Dealing with Iguanas in the South Florida Landscape
Due to Florida’s prominence in the exotic pet trade, iguanas imported as pets have escaped or been released, and are now established in South Florida. This has created unique problems for Florida’s homeowners and businesses. South and Central Florida’s subtropical climate allows these large herbivorous (plant-eating) lizards to survive, reproduce, and become part of the Florida environment. Three large members of the iguana family (Iguanidae) have become established in south Florida. These are the common green iguana (Iguana iguana), the Mexican spiny-tailed iguanas (Ctenosaura pectinata) and black spiny-tailed iguana (C. similis). Large male spiny-tailed iguanas are often misidentified as alligators by startled homeowners because of reduced dorsal spines and dark color. There are many other large lizards established in Florida that some people misidentify as iguanas. The brown basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus) is a large (up to 2 feet) lizard that is often mistaken for an iguana and occurs in the same areas as introduced iguanas. Knight anoles (Anolis equestris) commonly reach between 12–18 inches. Jamaican giant anole (Anolis garmani) males can reach 12 inches. People in South Florida often call these large green anoles “iguanas” or “iguanitos.” Occasionally other escaped pets have established breeding populations and are seen by surprised neighbors. These include large lizards like the Nile monitor lizards (Varanus niloticus), the Giant Whiptail (Cnemidophorus motaguae), and the Tegu (Tupinambis sp.).
See Figures 1 through 9.
Figure 3. Juvenile green iguana. This hatchling is an attractive size for a pet or to sell to a pet store.
Credit: W. H. Kern, Jr., UF/IFAS
Figure 4. Adult male black spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura similis).
Credit: W. H. Kern, Jr., UF/IFAS
Figure 6. Adult female (top) and male (bottom) Mexican spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura pectinata).
Credit: Vinda B. Maharajh, UF/IFAS
Figure 7. Female brown basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus). Males are larger, brighter, with a much larger crest on the back of the head.
Credit: W. H. Kern, Jr., UF/IFAS
Adult iguanas are herbivores feeding on foliage, flowers, and fruit. They will occasionally eat animal material such as insects, lizards, and other small animals, nestling birds and eggs. Juveniles eat more animal material, especially insects, and hatchling green iguanas eat the droppings of adult iguanas to acquire the gut bacteria that help them digest plant material. Males are territorial against other males, but are not territorial against females and juveniles. These large lizards like to bask in open areas, sidewalks, docks, seawalls, landscape timbers, or open mowed areas. If frightened, they dive into water (green iguanas and basilisks) or retreat into their burrows (spiny tailed iguanas). This habit of diving into the water to escape makes green iguanas very difficult to capture. Basilisks and anoles generally eat insects and small vertebrate prey, but Knight anoles occasionally eat small fruits and flowers as well.
Damage caused by iguanas includes eating valuable landscape plants, shrubs, and trees, eating orchids and many other flowers, eating dooryard fruit like berries, figs, mangos, tomatoes, bananas, lychees, etc. Iguanas do not eat citrus. Burrows that they dig undermine sidewalks, seawalls, and foundations. Burrows of iguanas next to seawalls allow erosion and eventual collapse of those seawalls. Droppings of iguanas litter areas where they bask. This is unsightly, causes odor complaints, and is a possible source of salmonella bacteria, a common cause of food poisoning. Adult iguanas are large powerful animals that can bite, cause severe scratch wounds with their extremely sharp claws, and deliver a painful slap with their powerful tail. Iguanas normally avoid people but will defend themselves against pets and people that try to catch them or corner them.
Figure 10. The teeth of a green iguana are designed to shear plant material, but can deliver a painful bite to people and pets.
Credit: Karen Wheeler, UF/IFAS
Many people enjoy sharing their living space with a few iguanas. Learn to appreciate these exotic creatures. Do not feed iguanas in your yard. This will attract more iguanas and can create problems for both you and your neighbors by creating unnatural concentrations. Do not become a nuisance to your neighbors by feeding iguanas. Pans of cut fruit will attract rats and raccoons as well as iguanas. Be a considerate neighbor and good environmental steward.
