Thursday, 4 April 2013

Handling your Baby green Iguana

If you have been following the first couple of posts in this blog, you may have come to realise
just how much preparation,research,money and labor goes into fully caring for one of these reptiles.

There is no doubt about it, owning an iguana is hard work, especially if you want to get it right! However, if you're prepared to read as much as you can while not taking everything as gospel (including this blog) and exercise a bit of common sense, while empathising with your iguana's needs, then you're well on your way to getting things heading the way you want them, and all of your hard work will eventually pay off; it just takes time....lots of time.

Anyway, if you have come this far then you'll be interested to know how we transformed Jäger from a hissing tail-whipping little cretin into a submissive, calm and cuddly dragon. 

Jäger at 1 year old

Jager 2 years old

Jager 3 years Old
Jager 4 years Old

N.B we are aware that not every iguana will respond to human contact, and some do prove extremely difficult to tame and handle, however the following information supposes your iguana will be responsive as long as you are patient.

Timescale - why patience is a virtue

Just to give you an idea of time-scale it took us roughly one year just to get him used our hands being near him, and petting him in his vivarium with the odd occasion of being able to pick him up. It took another six months for him to be totally relaxed with us reaching in and petting him; we needed to ensure this before transferring him to a larger enclosure as an unruly growing iguana would have posed big problems!

Handling- the issues.

'Getting your iguana to 'tame' is not going to happen overnight.
' We got sick of reading this line and were convinced we could hurry the process up, allowing it to be so much easier to just reach into his vivarium and pick him up without the drama. Unfortunately, from experience we have to declare we were defeated when it came to doing this quickly. It only stresses your iguana out and makes him associate your big hands with negative experiences.   

When we very first got Jäger, our attempts to get him out of his vivarium always resulted in him running about, attempting to hide behind things and just being a general tail-whipping nuisance- not a nice experience for him or for anyone involved. Sound familiar? We understood this was typical behaviour of a baby Iguana but knew we had to approach things differently.

In hindsight,thinking that we could reach into his Vivarium every day and chase him with our hands for ten minutes would get him 'used' to us was just silly. Each time we did that, we were further undermining his trust in us and you could see this in his body language as he would 'puff up' as soon as we approached his vivarium, even if it was simply to feed him.

Jäger  trying to escape our attempts of petting him.

On better days we could possibly lunge in with our arm and scoop him up without giving him a chance to realise what had happened,and once out of his own territory he would quite happily scale our arms, usually aiming to get as high as he could, but the tail whipping and posturing would stop once he was out of his territory. However we were still aware from his body language that he was not truly comfortable in this situation and therefore we would keep his arm roaming time short lived. Of course we wanted more pleasure out of owning him, and were wanting results, and we are sure you do too.

It's all about the hands

In order to truly get anywhere with an uncooperative baby iguana, we have to empathise with them- in other words try and see things from his point of view, programmed with his limited perception of the world. To him, anything that moves is a threat. Unlike your typical pet cat or dog, an iguana is at the bottom of the food chain, an enticing treat to any rainforest forager. Therefore his behaviour will only represent his place in the food chain- he is born to protect himself from day one. To him, you are a predator, and for all he knows, the food you're giving him could just be for fattening him up so you can eat him, and the grasping attempts of your clumsy pink fingers must look absolutely terrifying for him, especially if you're moving quickly! Remember as well, what may seem relatively slow to you may seem very quick to him and an attempt on his little life, so go slower than what you think is slow.

With this in mind, first focus on what you are doing with your hands within your iguana's field of vision, outside of his vivarium. Perhaps this could include reading a book, TV magazine, using your phone or handling the remote. Iguana's are incredibly intelligent and they take everything in. This may seem pretty pointless at first but we found this to be a vital foundation in the building up of
Jäger's confidence in us. We kept this up for about a week, in addition to slowly approaching above his head after we had deposited his food bowl inside of his enclosure. Again this was for him to associate us with food, not being chased and stressed out. As expected he would posture and swing his tail back ready to whip, and at first we'd leave him at that, but with each new day we would progress slowly towards him until we could guard his tail with one hand and stroke his parietal eye with the other. This would make him begin to submit while taking the threat of his tail away. Always approach with confidence, not with hesitation, otherwise your iguana will sense your fear straight away. He will act on it if you aren't 100% sure of what you're doing, which to him makes you seem unpredictable and threatening.

