Change-related stress in green iguanas and other reptiles
©2000 Melissa Kaplan
Iguanas and other reptiles always have a reason for doing what they do. Figuring out just what that reason is will be your challenge. While the following article was written and refers to articles relating to green iguanas, the information is applicable to other iguanids, to many agamids and other types of reptiles.
Change is particularly difficult for iguanas, especially those who have been used to the same daily routine for a long time. As discussed in my Iguana Care, Feeding and Socialization article, the more quickly you establish a daily routine, the faster your new iguana will settle down and start to relax. But life is nothing if not change, and so some change will be inevitable. Understanding the types of things that will can cause iguanas stress will help you figure out what may be going on and, if not actually able to do something to make him feel better right away, understand that in some cases he will indeed adjust as time goes on and you can both get back to feeling okay again.
Signs of stress can manifest in one or more changes in:
Additional information on these types of changes and what to do about them can be found in my Signs of Illness & Stress, Housing Multiple Iguanas, Iguana Skin Color, Reptile Skin Shedding, and Moving and Vacation Stress articles.
So, how do you know
what's causing the stress reaction?
When iguanas are stressed, or entering a shed period, or just decides that they don't like their usual basking areas, they will usually seek out someplace cold, dark and usually tight-fitting in which to spend the day. While this doesn't seem like very smart behavior, it is their way of escaping from their reality for a bit. An otherwise healthy iguana can be allowed to remain in such a place for a day or two, but eventually, the reason for the behavior must be determined and dealt with.
In cases of stress, the source will have to be identified and resolved, with some quality time spent with the iguana to help ease him through it. In the case of being tired of the basking area already set up, it may be a seasonal thing, with the iguana actually seeking a brighter source during winter, or a more interesting view. Or, it could have outgrown the old basking spot, or something in the area around the spot has changed, making it less comfortable or secure for the iguana
Taming: Not Just
To Make Life Easier For The Keeper
Untamed iguanas are more stressed than tamed ones as they never attain the level of comfort with even the most basic daily keeper activities, including cage cleaning, feeding, claw trimming, etc. Behavior modification designed to reduce stress is commonly done in zoos to reduce the stress reactions and improve animal and keeper safety when conducting daily maintenance activities. Wild animals kept in captivity need the same type of taming for the same reasons.
Bored Iguana Is An Imaginative Iguana
Stress can lead to various behaviors, including trashing the food and water you left for him and redecorating the enclosure. Redecorating may just mean ripping up the substrate and pulling down his climbers. It can also mean pulling down light fixtures. Since light bulbs are made of glass, this often results in shards of glass all over the enclosure. Other times, the heat fixture may be twisted, or falls just the right way, resulting in the heat source being close enough to a flammable material to start a fire. Not a few homes and school buildings have been destroyed by fire from iguana heat lamps when their humans were absent.
A bored iguana may also try to dig his way out of his enclosure, spending hours scrabbling and clawing at the floor or walls, hitting or rubbing them with his snout. Eventually, claws get ripped out and the snout gets severely contused or breaks open. Thus, along with the rest of the mess you find in his enclosure, you need to clean dried blood off the enclosure, furnishings, and your very unhappy iguana.
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