Protect valuable plants with cages or screen enclosures. There are currently repellents registered for preventing feeding damage from iguanas. Install sheet metal around trees to prevent them from climbing, about 18 in. from tree base, or create an “L-shaped wire barrier to prevent digging.
Avoid planting species that are preferred food for iguanas (See Table 1).
Remove protective cover such as dense thickets and piles of landscape timbers or rocks. Sheet metal guards of trees, palms, and dock pilings will prevent them from climbing. Fill vacant burrows with concrete and sand during the day when the animals are likely to be away from the burrow. Electric fences on seawalls and docks may deter or stop iguanas from climbing up on to them. Persistent harassment will also encourage iguanas to move to safer pastures. Never feed iguanas.
Harassment or Interference with reproduction
Spraying with a water hose, and loud, startling noises are effective in creating an unwelcome atmosphere for basking iguanas. Install CD-ROM discs near sea walls or dangle on trees or other prize plants; change position of CDs often enough so iguanas do not become accustomed to their light reflections.
Build mulch piles or sand piles near sea walls to encourage iguanas to nest in them rather than digging nesting burrows that undermine the sea wall. Open nest, remove eggs, and dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag.
Raccoons, fish, crows, vultures, feral pigs, and other predators dig up iguana nests and eat the eggs. Raccoons, snakes, hawks, owls, egrets, herons, cats, and dogs kill the majority of hatchling and juvenile iguanas. After young iguanas reach about two feet in length, they have fewer natural enemies. Automobiles and people are the main cause of mortality of adult iguanas. Alligators may occasionally take adults in the water. In tropical America, large predators like ocelots, pumas, jaguars, anacondas, boa constrictors, and people eat adult iguanas. Dogs occasionally catch iguanas in the open and can overtake them before they escape into the water or down their burrows to safety. Freezes keep iguanas limited to the southern half of peninsular Florida. Chain link fences are another common hazard to larger iguanas. If they get their head and front legs through the openings in the fence but can’t squeeze their belly through, they are stuck, unable to back out of the fence.
Capture and Removal
Iguanas can be captured and removed from private property at any time without special permits. They are considered exotic unprotected wildlife. They may be caught by hand, noose pole, net, or traps. Only live traps and snares are legal in the State of Florida. Check with local authorities for any local ordinances that may limit control options.
Do not use poisons or steel traps (leg-hold or body-gripping types) to capture or control nuisance iguanas. No poisons are registered or legal for use on iguanas or any reptiles in Florida.
Babies can be caught by hand or with a thread or monofilament noose on a long bamboo pole. These can be sold or given to pet stores or exotic pet wholesalers. See Figure 3.
It is illegal to release iguanas in Florida (39–4.005 Florida Administrative Code). Iguanas are not native to Florida and so are not protected in Florida, except by anticruelty laws. Green iguanas are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species II because of their economic importance and over-harvest for the international pet trade in their native range. In Florida, all captured iguanas must be kept in captivity as pets or captive breeding stock, or must be destroyed. Feral adult iguanas rarely make acceptable pets. They never tame sufficiently and are dangerous. Remember, they can deliver severe bites, scratches and blows with their muscular tails.
Trapping, either with live traps or snares, should be considered a last resort. Traditional live animal traps baited with grapes, pieces of ripe melon, papaya, or mango can be very effective, especially if the traps are prebaited for some time prior to setting the trap. Prebaiting simply means securing the door open and placing food in the trap so the animals get used to entering the trap for food. Once they are regularly entering the trap, release the door and set the trap normally. Florida law requires that animal traps be checked at least once every 24 hours. When trapping iguanas, or any animal, check the trap as often as possible. Iguanas will often get cuts and abrasions when trying to escape from traps. Covering the trap with a burlap bag or old blanket when setting it may reduce this behavior by making the animal feel less exposed or vulnerable. There are many other types of live traps that may catch iguanas, such as funnel entrance traps, etc.
