iguana facts

13 Iguana Facts About The Secret Life of These Large Lizards

Immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring world of iguanas - iconic lizards with stunning dorsal crests, comfortably at home in a range of habitats from rainforests to deserts. More than just pets, these spectacular creatures are often endangered and need our protection. Prepare to further deepen your appreciation for them through our list of iguana facts.

From their color-changing capabilities to their mind-blowing 'third eye,' our list contains vital knowledge and exciting insights. So buckle up and discover your new favorite iguana fact today.

Related: Check out more animals that start with I.

13 Interesting Iguana Facts

spiky iguana closeup
Photo by Craig Hughes on Unsplash

1. There are three well-known types of iguana.

The lush rainforests of Central and South America, the exotic Lesser Antilles, and the remote Galápagos Islands are home to three distinct types of iguana: the Green Iguanas, the Lesser Antillean Iguanas, and the Marine Iguanas.

First, the Green Iguana, one of the largest lizards in America, has vibrant green scales and is a master of camouflage. Also called American Iguana, they live in rainforests, swamps, or urban parks. Moreover, a Green Iguana eats dark leafy greens, flowers, and fruits.

Next, the Lesser Antillean Iguana is a beautiful creature with a grey to dark green coloration, unique to the Lesser Antilles. Sadly, this species faces habitat destruction and hunting and is less adaptable than the green one. 

Finally, the Galápagos Marine Iguana is the only seafaring lizard in the world. They live exclusively on the Galapagos Islands. Through the power of adaptation, this iguana submerges itself in the sea to feed on algae and seaweed. They also possess a unique salt gland that eliminates excess salt.

Other types of Iguana

Whereas the above are certainly the better known, other types of Iguana include:

  • Rhinoceros Iguana: named for their rhinoceros-like outgrowths on their snouts, they can be found in the Caribbean.
  • Spiny-Tailed Iguana: native to Mexico and Central America, this iguana species is known for their spiny tails and quick speed.
  • Rock Iguana, another species from the Caribbean, are recognizable from their crests of spiny scales down their backs.
  • Desert Iguana: native to the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, desert iguanas are renowned for their heat tolerance.
  • Fiji Banded Iguana: is a beautiful species native to Fiji and Tonga, and it's well-recognized for its stunning green color with blue or light grey banding.

2. Iguanas can change color.

green lizard sideview
Photo by John Cobb on Unsplash

This is one of the most famous iguana facts. Iguanas can change color, thanks to the chromatophores in their skin, though they take slower than chameleons. Their color change helps them regulate their body temperature. 

Furthermore, iguanas communicate with each other through their color-changing ability. And this is very useful, especially during the mating season. For example, a male iguana shows brighter colors to attract potential mates or fend off competitors. 

Related: Explore other lizards with our chameleon facts and Komodo dragon facts.

3. Iguanas have unusual teeth.

Iguanas' dental structure comprises sharp teeth fused directly to their jawbones, making them 'acrodonts.' Unlike most reptiles, iguana teeth appear to be extensions of their jawbones. This trait distinguishes the iguana from other reptiles whose teeth are in sockets.

Furthermore, iguana teeth are perfect for its herbivorous diet since they can rip apart and shred vegetation. After iguanas eat, they close their mouths and neatly tuck away their serrated teeth on the inner side of their jawbone2. However, iguanas can also deliver a painful defensive bite when threatened. 

Reptile experts know why cold-bloods love the sun. The iguana fact below explains why.

4. Iguanas love to sunbathe.

sunbathing lizard
Photo by Angiola Harry on Unsplash

They are big sun worshippers. As cold-blooded reptiles, iguanas bask in the sun for energy and warmth. They cannot generate heat internally, so they use sunlight to prepare for the coming night. During the day, they seek out ideal sunbathing spots with temperatures around 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sunbathing also gives iguanas vital nutrients. They can absorb ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun, which unlocks Vitamin D3 in their bodies. This nutrient helps these animals absorb calcium, a critical nutrient for bone health.

On the other hand, sunbathing is also a social event where males show off their freshly sunbathed scales to potential mates, as in the case of the marine iguana.

5. Iguanas are excellent swimmers.

Most iguanas are excellent at swimming, especially marine iguanas living in the Galapagos Islands. Unlike other iguanas, they have evolved physical adaptations to thrive in aquatic environments.

Marine iguanas have long, flexible tails, nearly half their body size. In the water, these tails become powerful oars that let the iguana move forward and navigate its surroundings. Additionally, these iguana species fold their legs to streamline their bodies for maximum efficiency.  

While these iguanas are land-dwellers, they can dive up to 9 meters underwater to look for food. Moreover, they dive into the water to escape threats from their natural predators instead of running. They propel themselves in the water with their muscular tails. 

Related: For more information on other sun and water-loving cold-blooded reptiles, head to our crocodile facts and snake facts.

6. Iguanas can hold their breath for 30 minutes underwater.

swimming lizard
Photo by Scottslm on Pixabay

Iguanas can stay 30 minutes underwater, a skill honed over time to help them survive in the wild. Incredibly, some iguanas can also hold their breath for several hours. After diving, they emerge from the water and bask in the sun when they get too cold. 

Mature male marine iguanas can dive up to 100 feet underwater to hunt for algae, requiring them to hold their breath for a long time.

If you are a lizard lover, the following iguana fact is nothing new to you.

7. Iguanas can break off their tails.

When iguanas want to run away from predators, they can detach their tails through caudal autotomy3. This action confuses the predator, giving the reptile enough time to escape. Unique muscle attachments to the tail's vertebrae allow the iguana to break it off.

