This article appears in Pets 2020 magazine.
1. There are around 35 species
And they’re all a bit different — although the family has undergone some reclassification in recent years. The iguana that most people are probably familiar with is the common green iguana, which is also a popular pet.
Some others include the marine iguana; the lesser Antillean iguana; the desert iguana, which doesn’t even really look like an iguana; and the spiny tailed iguana, which can be smaller than a meter in length.
2. They like it hot
Iguanas are native to tropical areas, including Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Being cold-blooded creatures, they spend a lot of time lazing about in the sun in order to regulate their body temperature.
3. Iguanas aren’t lazy
Iguanas certainly look cumbersome, and they’re mostly big creatures. However, they’re actually quite fast; some smaller species are able to run at over 18 mph. They’re nimble climbers and are able to make short leaps from branch to branch, and some have been observed falling up to 20 feet with no harm to their health.
4. Most are good with heights, but some prefer the ocean
Most lizards are predominantly land animals and spend their time eating, resting and regulating their body temperature in the sun. That said, the marine iguana, found only on the Galapagos Islands, has the ability to forage in the sea, something no other lizard can do. It feeds mostly on algae and can dive up to 30 meters, remaining underwater for more than half an hour if it needs to.
These iguanas also have mutualistic relationships with some other animals, such as mockingbirds and crabs, which feed off the mites and ticks on their skin.
Other iguanas are generally good swimmers, too. One way they attempt to escape from predators is by jumping into the nearest body of water and swimming away.
5. They’re vegetarians, but they aren’t strict
Iguanas are mostly vegetarians, feeding on leaves, flowers, fruit and shoots. Some have, however, been observed eating bird eggs and small insects in the wild and occasionally mice and fish in captivity.
6. They’ve got eyes in the backs of their heads
Well, not really. What they do have, though, is a “third eye,” also known as the parietal eye. This eye can’t see like a regular one, but senses movement and shifts in light. Iguanas use it to detect predators and stay safe.
7. Humans like them as pets, but they are difficult to care for
Iguanas are among the most popular pets in the United States. They are generally docile creatures (though they can sometimes be aggressive in captivity) and can be a rewarding pet to have.
However, they are relatively difficult to care for, and many die in captivity within the first year. Make sure you look after your iguana properly by feeding it the correct diet at the appropriate times and ensuring its tank is large enough.
Make sure you’ve done your research and know how to effectively look after your pet.