Iguanas and many lizards hold their heads up as they walk or run, to better watch for predators. This behavior makes them ideal candidates for snares. The 24-inch locking snares normally sold for trapping muskrats, mink, or rabbits are large enough for any iguana. Set snares at burrow entrances, holes under fences, along seawalls, or any place that iguanas regularly congregate or move. See Figure 13 on how to set a snare. Snares can kill by strangulation if they are set to do so or the animal struggles too long. Snares cannot discriminate and kill pets or wildlife if not carefully set and monitored. Snares set for iguanas should only be set during the day because that is when iguanas are active, while cats, raccoons, and opossums are generally nocturnal.
During winter cold fronts, cold-stunned iguanas can sometimes be simply picked from branches or picked off the ground after they fall from the trees. Using boats along canals and in the mangroves when the temperatures are in the 40s°F has been very successful. This is a very effective method to reduce local iguana populations.
Figure 12. Live traps prebaited and wired open (top) and set (bottom) for iguanas. When prebaiting a trap, move the food farther into the cage each day the food is eaten. Cover the wire on the bottom with leaf litter, mulch, or soil so the lizard can’t feel the wire under its feet. Use a drift fence (board) to help guide the animal in the trap.
Credit: W. H. Kern, Jr., UF/IFAS
Figure 13. Self-locking snare set for iguanas. End of the snare is firmly attached to a stake or structure and the snare is wired into position with a support stake. The bottom of the snare loop should be 2 to 3 inches above the ground, depending on the size of the target animal.
Credit: W. H. Kern, Jr., UF/IFAS
After a nuisance iguana is captured, the question is “what to do with it?” Because of the large numbers of nuisance iguanas being captured there are limited live donation options available to homeowners. Many wildlife care centers and wildlife rehabilitators don’t have the room or resources to care for them. This means that euthanasia is the most humane method of disposal.
These recommendations are from the “Guidelines for Euthanasia of Nondomestic Animals” produced by the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission allows euthanasia of nuisance vertebrates provided any euthanasia shall be humane as defined by the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians.
Euthanasia is not recommended for use by homeowners or the general public. These recommendations are for pest management professionals and can be used by homeowners that choose to euthanize and need to do so legally and humanely.
Recommended method of Euthanasia for Iguanas
Sodium Pentobarbital IV or IC followed by decapitation or deep freezing. This method requires training and certification in lethal injection and this compound is a controlled substance.
Conditionally Acceptable methods of Euthanasia for Iguanas
Carbon dioxide chamber, if meat is to be consumed.
Halothane, Isoflurane, Sevoflurane administered by a veterinarian.
Stunning followed by decapitation.
Shooting or stunning with a captive bolt gun followed by decapitation.
Cervical dislocation on small juveniles only (<100g).
Unacceptable (Inhumane) forms of Euthanasia for Iguanas
Freezing without prior deep anesthesia
Decapitation alone is inhumane because a reptile’s brain may remain active for up to a minute following decapitation.
We recommend the hiring of a Nuisance Wildlife Management Professional to trap and dispose of nuisance iguanas, because the public usually has difficulty performing humane euthanasia.
Hunting with firearms is a very effective way to harvest iguanas for food in Central and South America. It is not legal or safe to discharge firearms (or pellet rifles) in suburban environments of South Florida where iguanas are commonly causing problems. Shooting is not recommended. Using a bow with tethered fishing arrows may be legal, but the humaneness is debatable. Check with local Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers or local law enforcement before using any projectile weapon. Slingshots with small pebbles or palm fruits may be a useful harassment tool, but should only be used under adult supervision and when you are very sure of your backstop. Rubber band guns have been used by scientists to collect small lizards and may stun juvenile iguanas long enough to capture them by hand.
The meat of adult iguanas and the eggs are eaten and considered a delicacy throughout their native range, especially during Easter week. As of 2004, the price of iguana meat was $14/pound in Maryland. Large adults, too dangerous to be kept as pets, may have value as meat in ethnic markets that cater to immigrants from Central and South America. However, make arrangements with the market manager before showing up with a sack of iguanas.
Ashton, R. E., Jr. and P. S. Ashton. 1985. Handbook of Reptiles and Amphibians of Florida, Part II; Lizards, Turtles & Crocodilians. Miami, FL: Windward Publishing Inc., 191 pp.
Bartlett R. D. and P. P. Bartlett. 1999. A Field Guide to Florida Reptiles and Amphibians. Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Co., 278 pp.
