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University of Illinois

Wanna Iguana? Do Your Reptile Research First!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 17, 2013

Just look at that adorable, bright green lizard! Only four inches long and inexpensive, too. Ready to buy a baby iguana?

Not so fast. Bring this scaly guy home only if you are willing to made a commitment of 20 years or so and ready to provide a sizable enclosure for a lizard that will grow to 6 to 8 feet in length and require UVB (ultraviolet) lighting, a temperature maintained in the 85 degrees Fahrenheit range, and humidity maintained between 50 percent and 70 percent. And don't forget the veterinary care.

"The green iguana was easily the most popular pet lizard for many years," says Dr. Mark Mitchell, a veterinarian who sees exotic pets at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. "In the 1990s and early 2000s, more than a million of them were imported into the United States from countries in Central and South America, and even more were bred in captivity here."

Unfortunately, a great many of these animals went to owners who did not learn about their pet's husbandry needs and behavior, so a large number of pet iguanas died or were abandoned.

In addition to the housing requirements mentioned above, iguanas need a specific diet. "Green iguanas are what are referred to as 'true herbivores,' meaning they are strictly vegetarians," says Dr. Mitchell. More than half of their diet should consist of dark leafy greens, such as romaine and mustard or collard greens, and they should also be fed small amounts of fruits and vegetables.

Owners should be prepared not only for a long-lived and 6-foot-long pet, but also for periods of aggressive behavior.

"During its breeding season, male iguanas have a tendency to be aggressive, especially to female owners," explains Dr. Mitchell. Typically docile animals can inflict serious bites, and this can lead to an owner surrendering the pet.

Dr. Mitchell recommends that anyone considering a reptile pet might do well to start with something other than an iguana.

"Bearded dragons are medium-sized lizards, about 2 feet in length as adults. They have an average lifespan of 8 to 12 years and have 'doglike' personalities," he says.

Leopard geckos are also good "beginner" reptile pets because they reach only 8 to 10 inches in length and are especially hardy animals. According to Dr. Mitchell, geckos live 20 to 30 years, so be aware of the commitment if you are thinking of getting one.

Snakes make great pets too. Dr. Mitchell suggests ball pythons or corn snakes that have been captive-bred. These snakes are docile, easy to handle, and easy to care for properly.

As when acquiring any pet, potential owners should research the needs of a reptile pet to ensure it's the best match for both the person and the animal. And with any reptile pet, Dr. Mitchell strongly advises making sure the animal is captive-born.

"By acquiring your pet from a captive-born situation, you can minimize the risk of bringing in a disease from the wild, and you are not adding to the demand for wild animal capture and trade, which negatively impacts the animal population and the environment," advises Dr. Mitchell.

For more information about choosing the right reptile pet, speak with an exotics veterinarian. For more information about adopting a scaly pet, contact the Chicago Herpetological Society at chicagoherp.org.


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