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How to Care* for Your Spiny Tailed Iguana

How to Care* for Your Spiny Tailed Iguana


“Spiny Tailed” Iguana refers to a variety of species of desert iguana from the genus CtenosauraThe individual species range in size from a moderate 10” to a large 4’.  Their commonality is in their textured tails with protruding scales that resemble spines and their origin in the deserts of Mexico and Central America.  Specific care information will obviously vary with the species, which includes C. defensor, C. quinquecarinata, C. similis, and C. pectinata, among others.  Consequently, this care sheet should be considered a more general care guide. Spiny Tailed Iguanas are considered to be intermediate level pets due to the cage size for the larger species and their heating needs. 


Spiny Tailed Iguanas’ enclosure size depends on the individual species.  The smallest species will do best in an enclosure measuring 3’x2’x2’, while the largest species require a minimum of 6’x2x’3’.  All Spiny Tailed Iguanas will spend time during the day basking and will likely climb to get close to the heat source. They require sturdy branches that will not topple when they sit on them.  The branches should allow the Spiny Tailed Iguana to bask within 10-12” of the heat source. Recommended substrates include bark, mulch, or sand to allow the Spiny Tailed Iguanas 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 Spiny Tailed 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 Spiny Tailed Iguana to be able to burrow. Although it’s not clear whether Spiny Tailed 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

Spiny Tailed Iguanas require a moderately high ambient temperature; generally, 75-85F, as well as a basking area with temperatures of at least 100 degrees F. This is most easily achieved by using several dome lights (the number of dome lights will depend on the size of the species being kept) with halogen or floodlights which are running during the day for 12 hours. There should be an adequate number of lights to allow the heat to reach the Iguana’s entire body.  In addition, a full spectrum light is required to provide the lizard with UV.  Additional heating may be required in cooler environments to maintain the required ambient temperature.

Food and Supplementation

Spiny Tailed Iguanas are almost entirely fruit and vegetable eaters; insects or worms should make up less than 20% of their diet.  Spiny Tailed 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, hibiscus, and other tropical buds.  Spinach, which binds calcium, should be provided only occasionally. Fruit is 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 Spiny Tailed Iguanas, please do additional research to obtain additional information from more detailed care sheets.

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