Stafford, P. J. and J. R. Meyer. 2000. A guide to the reptiles of Belize. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 356 pp.
Wilson, L. D. and L. Porras. 1983. The Ecological Impact of Man on the South Florida Herpetofauna. Lawrence, KS: Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas, Special Publication No. 9. 89 pp.
What Do Iguanas Eat In The Wild
Or maybe you have a pet iguana, and you want to find out what do iguanas eat in the wild to better care for your captive iguana?
If so, you’re in the right place!
Today we’re learning all about what iguanas eat in the wild, with a particular focus on the five most common iguanas found in the Americas today.
Let’s dive right in.
Iguanas are primarily herbivores, frugivores, and folivores, meaning they primarily live on a diet of plants. However, with over 30 different types of iguanas in the wild (all living in various climates and regions), their diets vary depending on the species.
Table of Contents
A Brief Introduction to Iguanas
Iguanas are native to a large geographic area, including Mexico, the Caribbean islands, southern Brazil, and Paraguay.
Although not native to the U.S., there is now an extensive population of feral iguanas living in the wild in southern Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and parts of Texas.
Iguanas, one of the largest lizards in the Americas, are highly adaptive creatures and are found in numerous environments, including deserts, tropical forests, and even in the water.
We will now examine the five most common types of iguanas, uncovering their habitats and discovering what they eat in the wild.
Green iguanas (also known as American iguanas) are the most common iguana found in the Americas.
They are large creatures, sometimes growing as long as 6′ feet in length and weighing 20 pounds.
Green iguanas are arboreal, meaning they live up in the canopy of trees for most of their lives, only coming down occasionally to change trees, mate, or lay eggs.
This means much of their food is found and consumed in the trees.
What do Green Iguanas Eat in the Wild?
Green iguanas in the wild are primarily herbivores, meaning their diet consists almost entirely of plants like leaves, fruits, and flowers.
Since they are found in numerous regions across the Americas, plant availability in their specific location and habitat determines the types of plants they eat.
For example, in Panama, the wild plum is one of the green iguana’s favorite foods.
On rare occasions, green iguanas in the wild have been known to eat eggs, leaf-dwelling insects, and snails.
The desert iguana is one of the most common lizards found in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts (northwestern Mexico and the southwestern United States).
Pale cream or gray-tan are medium-sized lizards growing to be about 24″ inches in length (snout to tail).
Their habitat is primarily in sandy, dry, desert scrubland regions, usually within the territory of the creosote bush.
However, they are also found living in rocky streambeds and areas of tropical deciduous forests and subtropical scrub.
Desert iguanas possess the unique ability to withstand high temperatures, often staying out in the heat long after other lizards have retreated.
What do Desert Iguanas Eat in the Wild?
Like green iguanas, desert iguanas are also primarily herbivores.
They subsist on fruits, buds, and the leaves of local perennial and annual plants found in their habitat.
One of their favorite food sources is the yellow flowers found on the creosote bush.
The chuckwalla iguana, much like the desert iguana, lives in the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts and is also found in southern California, parts of Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.
These lizards are stocky, with thick tails, wide bodies, prominent bellies, and flat midsections.
The common chuckwalla grows to be around 15″ inches long.
What do Chuckwalla Iguanas Eat in the Wild?
Making their homes primarily in lava flows and in rocky regions within the territory of drought-tolerant scrub, chuckwallas subsist mainly on fruits, leaves, and the flowers of local desert plants (like brittlebush and creosote bush flowers).
Found exclusively on the Galapagos islands, marine iguanas are the only lizards who spend time in the ocean.
These remarkable iguanas have adapted to a lifestyle on the island, which includes:
- swimming along rocky shores (they can dive up to 65′ feet underwater)
- the ability to ingest salt water
- removing the salt by “sneezing” it out from special “salt glands”
- unique capability to shrink in size during times of food shortages (especially during weather events like El Nino)
Once the food supply is normal, they return to their original size.
What do Marine Iguanas Eat in the Wild?
Marine iguanas feed in shallow ocean waters and are herbivorous like other iguana species, subsisting on marine algae growing underwater and along the islands’ rocky shores.
