Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Wild Vs. "Cultivated" ("Farmed") Green Iguanas

...and why your cute new baby iguana needs to see a reptile vet.

©1996, 2000 Melissa Kaplan


Many iguanas sold in the trade are 'farm-bred' or merely 'farmed.' The former means that they were hatched of eggs laid by captively bred females and males. Most, however, are merely farmed: hatched from eggs laid by wild caught (and released after laying) females or from eggs dug up in the wild and brought to the farm for incubation. The baby iguanas are kept in huge pens where food is thrown in. They are not handled other than to be roughly grabbed and thrown into packing crates. In some areas, the eggs are sliced out of the female, the female crudely sewn back up and let go, the assumption being that she will survive to lay again. Right. No wonder they are on CITES II (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Appendix II: Threatened).

Many exporters are undercutting their competition by capturing wild iguana hatchlings and yearlings and selling them to U.S. importers eager to save $0.50 a lizard (current prices of iguanas sold in "lots" of 100 or more range in the $2.50-$3.00 per iguana range; needless to say, no one is going to spend much money to make sure they are cared for properly, treated for injuries and parasites, fed properly, etc.

Note: Based on the data I obtained from the USFWS for the year 1998, the price of imported iguanas was:

Wild Caught

US $1.26

Captive Bred

US $1.34

Average Wholesale Price in 1998
per iguana

US $1.295




The crates are then shipped around to the ordering importer/wholesaler. There the iguanas are dumped into other bins, generally with the dead and dying not sorted out. If they are lucky, some form of food and water is thrown in with them. They are then grabbed and stuffed in shipping containers to be sent to pet stores.

"But captive bred iguanas are tamer than wild or farmed ones."
Iguanas are a lot like dogs, people and other living things. Some are just naturally nice and others mean. On the whole, however, 'nasty' pet store iguanas are those who still have the strength to fight back, while the 'tame' ones are merely too sick to do so. Also, there is fierce competition amongst iguanas for heat and whatever food may be offered...and the warmer ones are going to be more thrashy than the cool ones.

"Animal protein makes my iguana nasty."
This is another fallacy like "wild iguanas are nastier than farmed iguanas." There have been folks who have reported that their iguanas get aggressive when fed animal protein. It may merely be that, since they were fed inadequate plant proteins previously, they were weak from malnutrition. Animal cells are much easier to break down than are plant cells and so are more easily digested in the gut than plant cells. Thus, more animal than plant cells can be broken down within a relatively short period of time, the iguana gets a burst of energy and begins acting normal for his temperament and stage of taming (or lack thereof). That's not "aggressive" or "mean", just a normal wild animal reaction to feeling threatened. The same thing happens when 'tame' iguanas suffering from hypothyroidism who are put on a proper diet. Once their thyroid begins to function normally, they are in far less pain and so start acting the way they always would have had they not been sick. They aren't "'suddenly 'mean" - 'they just feel good enough finally to act like the proper little untamed iguanas they are.

Many stores are proudly claiming their igs are captive bred or farmed as if that makes for a healthier animal and enables them to claim they don't carry wild caught (if that actually enters their consciousness as being a bad thing...). The fact of the matter, however, is that the farmed ones are little different in health and attitude from wild ones, especially with exporters throwing in wild caught ones to fill out their orders to maximize their profits.


Bottom line
It is up to you to make your iguana healthy by caring for him properly. The country of origin, or whether he was wild-caught, farmed, or actually a hand-raised hatchling from pampered parents lovingly cared for in captivity, matters not a bit if you don't provide the iguana the diet, environment and psychosocial culture it requires to thrive.

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