Take it nice and slow

After a few weeks of doing the aforementioned, and we did this religiously day in day out, he began to show an interest in what we were doing, and would deliberately position himself near the perspex fronting of his vivarium to observe his human slaves.We realised we had to earn his trust, and this wasn't going to happen as quickly as we had hoped. Nevertheless, progress is progress. Now, the worst thing you could do at this point is get excited that he has come to say 'hi, what you guys doin'?' and leap in and try to grab him because he looks easy to pick up. This is very tempting but believe us, this will totally undo all of your previous hard work you've done over the past few weeks in getting him to trust you

Therefore in short our method consisted of the following:

  • Cease chasing after him with hands- revise tactics
  • Start standing or sitting near his vivarium more, allowing him to see what you are doing with your hands, keeping your movements nice and slow, mindful that you are being observed by your iguana.
  • After feeding (allow him to see you place food in viv) slowly approach with your hand and allow him to do his thing. If he postures and looks stressed, slowly retreat and save it for later.
  • If you have time, or preferably if you can make the time, put your hand near him for five minute intervals through the course of the day. You should find he will eventually go to lick your hand to get an idea of what the heck it is.
  • Once your iguana starts to seem more relaxed when you're near the vivarium, don't ever be tempted to rush in and try and pick him up.
  • If you feel after a few months that progress is being made and he is happy to have your hands in his territory, start making attempts to stroke the top of his head and dewlap (always guard tail with other hand)
  • Begin to present him with treats of your choice (consult treat foods in green iguana society food list).        

Jäger now, getting cuddles

We hope this has been helpful for any of you struggling to tame and handle your juvenile iguana. Be patient, be content with any progress, don't stress and trust he will come to appreciate all the hard work you're doing for him. Don't give up and feel demotivated on days he doesn't seem to respond, remember your iguana goes through a breeding season and also can be affected by changes in temperature which can alter his mood. Refraining from this practice for too long will also undo any previous hard work, and you might have to start from scratch. Persevere!

What are your experiences of taming and training your iguana? We'd love to know! Please comment below!

In our next post we will discuss free roaming and hand feeding

Until then, happy reptile keeping

Steve and Dawn


Monday, 1 April 2013

Owning a Green Iguana- Steps to Socialising and enclosure placement

Diet and routine- A Summary.

In our previous post we covered the importance of a good diet with proper Calcium and Phosphorus ratios, in addition to the lighting and heating methods we had in place for our Iguana's very first enclosure.

Jäger lived in this set-up for about 9-12 months and in this time we had our good days and bad days with him, in terms of his eating patterns and also his temperament.

In the diet section of our former post, we mentioned how he would go through phases of not eating very much at all. Naturally this is a concern to the owner of any pet, but we observed that this reluctance to eating, which could last for a few days at a time, was most often the result of subtle changes in his external environment; whether this be in our own routine,changes to the room in which his vivarium was situated (even something as simple as an item of clothing being left nearby his vivarium) and also whatever the weather outside might be doing at any given time. Since making this early observation we have always tried to keep things as consistent as possible, provided it was within our control.

External and internal vivarium temperatures- observed effect on appetite

Jäger would be, and still is very perceptive to the external temperatures and other activity going on outside of his vivarium. However, if you are making sure the internal vivarium temperatures are kept constant, their behaviour usually shouldn't be governed by external temperatures. We would always consider this last as a possible hindrance to appetite. Of course the more obvious cause of reduced appetite is that the iguana is entering its breeding season, and your iguana has more pressing issues on his mind other than food! This generally tends to happen once or twice a year around the same time each year. However if it is a result of the house being generally cold due to seasonal changes etc, then it doesn't hurt to bump up the temperature by a degree or two just for a short while until the cold snap passes. Otherwise it's a case of keeping your own central heating on all day which isn't always practical or financially viable.


 A more serious issue would be illness, and Iguanas are extremely good at hiding illness from you. This is because in the wild an ill iguana is extremely easy prey, so they do their best to appear OK for as long as possible. If your Iguana's lack of appetite continues for longer than five days, and is accompanied with any of the following: unusual bowel movements,a distinct change in colour or limited activity then a visit to a good herp vet may be in order.