When feeding, marine iguanas swim along the bottom in a snake-like motion, grazing algae.
We have a post dedicated to marine iguanas if you want to learn more about these lizards.
Spiny-tailed iguanas, native to Central America, are commonly found in Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, and in feral populations in South Florida.
They prefer to live in a rocky habitat with nearby trees for climbing and plenty of rocks and crevices to hide in.
The spiny-tailed iguana holds the Guinness Book of World Records list as the world’s fastest lizard, with a sprinting speed of up to 21 miles an hour!
What does the Spiny-Tailed Iguana Eat in the Wild?
Like other iguana species, the spiny-tailed iguana is primarily an herbivore, living on leaves, stems, flowers, and fruit.
However, they are opportunistic eaters, meaning when available and necessary, they will consume eggs, small animals and rodents, fish, birds, and arthropods.
What do Iguanas Eat in the Wild?
So to answer our original question, “what do iguanas eat in the wild?” we have discovered they mainly subsist on plants, including flowers, fruits, and leaves.
However, as highly adaptive creatures living in various climates and regions, iguanas also consume small animals, eggs, and insects when necessary.
We hope the information in this post was helpful and gave you greater insight into iguanas, allowing you to better care for your pet iguana or simply motivating you to learn more about these unique lizards!
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What do Iguanas eat?
The common green Iguana like all its sub-species cousins are pretty much strictly herbivores, folivores and frugivores. This means they eat mainly leaves, weeds, flowers and fruits.
And like with any captive kept reptile, what we feed them is paramount to their direct health. They have no choice with what’s on offer, so it’s down to us to make things as nutritionally beneficial and worthwhile for them as humanly possible.
This diet will be restricted somewhat by seasonal vegetation varieties, but you’re still looking at hundreds of plants, flowers, herbs and fruit varieties being consumed. Something most care-sheets for the species fail to mention, which to me is a shocking exclusion!
Iguanas have evolved and thrived over millions of years with this variety on offer. This should be remembered when caring for our captive Iguana (or any species for that matter).
A few decades of captive breeding can never undo millions of years of evolutionary needs and requirements when it comes to an Iguanas diet and setup.
What should I feed my Iguana?
Firstly, I’d suggest planting some flower and weed seeds such as:
These are nutritious and are a great start. The ProRep Tortoise seed range, as well as the Lucky reptile herb garden range can be bought from the Northampton Reptile Centre.
Even if you don’t have a garden you can buy the ProRep tortoise growing kits. And you have yourself a window box that will grow the above inside the house without issue (see my own attached photo of one of my own ProRep boxes)
As for flowers. The same really. Search Amazon and eBay and plant your own. Go for the likes of:
- Apple blossom
I wouldn’t choose shop purchased flowers; they have generally been treated to enhance growth and colour and some have even had pesticides used on them.
Of course, you can safely forage you own weeds too; this is one of my favourite things to do ever! (yes, I’m sad like that). You can collect them from grounds away from roads. You should aim for:
- Birch leaf
- Beech leaf
- Hazel leaf
You can also purchase shop or supermarket greens, salad, herbs and fruit like:
- Spring Greens
- Florette mix
- Lambs lettuce
- Pak choi
All Squash varieties:
- Wild rocket
- Sweet potato
- Bell Pepper
- Spinach (not too much of the Spinach, as can stop the absorption of calcium. But a little weekly is beneficial)
No acidic fruits should be fed however.
As you can see, what is fed is down to you the keeper. But to cover as many bases as we can, it’s always best to provide a wide variety on a nutritional scale. There’s really no excuse for not doing so.
Why not try feeding your Iguana ProRep weeds?
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Can I feed my Iguana Insects?
Although they’ve been seen to eat a few insect species in wild conditions and under certain circumstances – this is not something they have evolved to need. And you should not feed them.
They struggle to process the meat and proteins, putting a huge strain on their liver and kidneys – which ultimately can be fatal.
What foods should Iguanas not eat?
Iguanas should not eat meat or bugs. You should stick with plants, leaves, flowers and fruits.
Other foods can be bad for Iguanas if they’re fed too much of them. An example would be two popular greens found on the food list of most reptile keepers. They are kale and spinach.
