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Are You Ready for a Giant?

Many People refer to the Common Green Iguana as GGI or Giant Green Iguana. This is for a very good reason. Iguanas are not only the most common reptile pets in the trade, but they are also among the largest captive lizards available. Iguanas can be quite a handful at full size. What exactly is full size you may ask? Well, it can top out at 6 feet total length and as much as 25 pounds in weight. Even if you take into consideration that a more average size in captivity is 5 pounds and 2/3 of that is tail and the fact that they never stop growing. Males also tend to grow larger than females. These Giants can also live for about 20 to 25 years if properly cared for. The accommodations needed for an adult reptile of this size is also something that you should consider when you are considering an Iguana as a pet. If you have a small home or an apartment, you may want to reconsider. Housing requirements for adults are such that full rooms are often devoted to these reptiles.

Where to Find Your Iguana

Pet Stores

This is the obvious answer. But be sure to do some shopping around before purchasing. Take some time to learn what a healthy Iguana looks like. Check with local reptile and herpetology clubs in your area. Find out what kind of reputation the store has. Some of the fanciest stores are often the worst to their animals. Some of the smaller, hole in the wall type of stores may have the extra time to insure that they have healthier animals. After working for some time in a pet store, I learned that about half of the Iguanas in a shipment die during transport. Check around with stores to see if there are any that work with rescue groups. Stores may work with these reptiles to see that they can start out a good life at a new home, however don’t be put off by the occasional higher price. Prices are often higher to help insure that the Iguana goes to a home more equipped to handle them. Ask who the supplier is and when they plan on getting a fresh shipment of babies in. Sometimes seeing the health of the new imports as opposed to the established Iguanas can be shocking. Getting one that has been in the store for about a month helps you to pick out a healthy Iguana. You can find problems a bit easier. Learn the lingo of the trade. Often times stores will mark up prices on something called a Blue Diamond Iguana for being a special color phase. In reality, Blue Diamond Iguanas are just Green Iguanas raised at the Blue Diamond Farms. There is also no real difference from captive bred and farm raised most of the time. Iguanas are bred in mass on farms in Central and South America. The farms are very reminiscent of their natural habitat. Eggs are harvested and hatched under controlled situations and then they are shipped to the US to be sold. Both are considered in the trade captive bred and farm raised. A true captive bred is very hard to find in Iguanas. Simply because the profit margin is too low. Wording in the pet trade can be very deceptive.

Classified Advertising

Most papers have a pet listing in them. Many Iguanas that are listed include their set-ups. Be sure to question the owner if the price is for both the Iguana and enclosure. Find out what size enclosure. If it is a decent size, weigh the price of a comparable enclosure that you would need to buy versus the price that is being offered. Sometimes it may seem like a deal. So why are people getting rid of their pets so cheap? Many different reasons that are discussed at the end of this chapter. Please read on to learn how to adopt safely.

Herpetological Societies

Many herpetological societies maintain a list of reptiles that are in need of homes. More often than not the list of Iguanas is fairly long. They each have different reasons for needing a home. In our area, the Chicago Herpetological Society and the Fox Valley Herp Club are the two closest societies that maintain an adoption listing. Wisconsin NIAD works with these groups to help with their adoptions and are able to access their available reptiles when needed.

Humane Societies and Rescue Organizations

These groups are often bursting at the seams with Iguanas. Why? Some people felt that Iguanas were no longer the pet for them. Other times people had no choice but to give the Iguana up due to legal reasons. Still more are strays that got out on their owners or Iguanas that were let go by their owners. These groups often work with vets, herpetologists or herpetoculturists to check and ensure that these are healthy animals. Some even have had the time to tame the Iguana and assist in acclimating it into your home. These are wonderful outlets to find an Iguana. As with cats and dogs, adopting Iguanas and other reptiles can work well.

Is It Ripe Yet? Choosing a Healthy Iguana

So now you have decided that you definitely want an Iguana as a pet. You have found a reliable source to get the Iguana from. How can you be sure that you are getting a healthy one that is just right for you? Well here are some basic guidelines.


Watch how it looks around. Are the eyes alert and clear? Does it follow your movements? Is it attentive? Are they free from cloudiness and drainage? These are all things that you need to look for. You should answer yes to all the questions.


When examining the head and mouth of the Iguanas there are a few things you do not want to see. Crustiness or scabs are things to avoid. Also look at the shape. Does it appear firm and slightly rounded? Does it look like the Iguanas you see on magazine and book covers? Or does the jaw seem soft and mildly lumpy? Soft misshapen mouths are often the first indicators of Metabolic Bone Disease. While this condition is treatable, it can take years off the life of an Iguana and at a young age possibly kill it with out proper care. If you can check the inside of the mouth by gently pulling it open with the dewlap and check to see that it is pink and healthy with no mucus.

Fingers and Toes

Are they all there? Iguanas have 5 digits on each paw with a claw at the end of each one. Are any swollen or lumpy? Are they all straight or do they curve? While Iguanas can survive just fine with missing or deformed digits, you want to try and identify as best you can the cause. Poor packing, fibers wrapped around digits, fights and bad cages can lead to loss of digits. MBD can lead to misshapen and swollen ones. When you are looking for an Iguana, you want nice straight toes. Especially if you are buying one from a Pet Store. If it is missing any parts, look to see that the appendage is properly healed. If that is the case, there is nothing wrong with missing toes.

Arms and Legs

Iguanas have very muscular bodies. These animals are made to climb. They are lean and strong and have very strong limbs. However you want to look out for limbs that look more like Pop-eye’s muscles rather than healthy muscles. Remember how the sailor man’s arms bulged? Extremely hard bulgy limbs are another sign of MBD. Make sure that all the limbs move and operate, as they should. When handling the Iguana, you should be able to tell this easily by how well they climb in your hand. Make sure that each limb works during climbing.


Is it all there? Many Iguanas will loose a portion of their tail in their lifetimes. This is not really a big deal. Their tails are made with break points so that should they get trapped in the wild they are able to “break” loose. Be sure to inspect the tail end for healthy tissue. Watch out for cornhusk like tail ends or scabbing. These are signs of poor healing and while treatable needs the attention of a veterinarian. Also check the part of the tail where it meets the base of the body. Is it firm and full or thin and bony? A firm full tail is the side of a healthy Iguana. Check the underside of the tail at that point as well. You will see a part of the skin where it folds. That is the vent. Is it reasonably clean? Avoid ones that have a buildup of feces in that area. This is often a sign of an unhealthy Iguana.

Lazy Bones

Does the Iguana just lie there? Then you handle it; does it just sit there? Young Iguanas are very flighty animals. They have to be in the wild. Their lives depend on how fast they can move away from predators. They should not just lie around. Do not select a young Iguana that just lies around. Often times they are already ill. If it is an older Iguana, it will be less skittish however it should still move a bit when first handled. Observe its movements in the enclosure as well.

Am I Taking on Someone Else’s Problems?

When you get any pet that was once under someone else’s care there is always that chance that you are in fact taking on their problems. More often than not people give up their Iguanas for other reasons. Most did not realize what all was involved with caring for an Iguana, including the full size and age potential. Some people got the Iguana for their child as a gift and now the children no longer care for it and the parents do not want to. Some people’s living arrangements have changed for one reason or another and can no longer care for it. Some have gotten out on their own or were subject to the “Born Free” approach of pet ownership. While some Iguanas can be mean, rescue groups recognize this fact. They will work to tame the Iguana as much as possible or require a certain level of experience in the home that they place the Iguana in. Do not hesitate to ask many questions. Below you will find a list of questions that will help you make your list. Foster homes, rescue groups, humane societies and herp clubs will answers these to the best of their ability.

-What is the approximate age?

-Was this Iguana housed with other Iguanas?

-What was the previous enclosure like?

-What was the previous heating and lighting set up?

-What was the previous diet like?

-What is the current diet?

-Has it gone through a breeding season yet?

-Has it ever gone to a vet?

-If so may I see records?

-Has this Iguana ever bitten anyone?

-If yes what were the conditions surrounding the bite?

Questions like these will help you decide if this is the right Iguana for you.

Back to Care Main
Chapter 2: Choosing an Iguana
Explains how to choose a healthy iguana and where to go instead of a pet store.
Chapter 3: Getting Started
Covers Supply Shopping, short cuts, and setting up the home
Basic Husbandry
Vet care, Diet, Heat, Humidity and Lighting
Behavior and Taming
Sexuality and Reproduction
Basic concerns dealing with the needs of male and female iguanas
Health concerns
Addresses health concerns for both human and Iguana