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How to Care for Your Cuban Rock Iguana

How to Care for Your Cuban Rock Iguana

Cuban rock iguanas (Cyclura nubila) are 3-4’ long, diurnal, terrestrial lizards native to Cuba and surrounding islands. They have also been introduced to Puerto Rico, where they thrive as an invasive species. They generally prefer coastal areas with sandy, rocky beaches for habitat.

Cuban rock iguanas are generally dark gray to dull red in color, with a pattern of dark bands. They have large heads, tubercle-encrusted jowls, a thick tail, and spikes down the length of their spine. One noteworthy feature is their striking eyes, which have a red sclera and golden iris.

Although Cuban rock iguanas are among the most tame pet iguanas, they are still large lizards with specific needs, which makes them an advanced-level pet reptile. With good care, a Cuban rock iguanas can live as long as 60-70 years, so they also represent a significant life commitment.

How much space do Cuban rock iguanas need?

Cuban rock iguanas are large, active lizards, so they need an appropriately large enclosure. Baby iguanas can be kept in a smaller, 40-55 gallon tank until they reach 18” long, but at that point they need to be moved to their adult enclosure. The minimum size for a single adult Cuban rock iguana is 8’L x 4’W x 6’H. This size of enclosure may not be readily available for purchase, so you may need to order one custom-made or build your own.

Cohabitation (keeping multiple Cuban rock iguanas in the same enclosure) is generally not recommended.

Do Cuban rock iguanas need UVB?

UVB is required for Cuban rock iguanas to stay healthy. Aside from helping provide a day/night cycle and providing an infinite supply of vitamin D, UVB is also good for the lizard’s overall health. Here are the best UVB bulbs for Cuban rock iguanas housed in an indoor 8’L x 4’W x 6’H enclosure:

  • Arcadia T5 HO Desert 12%, 46”
  • Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 10.0, 46”

The UVB lamp should be mounted inside the enclosure. Place the basking branch/platform so the iguana’s back will be 16-18” below the lamp. The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture like the Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics T5 HO, and placed on the basking side along with the heat lamp. Make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is housed in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover.

Since Cuban rock iguanas are active during the day, it’s beneficial to provide an additional daylight-spectrum lamp to make sure the enclosure is brightly illuminated. This is extra important since you will be using such a large enclosure. Use 6’ of strong 6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent plant grow lights for best results.

Lights should be on for 13 hours/day during summer and 11 hours/day during winter in order to simulate natural seasonal cycles. This helps regulate hormonal cycling and is likely to be beneficial to long-term health.

What basking temperatures do Cuban rock iguanas need?

Cuban rock iguanas need a basking surface temperature of at least 120°F and a cool side temperature between 75-85°F. They tolerate cool nighttime temperatures well and can tolerate drops to as low as 50°F at night.

Measure your temperature gradient with a temperature gun. The basking surface should be a thick, sturdy wood branch or platform laced near the top per the specifications listed in the lighting section.

Provide heat for your pet by imitating the sun with a cluster of halogen heat lamps placed on one side of the enclosure. You will need enough lamps to evenly heat an area at least the size of the lizard’s body, which will take at least 4 lamps. Do not use heat mats, ceramic heat emitters, or colored bulbs, as these are not as effective.

What humidity levels do Cuban rock iguanas need?

Cuban rock iguanas are a tropical species, but they are not as sensitive to local humidity levels as some other species. Shoot for average humidity levels between 40-80%. Humidity should be measured with a wall-mounted digital hygrometer. Daily misting with a pressure sprayer or automatic misting system can be helpful for maintaining humidity. 

What substrate is good for Cuban rock iguanas?

Substrate helps maintain optimal humidity levels, provides a digging medium, and helps cushion your iguana’s body. Play sand or a 60/40 mix of clean topsoil and sand usually makes an appropriate substrate for this species.

Substrate should be at least 6” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with any contaminated substrate.

What décor can you use in a Cuban rock iguana enclosure?

Cuban rock iguanas do not do well in enclosures where they can’t hide, climb, or perform other instinctive behaviors. And heaven forbid that it’s boring! One of the best ways you can help your pet be happy in its enclosure is to fill it with things for the lizard to use and interact with.

Here are some ideas for things to add to the enclosure:

  • sturdy climbing branches
  • raised platforms
  • hollow logs
  • additional hiding places (dog/cat kennels can work well)
  • live, nontoxic plants

All climbing branches should be securely anchored into the walls/floor of the enclosure to prevent collapse.

What do Cuban rock iguanas eat?

Cuban rock iguanas are herbivorous, which means that they eat plants to get the nutrition that they need. Cuban rock iguanas should be able to eat their fill of greens every day, with occasional fruit as a treat. Approximately 95% of their diet should be dark leafy greens, flowers, and fruits.

For a healthy, happy Cuban rock iguana, offer as much dietary variety as you can! 

Leafy greens for iguanas: collard greens, cactus pads, spring mix, arugula, kale, alfalfa, bok choy, carrot greens, spinach, dandelion greens, hibiscus greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, parsley, romaine lettuce, escarole, watercress, clover, Mazuri Iguana Diet

Other vegetables for iguanas: broccoli, rapini, zucchini, cauliflower, sweet potato, bell pepper, squash, carrots, okra, sprouts, pea pods, green beans, shredded carrots

Flower and fruit options for iguanas: berries, mango, cantaloupe, apple, banana, papaya, hibiscus flowers, dandelion flowers, nasturtium flowers

Cuban rock iguanas are known to occasionally eat carrion in the wild, so it’s a good idea for 5% of their diet to come from an occasional rodent feeder or large insects (1x/month only). Too much protein in a Cuban rock iguana’s diet is likely to damage their kidneys!

Supplements

You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your iguana from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy SuperVeggie, lightly dusted on all salads.

Water

Although Cuban rock iguanas get most of their hydration from their food, you will also need to provide a large bowl of fresh water where your iguana can drink as desired. Change out the water whenever it gets soiled, and give it a good scrub with disinfectant once a week.

Do Cuban rock iguanas like to be handled?

Truthfully, few reptiles actually “like” to be handled. Cuban rock iguanas are known to be among the easiest iguanas to tame, so with effort and patience, you can create a rewarding bond between you and your pet. However, be aware: these iguanas have a powerful bite that can seriously injure a human. If you are worried about getting bitten, wear heavy leather gloves during handling.

When you start handling your iguana as a youngster, be gentle. Don’t grab the lizard from above, because that will make it afraid of you. Instead, approach from the side and scoop from below. Let it come to you/climb onto you whenever possible. Support as much of its body as possible, especially its feet. Handle inside the enclosure only at first. Start with very short handling sessions in the beginning, then gradually make them longer as your pet becomes more accustomed to you. Emphasize positive interactions, and treats can be used as a bribe. 


*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species.


(photo credit BirdLife.org)

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