Kale is high in goitrogens and too much of this can cause thyroid issues. Spinach has a high oxalate content and too much of this can bind the calcium absorption of the Iguana (as with all reptiles). This can cause issues that lead to MBD (metabolic bone disease)
In moderation both kale and spinach are hugely beneficial as part of a varied diet.
Lettuce is another vegetable that should be eaten in moderation. There are different varieties of lettuce you can feed your Iguana. Some such as Iceberg lettuce have low nutritional value but others such as Romaine, Lambs and Gem are better and all offer great hydration options, but again variety is the key here.
How often should I feed my Iguana
You should feed your Iguana daily. There are a few websites that say you should feed them every 2 or 3 days but with a healthy varied diet, a good daily feed is perfect.
You should feed in the morning, thus allowing for a full day of ample heat and UVB (Ultraviolet light) for digestion and basking.
It’s best to feed a good amount until the Iguana has actively moved away from the food. You’ll have a good idea of how much to feed by observing the feeding of the Iguana and adjusting as needed.
Why has my Iguana stopped eating?
There could be a number of reasons why an Iguana stops eating.
The main cause and this is true for most reptiles is inadequate temperature. Too low to digest being the main one. Poor UVB and humidity is another cause.
Without all of these being optimal – food digestion becomes problematic. Thus, the Iguana does not want to eat.
Parasites are another common reason. Most reptiles carry a small load of internal parasites which are mostly of no issue to them. A healthy Iguana will keep these parasites under control internally without any problems.
It’s only when illness, or during times of stress that these parasite numbers can gain more of a foothold internally, causing issues and symptoms such as going off food. With any uncharacteristic behaviour from the Iguana, you should seek assistance from your Herp Vet.
Dealing with parasites is an easy fix. It normally involves a dose or two of the relevant parasite medication to kill off the parasites. Once this happens, your Iggy will be back eating everything in it’s wake before you know it.
What does a healthy and unhealthy Iguana look like?
With any reptile species, there are a number of things to look for that can tell you what condition they are in. The same applies for Iguanas.
- Eyes – Nice bright clear eyes. No weeping or dryness.
- Mouth – No sores, weeping or mucus. These areas should be nice and clear and clean
- Digits – Count those toes. Five on each limb and no claws/nails missing
- Spikes – Check the row of spikes/spines that run from the head to tail. There shouldn’t be any missing or have stuck shed around them
- Limbs and tail – These should have no abnormal bends, bowing, or kinks in them. Signs of such could mean MBD (Metabolic bone disease)
Taking long-term care of your Iguana
If you’re planning on buying an Iguana as a pet, you will be getting a beautiful and intelligent reptile. A healthy, well looked after Iguana can live up to 20 years and more but taking care of one requires time, dedication and experience.
They also need space, the right setup parameters and a good diet to survive and thrive in captivity.
Keeping an Iguana is a lifelong commitment and there will naturally be illness and health issues to deal with along the way. There will hopefully be many good times but a few bad times I’m sure.
Personally, I don’t think an Iguana is a “beginner” reptile at all. Having some experience of reptile behaviour is something I’d consider vital for such a species, particularly for one that can commonly be very territorial.
The reading of a reptile’s (and specifically Iguanas) body language is an absolute must.
You also need to consider the living arrangements of your Iguana. They require a huge living space, with the Green Iguana growing up to 6ft in length once fully grown.
You are going to need at least a 6ft x 6ft x 2ft set-up. Despite what some breeders or pet shops say. It’s all about usable surface area and bigger is always going to be better with this large tropical species.
Owners also need to ensure their Iguanas have the required UVB (ultraviolet light) and temperature needed to remain healthy.
If you can’t provide the best of what is needed then a reptile is not for you. Owning an Iguana means providing them with the very best quality in terms of diet and living arrangements, it is not appropriate to cut corners when it comes to their well-being.
Of course, with care, interaction and the correct feeding, you’ll earn the trust of your reptile and have a happy and healthy companion for many years.
For your foraging needs, download the PlantNet app. Available on both iPhone and Android app store.
This app allows you to take a photo of the weed, flower or plant in question. And will aim to identify it via that photo from its extensive database.