Mix that salad up a bit!
 Taking the aforementioned into consideration, you may simply need to add a bit more interest to his salad, by adding a new fruit item or vegetable that you haven't yet tried. We always attempt to mix things up a bit using items from the 'occasional' list on the Green Iguana Society website just to keep things fresh and interesting for Jäger and it seems to work nicely. He now eats from a large plate, and will sometimes scratch at his plate to ask for more food if he clears it! This is very endearing and demonstrates just how intelligent these lizards are! We always make sure however to keep his feeding times between 10am and 4pm just so he has enough time to digest what he has eaten under the daytime heat of his bulbs and ceramic before he goes to sleep. This prevents improper digestion of his food which could lead to constipation.

Placement of your Iguana's Vivarium
Green Iguanas are very curious creatures. They like to keep an eye on whatever is happening outside of their own territory. This more than likely stems from the fact that in the wild these reptiles are prey to many animals viewing Iguana's as a tasty treat. They therefore like to know where things are coming from and where things are going. We suggest keeping your vivarium in the most active room in the house, which for most is usually the living room. This will contribute well to the first step in socialising your iguana, getting him used to your daily routine and movements throughout the room and the house in general. This gives them a routine and since they are creatures of habit, you will quickly begin to pick up on your iguana's own little schedule: when he basks, goes to eat, uses the toilet and has a bit of a roam about his home.

We found it good practice to deliberately sit right by his vivarium within a few feet of his vantage point on a daily basis, doing whatever we were doing, be it using the laptop, watching TV or reading a book. We noticed Jäger would sit and watch, and slowly he got used to our movements. Initially we would try to keep our movements nice and slow and were always mindful of the fact we were being watched. Over time we could make our movements more natural and fluid without thinking too much that they would affect or stress Jäger.

Here is a picture of a Juvenile Jäger sitting on his favourite shelf, keeping an eye on us and the other pets.
More to come on handling your juvenile iguana in the next post.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Owning a Green Iguana- bringing him home, housing,lighting and diet

Preparing the Iguana's first enclosure

As mentioned in our previous post, when we first acquired Jäger we had already prepared his enclosure before buying him and bringing him home. We were aware that we needed to properly disinfect the space using proper reptile disinfectant, of which there is a choice of many in any good pet store. We recommend you do this whenever transferring your reptile to a new set-up regardless of whether it is shop bought, second-hand or hand made.

Initial Lighting and Heating Set-Up

 We then set about getting his lighting established and making sure his temperatures were adequate over the course of two weeks-before bringing him home. Upon regularly recording his temperatures on a daily basis for a fortnight, we could ensure that his prospective new home did not experience any drastic rises or drops in temperature before moving him in. We must always bear in mind that internal vivarium temperatures are always affected by external conditions, so if you live in a temperate climate like we do where the weather can't quite make up its mind, it is always good practice to ensure temperatures remain at a constant average
before transferring an iguana into a new home. This will allow for a less stressful transition and will allow you to ensure everything is good to go.

Products used

To be specific about the lighting,we used an Exo Terra 12.0% UV tube and an Exo Terra Basking light along with a 250watt Ceramic bulb to keep the ambient temperatures. This was running on a pulse thermostat.The pulse thermostat basically regulates the temperatures in the vivarium, where you can set the highest and lowest temperatures acceptable, and it will pulse on and off once the set maximum temperature has been achieved to maintain ambient temperature. For green Iguanas, optimum temperatures are advised to be around 32 to 35 degrees Celsius in their basking spots. These temperatures are important because iguanas, like all reptiles, need the heat to get their blood warmed and circulating so they can digest their food properly. Also, with regards to UV lighting, we have to remember that these lizards would
naturally live in an area of the world where the sunlight is very intense, and UV levels are high. Iguanas rely on the natural sunlight to obtain vitamin D3, which contributes to healthy bone development. Never be persuaded to provide heated rocks for your iguana to bask/lie on, as these can inflict serious burns and your Iguana will not be able to sense the damage being done until it is too late.

In order to keep everything nice and regular for Jäger, we had his lighting set up to a timer, which ensured he would get a precise and predictable amount of time under his lights on a daily basis. This is excellent for if you have a mixed up work schedule like we do, where shift patterns alternate on a regular basis, and gives your Ig a sense of time that he would have in his natural habitat. Always remember you are trying to replicate his natural habitat as closely as possible. We have had his lights come on every morning at 7am and switch off at 8pm at night.


