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What Is a Red Iguana?

By Jillian Peterson
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The red iguana is a member of the Iguadnidae family that has seen a tremendous gain in popularity due to its unique red tint. What many people do not realize is that the red iguana is a variation of the common green iguana. The red color is the result of a selective breeding process focused on the manipulation of the color gene. Coloration can vary from a slight red or orange hue to a bold red color, all with black stripes or shading that tends to darken on the tail. The underside of the red iguana will typically have some traces of green, although the amount can range from a few small spots to an entirely green lower half.

Both the green and red iguana can get very large, which can be a factor for those considering one for a pet. Some of the larger species can grow to an impressive 7 feet (2 m) and weigh nearly 18 pounds (8 kg). Males of the species tend to grow larger than females and can typically be identified by a larger dewlap and dorsal crest. Males also have a bulge behind the vent, which contains the reproductive organs.

Both male and female iguanas have a row of spines that begins at the base of the skull and ends at the point of the tail. The body of an iguana is narrow, long, and covered in soft scales. They also have five long toes with relatively sharp claws to assist them with climbing in their natural habitat.

Another characteristic of iguanas is their row of sharp teeth, which they use to eat a varied diet consisting of leaves and flowers. While an adult iguana’s diet is mostly herbivorous, juvenile iguanas may eat insects as their primary source of nutrition. Some of an iguana’s hydration comes from drinking water collected on leaves, but the primary source of water intake is through the food it eats.

While the red iguana is a phenomenon found in captive breeding programs, the common green iguana is native to Central and South America. Green iguanas prefer areas that have both trees and a water source, and are often sighted along rivers and swamps. In their natural habitat, these iguanas are a social species that tend to live in a group setting. Males tend to be territorial and can be found fighting for the prime basking spots.

In captivity, the green and red iguana are typically easy to keep; they do, however, require some mimicking of their natural environment. Because iguanas enjoy both the direct sunlight and shade that treetops provide, their cage should be set up with lights only on one side. The temperature of the enclosure should be regulated by UVA and UBV producing heat lights, while humidity levels can be achieved through a water source and by regularly misting the iguana by hand.

How Big Do Red Iguanas Get?

While red iguanas are technically the same species as green iguanas, their unique coloration is not the only trait that sets them apart. While green iguanas tend to be in the range of five to six feet long when fully grown, red iguanas are at the top of the length spectrum, with many easily reaching the seven-foot mark by full adulthood. Males typically grow larger than females. Keep in mind that the length is measured from nose tip to tail tip, and so the extensive tail does make up a good portion of this length. The body of the iguana will still grow large though, with many adults weighing as much as 20 pounds.

If you purchase an iguana as a baby, the size of the animal will change drastically over its lifespan. Hatchling iguanas are only about six inches long. Iguanas do not finish growing until they are about five to six years old. While there is a common myth that iguanas will only grow to a size allowed by their cage, this is not true. When deciding whether to bring an iguana home with you or not, keep in mind the final size of the adult animal and make sure to plan accordingly.

Choosing a Proper Terrarium

In order to properly care for a full-grown iguana, quite a large cage is required. While juvenile iguanas can be housed in a typical terrarium tank, fully grown iguanas require a cage that is approximately six feet tall by six feet wide and about four feet deep. Glass containers don't work well for this purpose, as an all-glass enclosure of that size would be difficult to keep clean. Custom-built enclosures made using a variety of wood, plexiglass, and wire are a common option, though there are some pre-made cages designed for iguanas available at pet stores and online.

Red Iguana Care

Red Iguanas need the same kind of care as a typical green iguana. Since they are so large and can live for up to 20 years, anyone purchasing an iguana should understand the lizard's needs from the start. Young iguanas need to be handled and trained to respond well to humans when they are small. This helps prevent them from lashing out at human handlers when they grow to full size. They are generally better suited for adult caretakers than children, as they require patience and can be dangerous if mishandled. When properly conditioned to be around humans, they make great pets and may even recognize the facial features of the people who take care of them.

Setting Up the Terrarium

Providing proper lighting and temperature controls are an essential part of caring for your iguana. If possible, placing the cage somewhere where it can receive natural light will help the lizard stay healthy. Natural light should be supplemented with reptile bulbs available at pet stores. Iguanas thrive in warm, tropical climates, so providing heating lamps is necessary. It is a good idea to have a hot side and a cool side to a tank so that the iguana can regulate its temperature as needed. The daytime temperature will need to be a little over 90 degrees for it to be comfortable.

Providing Proper Diet

Iguanas require a diet of greens, fruits, and vegetables. As herbivores, they will not have any need for proteins, such as insects, which are a common part of the diets of some other varieties of pet lizards. Chopped greens should make up the bulk of an iguana's diet. Vegetables, such as broccoli, can also be mixed in to supplement the greens. Fruits can be added in as a treat, but should not make up any large portion of the diet. You should also provide the iguana with chlorine-free water that is changed out each day. In order to encourage your pet to stay hydrated, you can put some vegetables or fruits in the water bowl. It is a good idea to get into a routine of feeding and changing out the iguana's water at the same time every day to ensure that nothing is forgotten.

Red Iguana Vs Blue Iguana

Red and blue iguanas are both color variations that are members of the same species and require similar care as a common green iguana. There is an additional type of blue iguana that can be kept as a pet that belongs to a different species, called Grand Cayman Blue Iguanas. These can be very expensive and require different care from the more typical green iguana and its variations.

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Discussion Comments
By anon144141 — On Jan 18, 2011

It is simply just that. A red iguana. Not green, but red.


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