Secondly. Download the TortoiseTable Plant Database app. Again, available on both formats.
This gives you all the information on if the said wee, plant or flower is safe to feed. And it’s recommended regularity within the diet.
And the database is huge!
So, use it in conjunction with the PlantNet app. You can then identify weeds and flowers etc, and deem if safe, without all the guess work.
*One of own Facebook groups will be suited to and Iguana questions: www.facebook.com/groups/lizardnetwork
You can also visit my website The Reptile Networks for more advice and information.
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What Do Iguanas Eat? Their Diet Explained
Of all the types of lizards within the Reptilia class, iguanas are among the largest and most majestic. If you’re considering adopting one as a pet or are simply captivated by these massive reptiles, you’ve probably wondered at some point: what do iguanas eat?
There are around 40 unique iguana species within the Iguanidae suborder, and most of them are herbivores, though a select few are omnivorous. The majority of known iguana species live throughout South or Central America in hot, humid climates where plant life is abundant, both as food and as shelter. What does all this mean for the typical iguana’s diet? Keep reading to learn more!
Are All Iguanas Herbivorous?
Iguanas are primarily herbivores that eat plants
As mentioned above, the vast majority of the roughly 40 iguana species are herbivorous both in the wild and in captivity. More specifically, most of them are folivorous. A folivore is a type of herbivore that primarily feeds on leafy plant growth, though many iguanas also regularly consume fruit and other vegetables they come across in their native habitats.
For example, perhaps the most well-known iguana species, the green iguana, is an expert forager and is constantly searching for leaves, vines, fruits, and even flowers to munch on. In captivity, their diets are mostly the same, though pet green iguanas typically get more variety in their meals since they aren’t confined to one small area’s specific plants.
Many water-loving species of iguanas, such as the marine iguana, are strong swimmers and also look to bodies of water to find plants to feed on. They will commonly feed on various types of algae and seaweed in addition to the leafy plants and flowers they come across on land.
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What Are Wild Herbivorous Iguanas’ Favorite Foods?
Grand Cayman blue iguanas enjoy eating flowers.
Most herbivorous iguanas, such as green iguanas, blue iguanas, and rock iguanas aren’t very picky about the plant material they choose to eat.
Since the majority of iguana species live in mostly tropical and subtropical regions where plant life is abundant, they have a wide range of foods to choose from. However, some of their favorite foods they actively seek out in the wild include:
- Flowers like hibiscus, roses, and orchids
- Leafy vines like the princess vine and balloon vine
- Flowering vines like the bougainvillea
- Tropical fruits like melons, mangoes, figs, and papaya
- Umbrella plants
- Leaves of various fan palms
- Dark, leafy vegetable greens found in gardens
- Vegetables like squash and tomatoes (also found in gardens)
- Various other small fruit and flower-bearing shrubs
Do Any Iguanas Eat Meat or Insects?
Rhinoceros iguanas are one of the rare omnivorous iguana species.
Although the majority of known iguana species are primarily herbivorous, there are still several notable species that also consume insects and even other animals like lizards and frogs in their native habitats!
For example, the rhinoceros iguana is mostly herbivorous in the wild, but it is technically an omnivore. They will commonly eat small insects and arachnids in addition to plant material. In rare cases, though, they will also eat smaller lizards and even snakes when they are desperate and their other primary food sources are scarce.
Spiny-tailed iguanas are another highly opportunistic and omnivorous group of iguana species in the wild. These South American iguanas feed on plenty of plant material, mostly in the form of leafy plants and vines. However, they also will eat insects, arachnids, and various kinds of eggs from other lizards and birds.
When it comes to a more strictly meat-based diet, though, there are no 100% carnivorous iguanas. Virtually all species eat either solely plant material or a combination of plant material and animal matter.
What Are Wild Omnivorous Iguanas’ Favorite Foods?
The black spiny-tailed iguana is another omnivorous and highly opportunistic species in the wild.
Omnivorous iguana species are perhaps even less choosy with their diet than herbivorous species! In fact, most of them are highly opportunistic and will eat any plant or animal small enough to get into their mouths without a struggle.