Meanwhile, pet iguanas can detach their tails if caught against an object or hit their tail against a hard surface. They can also break their tails off if their owners mishandle them. Young and healthy iguanas can often regenerate their tails, though they might look smoother, thinner, or darker than the original. 

However, older or malnourished iguanas are unable to regenerate their tails. Additionally, iguana owners must remember that a tail break can stress out their pets, so they must seek veterinary advice immediately. 

8. Iguanas love the tropics.

galapagos island iguana
Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

Preferring warm climates, wild iguanas are native species of Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean islands. Moreover, iguanas climb the tropical rainforest canopy to avoid predators.

Besides, the tropical rainforest provides them with food sources–leaves, flowers, and fruits–to fill their herbivorous diet. During the rainy season, iguanas can get access to water. The tropics are the perfect habitat for these reptiles since they can get everything they need.

9. Iguanas have a third eye.

An iguana's "third eye" is a unique feature called the parietal eye, a disc-like organ sitting on its head. Regulating their circadian rhythm, this eye monitors light changes in the environment4.

This special eye works closely with the iguana's pineal gland in its brain. Working in tandem, these features regulate their body clock and warming system. Since the iguana needs the sun's warmth for energy, the parietal eye detects changes in light levels to prompt the iguana to seek sunlight or shelter. 

When dawn breaks, the parietal eye detects brightening skies and signals the iguana to start its day. On the other hand, the eye prompts the iguana to look for shelter when the sun sets.

10. Male iguanas bob their heads to find mates.

While courting females, males put together a show based on head bobbing. This dance boldly declares the male's fitness, health, and reproduction readiness. Moreover, it tells female iguanas that the male is critical to their reproductive success. But if adult males show a faster head bobbing, they conduct an aggressive territorial display.

Besides head bobbing, males use their dewlap, a flap of skin beneath their neck, to embellish their performance. They thrust out their dewlap to make themselves look larger and more dominant to potential mates. Moreover, the dewlap becomes brighter during mating, attracting potential mates.

11. Baby Iguanas have several surprising survival tactics

Baby iguanas, or "hatchlings" as they're often called, present a captivating mix of surprising behavior, vibrant coloration, and intriguing survival strategies. In many species, including the more known green iguanas, hatchlings possess a lively green hue, a natural camouflage that helps them blend into their leafy surroundings, hiding efficiently from predators.

Baby iguanas are also precocial, meaning, they are relatively mature and mobile from the time they hatch, a significant advantage in the wild!

Remarkably, young iguanas don't stay small for long - within the first 18 months, they can shoot up from 6-9 inches to a whopping 1.5 feet body length.

12. Iguanas carry salmonella.

Many people may not know that iguanas and other reptiles carry the Salmonella bacteria in their bodies1. But they don't get sick or noticeably harmed. The bacteria also do not seem to affect the iguana's green coloration. However, the bacteria leave the iguana's body through its feces, where it can pose a risk to human health.

For example, a child can contract Salmonella by touching their hair, eating, or rubbing their eyes after touching their iguana or iguana eggs. Consequently, adults cleaning the iguana's enclosure can get sick if they don't wash their hands properly. Salmonella can also infect other house pets.

13. Many iguanas are endangered species.

rock iguana in natural habitat
San Salvador rock iguana, Photo by James St. John on Flickr CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Many iguana species, including green iguanas, have stable populations. However, the world of iguanas isn't all so fortunate. The Jamaican Iguana and the Fiji crested iguana are both critically endangered. Meanwhile, West Indian Iguanas, including rock iguanas, are among the most endangered lizards5. Due to habitat destruction, hunting, and the pet trade, iguana populations are experiencing a sharp decline. 

First, urban expansion and agriculture destroy their natural habitats in South and Central America or the Caribbean islands. These human activities disrupt the reptiles' food-seeking behavior; often, iguanas die or get injured after coming into contact with construction equipment. Additionally, introducing foreign species like mongooses and feral cats to their native habitat increases predation.

Next, people hunt iguanas illegally for their meat and skin. Moreover, many people in the pet industry forcibly remove young iguanas from their natural habitats and sell them to owners who keep them in poor conditions, spreading disease.

Share your favorite iguana facts to gather more people fighting to conserve these lizard species.

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1

Burnham, B. R., Atchley, D. H., DeFusco, R. P., Ferris, K. E., Zicarelli, J. C., Lee, J. H., & Angulo, F. J. (1998). Prevalence of fecal shedding of Salmonella organisms among captive green iguanas and potential public health implications. JAMA, 279(25), 2104-2107.

2

Throckmorton, G. S. (1979). Oral food processing in two herbivorous lizards, Iguana iguana (Iguanidae) and Uromastix aegyptius (Agamidae). Journal of Morphology, 160(2), 207-224.

3

Gilbert, E. A., Payne, S. L., & Vickaryous, M. K. (2013). The anatomy and histology of caudal autotomy and regeneration in lizards. Journal of Morphology, 274(5), 634-648.

4

Tosini, G., & Menaker, M. (1998). Multioscillatory Circadian Organization in a Vertebrate,Iguana iguana. The Journal of Neuroscience, 18(3), 1105–1114.

5

Alberts, Allison (comp. & ed.) (1999). West Indian Iguanas: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC West Indian Iguana Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. 6 + 111 pp.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Chinny Verana, BSc.

Photo by Thanh Soledas on Unsplash
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