UVB radiation, which is essential for the formation of vitamin D3 and the metabolism of calcium. Without it, iguanas suffer from metabolic bone disease, which causes softening, weakness, and deformation of the bones and premature death.
The best and most perfect source of UV rays is the sun. Whenever you can, expose your iguana to direct sunlight, not through glass or plastic, as these do not let UVB rays through. Do not leave an iguana in the sun if the temperature is below 78 or above 100°F. The best thing to do, besides having good UVA radiation in the iguana’s terrarium, is to put it in an outdoor cage (no more than one hour a day) with half the space in the shade and freshwater available to prevent it from becoming dehydrated.
Also, an artificial source of radiation is recommended, such as the fluorescent tubes sold in pet shops. Buy only those specially designed for reptiles, those used for plants do not give enough UVB radiation. Replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions, because after 6 to 9 months they are out of stock and not suitable for iguanas. Make sure that the distance between the tube and the animal does not exceed 20-30 cm. This is the maximum range of radiation.
Another suitable source of radiation is mercury vapor lamps. These give more UVB radiation than fluorescent tubes.
The third point that makes an environment suitable for an iguana is humidity. Iguanas need high humidity, like in the rainforests. In their natural habitat, they have almost no need to drink water, so they usually do not do so even if they have water available. The result is that many iguanas in captivity live partially dehydrated, which often leads to kidney failure at an early age.
The ambient humidity of an iguana’s terrarium should be 65-75%. This can be achieved by spraying the iguana and the environment several times a day, by placing a humidifier in the environment where the terrarium is located, or by placing several tubs of water in the enclosure. It can also be bathed daily, which is highly recommended for hygienic reasons.
There are also electronic humidifiers, but these are usually very expensive. Be careful because excessive humidity can also lead to health problems and contamination of the enclosure.
As you can see, it is important to study the options available for providing heat, light, and humidity to the iguana’s terrarium, as not all of them are suitable. Furthermore, these environmental factors are necessary for the health of your iguana; they are not just for his comfort.
If after reading this article you have decided to keep an iguana as a pet, here are two more that may interest and help you: