Dealing With Male Green Iguana Breeding Aggression
©1996, 2001 Melissa Kaplan
This document deals primarily with breeding aggression in male igs, but many of the techniques are suitable for use with just plain old aggressive (dominant to humans) igs. For further information on proper taming and socialization, please see my Iguana Care, Feeding and Socialization document. Before you get bitten, do read up on how to deal with bites.
There are often triggers - the wearing of certain colors and time of the month (menses and/or ovulation) which can trigger attacks, so start paying attention to what is going on at the time of an attack. I know that when I wear blue, purple or green I incite one of my males -- he'll come flying across the room at me, or try to grab me when I walk by, so I watch him carefully during these times. I also pre-empt his strike with one of my own, picking him up and carrying him around for a bit, or getting into an extended petting session. I AM careful to keep watch, however, 'cuss the little brat knows when I'm distracted!
Tone Of Voice
Other iguanas have different sex toy preferences: sweatshirt, stuffed toy iguana or other lizard, baseball glove, or a nice warm, rice-filled Luv Sock.
Another way that has worked to cut through a prolonged breeding season is to trick the iguana's system. Provide a comfortable basking area in a dark room - use heating pads and nocturnal lights or ceramic heating elements to provide the heat. Keep the room completely dark (close blinds and drapes, don't use any white light) for three days. When you take the iguana out after the three days, make sure you stick to a rigidly diurnal schedule for several weeks.
Note on "Suddenly" Aggressive or Strange Behavior...
"My female is suddenly acting weird! She's five years old, and has always been pretty inactive. Suddenly, she is pacing her tank, digging at the floor and substrate. What should I do? What's wrong with her?!"
It isn't strange and sudden - it's quite predictable, accruing same time every year, once they hit sexual maturity. They should reach sexual maturity at 1.5 years of age if they have been fed and housed properly, anywhere from age 3-6 if not. The sad thing is that the only reason so many owners think that these behaviors are "strange" and "sudden" is that, to date, most igs have died before attaining sexual maturity. Now that we are getting better diet information out there and better veterinary care, igs are finally living a bit longer and attaining maturity, albeit late in still too many cases...
Iguanas need space to roam - males to 'protect' their territory, females to find nesting place. Most enclosures sold or built for igs are way too small. This results in increased aggression from increasingly frustrated males (often compounded by more than 10-12 hours/day exposure to UV A or UVA/UVB, with this supplemental lighting being kept on until late at night), and may cause injury as they bash their face against the enclosure wall, rip their toes trying to claw out, and trash their tail whipping it in such confined quarters. I find that giving most males as much time as they want in front of a mirror each day, and freedom to roam around, dragging their thighs to their heart's content, results in an uninjured, well-balanced healthy male. Yes, I still have to watch my colors with a couple of them, and it is rather cute to see them 'act like gentlemen' and stand up when I enter the room (actually, presenting to me, collapsing like puppies when I stop to pet them, as long as I keep my hand carefully away from their open mouth!). But I am always aware of what is going on, and who is in an aggressive breeding mode, and mitigate my behavior accordingly if necessary, depending on the individual.
Some vets recommend castration/neutering as a way to end the aggression...the only problem is that this doesn't work very well - often not at all. Noted reptile veterinarian Douglas Mader recently went back and talked to ig owners about their neutered igs and found that results were less than gratifying. Dealing with them behaviorally, reducing photoperiods, being very conscious of their environmental set up and your own behaviors, and carefully and thoughtfully observing your males will help make breeding season less stressful for all of you.
You Get Bitten
Note on Breeding Season Females...
Gravid females often become more receptive to handling and petting. This can help increase the level of taming and socialization if your female has been more distant or less receptive to interactions prior to the onset of her first breeding season with you.
The techniques and suggestions above represent what I have used successfully for years in dealing with breeding season males. They also work, in conjunction with the information in the Psychosocialization section of my ICFS article, to deal with obnoxious, often aggressive, dominant males. These techniques and ways of working with such iguanas have also worked for thousands of other iguana owners through the years.
There are some people who do things differently. Some sequester a breeding season male completely, interacting with him only for purposes of cleaning and feeding. Some leave an untamed iguana alone in the hopes that it will eventually become tame on his own. Based on the number of iguanas who have been treated this way who are given away to others or to rescues, or dumped at animal shelters or abandoned at vets, it appears to be a way that has less success in the long run than a more proactive approach.
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