In addition to proper lighting, the diet of a green iguana must compliment the lighting to ensure optimum growth and ongoing optimum health.A green Iguana requires these light conditions, along with the correct temperatures to help him digest the nutrients he obtains from his food.Of course, if you have gone to the lengths of getting this first bit right then you will do well to be conscientious enough to research their dietary requirements. There is no point in providing all the correct temperatures and lighting if you don't research the importance of a good diet. An excellent list of foods is provided by The Green Iguana Society's website, which stipulates the proportions and regularity in which each food item should be provided.

MBD Metabolic Bone Disease

 If these basic needs are not met your iguana will inevitably develop a very nasty and prevalent condition known as Metabolic Bone Disease(please Google MBD in iguanas to see examples).

This isn't something that 'might' happen to your iguana, this WILL happen if his diet and lighting aren't constantly kept up to scratch. This happens over the course of years as the iguana becomes more and more deficient in calcium supplies usually obtained through proper nutrition, and draws this from his own skeleton instead. This brings us to the importance of the Calcium Phosphorus ratio which is a dietary must throughout your Iguana's life. Providing adequate dietary calcium is absolutely essential for preventing the symptoms of MBD such as that of osteoporosis and hyperparathyroidism. Both Calcium (Ca) and Phosphorus (P) must be present in a ratio of 2:1 in order for them to fulfill the biological roles in an Iguana's body.To name but a few, these roles include the support of the correct functioning of cells, allowing for energy to be used by the body, regulation of nerve and muscle function and the mineralisation and maintenance of the skeleton and teeth. Should the diet become deficient and unbalanced, the iguana's body will compensate for this shortfall by compromising his own skeleton, stripping it of calcium.

The exact calcium and phosphorus ratios of different greens and fruits does vary however, with some being more suitable than others, so it is always good to check with a good point of reference if you are ever unsure. We do suggest this Green Iguana Food List

Fussy Eating Habits

In the pet store we got Jäger from, they were feeding him an awful lot of parsley in addition to exo terra juvenile iguana pellets sprayed with watered down fruit juice. They complained he was picky, and this was the only way to ensure he was eating. We quickly wanted to nip this issue in the bud, seeing as this approach basically facilitated the Iguana's 'pickyness'. We started by sticking to the limited foods he was used to and added additional dark leafy greens such as watercress,rocket and dandelion leaf(always rinse thoroughly). We also introduced small amounts of butternut, sweet potato and parsnip from day one, and continued to spray his food with the watered down fruit juice, until eventually we could remove the pellets and also the fruit juice from his water sprayed onto the food. 

We found he absolutely adored the butternut and sweet potato boiled and mashed, and this was an excellent means of providing him with his Nutrobal supplements, since we could mix it into the mash and hide the taste and smell a little better. We did this every other day. After a fortnight of slowly introducing all of his staple food items and replacing his old pet store diet, (and removing the parsley!) he was happy to munch on his new salad. We did however keep his pellets for times when he did go off his food, and would give him them on these occasions to ensure he was getting some nutrition, then would start with the slow introduction of other greens and fruits until he was back into eating properly again. Never give into Iguana's fussy eating, they will have your life otherwise! We found he would go off his food in his first breeding season phase, and also if our work schedules changed or we got anything new, be it clothing or a throw for the sofa. Iguana's are incredibly  perceptive to change and we have to remember this can be stressful for them as they do enjoy routine.

Another way of encouraging him to eat on a daily basis was to place a small handful on his favourite shelf to give him a 'taste' of what was waiting for him in the bowl below. He would munch on this first by about midday, then run down to his bowl to finish off his salad. We realised he'd be more than happy to sit on his basking shelf all day in his new vivarium, as this is where he felt most safe- so this was a great way to also get him to start exploring his vivarium.

