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How to Care* for Your Desert Iguana

How to Care* for Your Desert Iguana

(photo credit LA Zoo)


Desert Iguanas (Dipsosaurus dorsalis) are medium-sized  (16”-18”), diurnal, heavy-bodied reptiles native to the deserts of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Desert Iguanas generally have a gray to cream background color with darker gray patterning on their backs.  Some individuals may have yellow or reddish markings as well. They are considered to be intermediate level pets due to their cage size and heating needs. 


A single or pair of Desert Iguanas can be kept in a 3’x2’x2’ enclosure.  Since these lizards may climb to get close to the heat source when basking, they require sturdy branches that will not topple when they sit on them. Recommended substrates include bark mulch or sand to allow the Desert Iguana to dig.  They can also be kept in a bioactive environment.  Shade shelter should be provided in the form of a container large enough for the Desert Iguana to use as a hide as well as other crevices or burrows that can be fashioned from branches, cork bark, and rocks.  Be sure that all “furniture” is well anchored so as not to come apart and injure the lizard.  Mist the substrate periodically to keep it moist enough for the Desert Iguana to be able to burrow. Although it’s not clear whether Desert Iguanas use a water bowl consistently,  it’s a good idea to keep a small one in the enclosure, which should be cleaned regularly.

Heating and Lighting

Desert Iguanas require a high ambient temperature; generally, 90-100F, as well as a basking area with temperatures of at least 100 degrees F. This, is most easily achieved by using a combination of under tank heaters, heat lamps or ceramic heat emitters, all of which are left running day and night, as well as several dome lights with halogen or floodlights which is running during the day for 12 hours. In addition, a full spectrum light is required to provide the lizard with UV.  The air temperature in the remainder of the enclosure should be in the 90’sF during the day and in the upper 60’s to low 70’s at night.  

Food and Supplementation

Desert Iguanas are almost entirely fruit and vegetable eaters; insects or worms should make up less than 20% of their diet.  Desert Iguanas will enjoy limited amounts of large crickets or Dubia roaches.  Their diet should consist primarily of healthy green leafy vegetables and other vegetables such as squash, peppers, green beans, and flowers such as dandelions.  Spinach, which binds calcium, should be provided only occasionally. Although lettuce generally doesn’t have much nutritional value, small amounts can be provided to increase moisture intake. Fruit is also appreciated but should be a relatively minor component of the diet.  Food should be dusted with calcium and vitamin D3. 

*This care sheet contains only very basic information.  If you are new to Desert Iguanas, please do additional research to obtain additional information from more detailed care sheets.

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