Since most omnivorous iguanas are fairly large lizards, they have a variety of foods to choose from in the wild. Their favorite things to eat include:
- Small-to-medium-sized insects like beetles, roaches, and caterpillars
- Land and water-dwelling arachnids, including spiders, crabs, and even scorpions
- Small bird, lizard, and turtle eggs
- Other lizards like small geckos
- Hatchling birds, lizards, and turtles
- Small fish and fish eggs
In addition to these meat-based foods, omnivorous iguanas also enjoy many of the same favorite foods as herbivorous iguanas. These foods include various flowers, fruits, and other leafy plants.
What Do Pet Iguanas Eat?
Green iguanas in captivity should be fed a wide variety of different greens, vegetables, and fruits.
Iguanas are a challenging type of reptile to keep as pets, as most species are very large, difficult to handle, and require enormous enclosures with very specific temperature and humidity settings. In addition to their substantial housing requirements, pet iguanas also must eat large amounts of food each day, mostly in the form of fresh greens, vegetables, and fruits. Most omnivorous species also must ingest a fair amount of insect protein to stay healthy and happy in captivity.
Still, many iguana species are commonly kept in captivity by expert reptile hobbyists who are up to the task and able to keep up with the giant lizards’ feeding and housing costs. Some of the most popular species often kept as pets include the green iguana, rhinoceros iguana, and desert iguana.
In captivity, herbivorous iguanas are typically given foods such as:
- Dark, leafy greens like collard, turnip, and dandelion greens
- Various safe flowers like hibiscus, roses, and orchids
- Leafy ornamental plants
- Vegetables like squash, bell peppers, and carrots
- Sweet, juicy fruits like melons, mangoes, and berries
Omnivorous iguanas, on the other hand, typically eat the aforementioned plant material in addition to small amounts of the following meat-based foods:
- Crickets and locusts
- Mealworms and superworms
- Various small yet protein-rich bird eggs (chicken, quail, etc.)
- Dubia roaches
Most captive iguanas are also offered a calcium supplement, usually in powdered or liquid form. These supplements are designed to be sprinkled on top of plant material or animal protein like insects. They also sometimes contain other vitamins iguanas benefit from in captivity, such as vitamin D3.
What Foods Are Toxic to Iguanas?
Strictly herbivorous iguanas such as the marine iguana cannot eat animal protein.
While most iguana species are opportunistic and therefore not very picky when it comes to what they eat, there are certain toxic or harmful foods they shouldn’t eat, regardless of whether they’re in the wild or kept as pets.
For herbivorous iguanas like green iguanas, all forms of animal protein must be avoided. This means they can’t eat eggs, insects, arachnids, or other lizards, for example. This is because their digestive tracts are unable to break down animal matter.
Plant material high in oxalates, also known as oxalic acid, is also toxic in large amounts. Oxalates interfere with both herbivorous and omnivorous iguanas’ absorption of calcium and other important nutrients.
Most fruits are somewhat high in oxalates. Because of this, only around 15% of an iguana’s diet should be made up of fruit. Certain greens like spinach, beet greens, and rhubarb also contain dangerously high levels of oxalates.
Finally, any processed “human foods” high in fat, sugar, or carbohydrates can make both herbivorous and omnivorous iguanas very sick, even in small amounts. Iguanas’ digestive tracts and gut bacteria also cannot break down or benefit from these foods in any way.
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Hailey Pruett is a freelance content writer, editor, and lifelong animal lover living in Tennessee with their spoiled cat, grumpy leopard gecko, and loving partner. Their favorite animals are lizards, turtles, snakes, and frogs. When they aren’t obsessively writing about how awesome reptiles and amphibians are, Hailey is usually playing relaxing life simulator video games and obscure, old-school RPGs. They are non-binary and comfortable with any pronouns.
Iguanas are mostly herbivores, though some are omnivores. The main part of their diet consists of green leaves, though they also eat flowers, fruits and vegetables, and occasionally insects and other meat-based foods.
Iguanas may go for periods of time without eating when they are breeding or preparing to lay eggs, as well as when they are cold or stressed. If your iguana stops eating and you can’t figure out why, it may be sick and in need of a trip to the vet.