Jäger's adult Diet

Presently, Jäger has a very varied diet, but we always stick to our main staples which never leave his salad mix. These are the products we can always guarantee we will be able to get a hold of all year round and include Spring Greens, Watercress, Dandelion leaf, sugar snap peas, Green beans, butternut squash, parsnip, courgette(zucchini),mango and Okra. We will then provide variations of other items over the course of a week depending on what we can get a hold of, which include banana, blueberry, raspberries, cucumber (small amounts usually for water if he doesn't seem to be drinking). It is rare we see Jager drink water from his bowl, so we always spray his food with fresh water and provide a little watermelon or cucumber to add to water content. We have found he particularly likes the food given to him as peeled, so using a potato peeler we peel up slices of butternut, parsnip, carrot and zucchini etc so that they're the thickness of a nice juicy leaf- again bearing in mind, in the wild  food in leaf form would be the easiest for him to pick up in his mouth. We never provide him with citrus fruits, dog food (as we've seen advised on some sites) or any other protein based foods. These animals aren't omnivorous and despite other sources suggesting it may be OK to feed the occasional cricket, dog chow or meal-worm, we are of the belief that if he can do fine without them all of the time, it isn't worth the 'occasional' risk to his health on the off chance that this may be acceptable according to observation of them in the wild. 

In our next Post we will recap diet and discuss socialising Jäger as a Juvenile as well as enclosure placement. .

Until then, Happy Reptile Keeping

Steve and Dawn :)

Friday, 29 March 2013

Owning a Green Iguana

Our Green Iguana- raising him from a juvenile

Owning and raising a Green Iguana- the ongoing quest for knowledge 

Green Iguanas are amazing reptiles. They are indigenous to south American tropical climes and make popular pets amongst reptile enthusiasts and hobbyists alike. It isn’t uncommon for these beautiful creatures to exceed 5 feet in length once fully mature, and they have the capacity to inflict serious injury if improper taming and socialising has been the usual aspect of their care.

Their moody dispositions, incredible size and ability to cause serious injury are all the main reasons why most once ‘cute’ looking juvenile green iguanas find themselves being passed on to overburdened pet stores and reptile rescue facilities once they enter their breeding season  behavior.

We believe that due to this massive problem, it would be great to provide an ongoing invaluable source of information for prospective and current iguana owners, wishing to learn from our experience of owning a green Iguana. We would like any prospective keepers to take everything into consideration before adopting/buying one of these creatures. They are majestic beasts, and deserve all of your time and attention if you take it upon yourself to take one on board.

Once following a few posts of this blog, you can decide for yourself if you have the resources available to take one of these into your care for what could possibly be the next twenty odd years of your life. We aren’t claiming to be experts, and realise one of the biggest issues with their ownership is complacency, so this exercise is a means of us sharing our experience as well as learning from other people’s approaches and knowledge.

We have owned our beautiful male Green Iguana Jäger since the beginning of 2010.

We were lucky enough to find him young, and after a bit of persuasion we managed to win the confidence of the store staff in being able to purchase and take him home. You will usually find that most stores selling these lizards will bombard you with a tirade of questions to ensure you are prepared, both with regards to your knowledge and practically in terms of the lizards housing and lighting. If they don’t ensure your ability to look after this little fella before leaping out of the shop with him, then I’d question the ethics of the place you are getting the iguana from, in addition to his prior care.

This was Jäger when we first got him, along with his enclosure ( a converted 5.5ft x 3.5ft x 2.5ft wardrobe)

As you can see, though only a little over a foot in length from snout to tail tip, he was already provided a roomy enclosure with adequate lighting and heat. We will further discuss our lighting and heating strategies, along with his diet, taming and socialising in future posts. This is merely to illustrate the initial requirements for a lizard at this size, as of course you are expecting him to grow BIG.

This is Jäger now, a flourishing huge male green Iguana with a lot of strength and a personality to match his enormousness!


This fella no longer lives in that converted wardrobe! He was swiftly moved to a converted space beneath the staircase toward the end of 2010, possibly the beginning of 2011. Since his transition into a larger space, measuring roughly 10ft in height by 3.5ft depth and 8ft width, we began replacing all of our exo terra reptile lighting products with Arcadia bulbs, including a large D3+ basking bulb, and two T5 UVB tubes with reflector, and a ceramic attached to a thermostat to maintain his temperatures. Since then he seems to have blossomed into this beautiful dragon and we are due to move him again into an even bigger enclosure to accommodate his accelerating growth. More to come on that later…

Until next time, happy reptile keeping

Steve and Dawn :)