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INTELLIGENCE IN IGUANAS Henry Lizardlover webage
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By Henry Lizardlover (c) Iguana Owner's Manual 1992



I think it depends on how you look at it, but a deeper look into these questions will find the answer to be yes, yes, yes, the iguana IS intelligence galore....

In this little essay, the focus is on iguanas but Id like to address some examples about how we would or would not view intelligence in other animals and humans also. None of this has to make any sense or be true, it just needs to stimulate thought on the subject to be meaningful.

But how are we going to define intelligence? Is it as simple to understand as reading the definition in the dictionary or reading the quotes about intelligence by scientists at Melissa Kaplan's Information Collection website?

Believe it or not, the ideas we have about "intelligence" of animals and especially the iguana is worth looking into, for a variety of reasons. The ideas people have about iguanas certainly effects how people will relate to them and animals in general.

In the world of science and philosophy there has never been any clear agreement in defining or understanding this concept we call intelligence.

When people that don't own iguanas ponder on the intelligence of an iguana, there's usually an immediate judgement that the iguana is just a "dumb animal", and far less intelligent than say a cat or dog. But from what I've seen, it's clear to me that grown up and mature adult iguanas are in so many ways, as intelligent as a dog or cat and have wonderful forms of intelligence that should not be reduced to the level of comparing to other creautes.

In my experience, I've seen so many people that become thrilled with surprise and amazement once they took the time to carefully observe all the character and intelligent behavior of well-adjusted mature iguanas, especially ones like Hasbro (my favorite example).

Recognizing and appreciating intelligence is a very tricky thing, believe it or not, it's really more of an ART than a science, think about it.

In the case of the iguana, we must look for new or different ways to recognize signs of intelligence, especially in a creature that tends (at first) to be alien and so "unlike" us. To compare iguanas to other animals or humans is very much like "comparing apples with oranges", not an honest approach to understanding the iguana's various forms of intelligence. The orange may have more vitamin C than the apple but that doesn't mean the apple is not rich in other vitamins and minerals and or other qualities.

It would be wiser and far more productive, more fun also, to learn the Art of seeing and knowing intelligence with all the wonderful various flavors and forms that it comes in. When we attempt to qualify intelligence by a mere RATING system which is most often just a method of COMPARISON (one animal compared to another or to the human's intelligence), we end up in a losing game, a meaningless competition, and we fail to really know and enjoy the creature's (in this case, the iguana's) actual intelligence.

People that love animals are actually MORE able to recognize intelligence and ability in them. On the other hand, people who are ambivalent towards or have no love for animals (or just a particular KIND of animal) are almost blinded by their own prejudice and are predetermined not to see the intelligence, whether that intelligence is demonstrated in actions, awareness, perception and or various other abilities.

Quite often we fail to appreciate the abilities that exist in animals, only because these are so common and taken for granted, or because some people say, "it's not learned", "it's only instinct". Ultimately, it takes intelligence and honest effort to recognize intelligence, and if a person is not so prepared, then he will not see intelligence. The age old habit of denying all manner of truths, just because we don't see them, only shows that we humans ain't all that smart! Ain't that the truth!

We must first realize that the entire life of an iguana, with all it's development and survival activity in the wild, from babyhood to mature adult is a magnificent display of intelligence. Every move he makes, every choice, every thing the iguana does involves an alert and active mind. The iguana's BODY alone, in design and detail, IS truly a form of incredible intelligence. Building an iguana is no small task, it takes a BIG brain and one hell of a good artist!


1) Welcome to Earth with all her amazing diversity of life forms, different, not necessarily less!
2) Comparing one different thing against another different thing is not recommended, not cool. ......Yes, of course, the animals have different kinds of intelligence and lots of it!

One being may be great and talented in mathematics but helpless and panic stricken in other areas of life, while another may have musical or lyric ability but is an actual moron when it comes to anything else, and yet another has ability to pilot an airplane and repair it if necessary, while another is a genius at preparing the best pizza and spaghetti marinara in New York city, and still another person (or animal) may be more intelligent in the business of survival in the jungle. The moral of the story is: When you are naked and lost in the jungle, ask an iguana what to do! If he looks at you and runs (because he "thinks" you look scary and may be a potential threat), then just observe how he survives in the wild and do likewise.


If we look at a wonderful creature like the bird, we can see great examples to realize other forms of intelligence. The bird is a natural genius, she soars through the air with the greatest of ease--- she's an EXPERT, a professional in her field of Birdness--- no human comes close to her bird ability. She is able to take off and land from high speed dives, gently down to the ground or on to a delicate tree branch, she can take off again and again in all kinds of flight maneuvers and great heights, to other cities or countries if she likes. Some birds pick fish right out of the water or fly from high altitudes and speeds falling through the sky to catch live moving animals on the ground. The bird finds various material to build it's nest, feeds and protects it's babies, sings and whistles and communicates with other birds--- that's definitely some good old fashioned intelligence to behold and highly respect. Some people will say it's only "instinct", nothing to be impressed with, just an unthinking, unintelligent dumb animal, a "bird brain".

Many people know there are qualities of intelligence to be found in ALL animals (and insects too)--- intelligent ability, memory, body control, decision making processes, emotional processes, knowing how to tell friendly creatures from enemy creatures, knowing where and when to travel--- any and all useful survival and social activities. If we call it "innate", "unlearned" or "just instinctual", suddenly it's no longer intelligence (in our intelligent minds) because we have another name for it. Using THAT type of logic, what would we say about all the great prodigies who were and are known for composing great music, inventing great inventions, understanding higher physics or other sophisticated sciences, great mystics or artists creating great works of art--- people who were born with these abilities and never learned them at a school? Known to have these abilities by their own nature, inborn, instinct or inspiration from the magic within. With that in mind, are the people that do NOT have such abilities, not intelligent?

