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


They're onery, exotic - and often a real pain. If you want one, know the upkeep.

© Gail Keeler, Keynoter (Marathon FL), 11/27/2002


The green iguana is a tree-dwelling lizard species native to tropical forests in Mexico and Central and South America, but it is not native to the Keys.

Why, then, are so many being seen in this string of islands? Especially when they are now considered to be pests by some residents. They sunbathe by the canals; they lounge in the trees; they love the hot and humid weather.

The population growth in these animals has occurred because people buy them for pets but later release them into the wild when they realize the iguanas require more care, time and money than can be provided. Also, some iguanas may be escapees from families.

In their natural habitat, iguanas dine almost exclusively on leaves. And due to that, Keys residents complain the iguanas are eating their vegetation, living in their trees and defecating on their property, including on their boats.

"People need to understand that having an iguana for a pet is a commitment of at least 12 years, just like a cat or a dog," said Monroe County Cooperative Extension Service Horticulture Agent Kim Gabel. "While they are cute and bright green when newborn, they will grow to 6 feet long at maturity and can weigh 15 pounds."

Problems are created when the hapless animals are turned out into the wild by people who can no longer deal with their care. Iguanas are good climbers, good jumpers and good diggers, and have no natural enemies in this area. They are accomplished swimmers and can remain submerged for long periods of time without surfacing for air.

So consider the following before getting an iguana:

  • Do not buy an iguana from a pet store, dealer or breeder if you have not completely familiarized yourself with its care requirements, now and into the future.
  • Plan to care for the iguana as a pet for its complete life of 15 years.
  • You will need to acclimate it to human touch. This could take 30 minutes or more each day.
  • You will need an enclosure of at least 7 feet tall by 9 feet by 4 feet, with a climbing post for each mature iguana. They are solitary animals who do not like to live with other iguanas. Domination and intimidation are always present even if you cannot see them, especially during mating season.
  • Females lay eggs once a year in burrows they dig.
  • You must buy special food and feed them every day. Close attention to nutritional needs is required.
  • You have to bathe them.
  • You will need to trim their 20 long, sharp claws.
  • Their health must be monitored on a daily basis.
  • You will need to clean up their feces (which can stain) every day.
  • Attention must be paid to cleanliness to avoid external parasites.
  • You must provide clean water every day.
  • Regular veterinarian visits are required.
  • You will need to shield them from cold weather.
  • Most importantly, they must be prevented from escaping your property.
  • Protect your plants

If you are feeding or watering iguanas in your yard – stop.

To protect a vegetable garden or other valuable shrubbery, try covering it with chicken wire sunk into the ground several inches or bird or deer netting. Release any animals that get caught in the netting. Try using a plastic flowerpot, upside down, around the trunks of small trees to keep iguanas from climbing them.

They tend to be vegetarians and some of their favorite foods include hibiscus, bougainvillea, flowers, young plants and leaves. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat many other types of vegetation. They do eat less in cool weather.

Recommended methods of capture include live traps (maximum size 36 inches) that can be borrowed from animal shelters (baited with fruit and flowers), or netting.

But Dr. Doug Mader from the Marathon Veterinary Hospital warns, "Iguanas have 100 sharp teeth and can bite through your finger. Like alligators, they bite and roll." It’s best to let Animal Control deal with them when they are captured.

And don’t forget – iguanas are, as all animals, protected from cruelty by Florida law.

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