Getting back to the point of the story, I'm not saying that birds or iguanas do a lot of thinking; what I am saying is that THINKING is not the only thing to THINK about! Think about it.

The bird could say, "Look at the poor stupid humans. They can't fly, they get lost without a compass, they can't whistle or communicate with us birds at all", only a bird would never have the human arrogance to "think" such a silly thing.

How much intelligence would it take for NASA to build and operate an artificial bird? Just the functions of flying and landing alone require massive intelligent ability and bodily coordination, not to mention their razor sharp awareness and the social skills required to succeed at being a real bird, and not a Ford Thunderbird. How much "intelligence" does it take for the seed or first few cells of an iguana's new life to become a full size tree jumping, water diving iguana? If we don't call that intelligence, or at least intelligent design and activity, then what SHOULD we call it? An accident? A series of random chemical reactions and stimuli improving through mathematical probability? Just something that happens in the process of logical phenomenon, no big deal.

Although an animal's brilliant activity and life might seem intelligent, the word "instinct" is often understood to mean that it's not really intelligence because it's an inherited or automatic behavior. When it comes to the iguana, if we take the time to look we will see the wonderful intelligence that he is and performs. The iguana does not have to do tricks or even come when you call him to show intelligence. Forget about being clever and rating or comparing him to other creatures. Many people are happy enough just to have an iguana that is willing to behave well and hang around us comfortably.

If you see how crazy a wild, scared iguana behaves and then watch a calm iguana like Hasbro you will not only see the difference in intelligence, you might fall in LOVE with it, I sure did! Call it "instinct" or call it "spaghetti", call it wherever you like--- intelligent behavior is intelligent behavior in any language. And by the way iguanas have a wonderful body language of their own. The iguana's intelligence goes way beyond accepting some training or learning some tricks--- PEACEFULNESS, HARMLESSNESS, TOLERANCE, TRUST--- occurring only through good intelligence--- all in one neat lizard package.


Yes, the brain of the iguana is small and tiny, but the beliefs and attitudes about small brains are very deceptive and quite vulgar to a closer look at what IS. The common idea that iguanas have small brains and small brains mean "no intelligence and no feelings" often leads people to overlook intelligent attributes in the iguana. That type of negative assumption can prevent the pet owner from giving the iguana the liberties and the respect that he deserves.

We should not get caught up with the idea that the iguana's "tiny pea-size brain" equals a tiny mind, or something like equal to a "vegetable". Intelligence is not a matter of large machinery, nor is the amount of matter. The rating of an iguana's intelligence will only be limited by the perception of the observer and the iguana's brain size is only a problem for people that have "small brain syndromia- stupidia".
Consider the miraculous perfection (in memory, function, awareness, dedicated service and a great mission in life) of the tiny but well-able creature, Mr. Ant, and we KNOW that Mr. Ant has a tiny microscopic brain!

When people do stupid, crazy or violent things, we don't say, "oh, it's because they have a small brain", NO--- THEN we say it's because the person has emotional problems, insecurity or ego problems, fear or anger problems. We can certainly see in this world that the stupidest and most cruel acts are by us "superior" humans, including the very "educated" humans, not animals. However, when someone has trouble with an iguana or automatically assumes a low regard for him (even though he is intelligent and has a life), we hear this kind of statement, "Well the brain is small. What can you expect from a creature with an undeveloped, inferior reptile brain", "the animal is not evolved" (to the peaceful intelligence of us humans). For example, racist idiots foolishly claim some higher status in this world based on the belief that THEY have superior brain quality and look at them, they don't have the mental quality of an average iguana, let alone one like Hasbro. Unfortunately, the negative views and abuse of animals is most often based on our foolish calculations of human superiority and thus the foolish conclusion that we have the right to use animals any way we choose.

Believe it or not, our Science and Culture has general disregarded animals in such a way to maintain and promote ideas that animals (especially lizards) do not suffer or know pain, that animals are stupid and unconscious beings, enough so that their life has no real meaning or value and their intelligence is quickly dismissed.

In the final analysis--- I believe "intelligence" (especially in the narrow way that people tend to define it) should not be a criteria for status and right to life, that life is life, that equality is ultimately the superior view while superiority is actually the inferior view. And if people are superior in some way, then they would be able to appreciate animal life in more meaningful ways, and protect animal life, not endanger or harm animals (when reasonably possible).


It is clear that the iguana is very AWARE and perceptive of everything in his environment. He has the potential to TRUST. That is a great virtue and vital ability of an intelligent and conscious creature. He will see the things that satisfy his own personal considerations and decide to trust or not trust. He can evaluate and remember subtle differences about other animals and people and he knows who is friendly or unfriendly. THAT is what matters. Hasbro does not want to run away from home where the service is so excellent--- he's no fool. He loves life and thinks highly of himself, he's a man!

He is always watching and evaluating every detail in his environment. He can easily recognize from a vast MEMORY, the sounds of different voices, different dog barks and other noises at the house.

He can also remember and recognize all sorts of visual details such as faces, hair, beards, clothing, colors, furniture, animals, car interiors, and his home sweet home. He will notice any changes and be very careful and suspicious of any changes.

The iguana's ability to recognize FRIENDLY or SAFE creatures is the most important thing. My iguanas learn to recognize the dogs and even the wild squirrels at my home. Just by observing the dogs through the window the iguana can and does get a feeling about them.

After a while the iguana will comfortably walk by the dogs and this is interesting because iguanas are naturally scared to death of dogs. Even though my iguanas get used to my dogs, if they see a strange dog outside the yard they will get very scared at first, then adjust provided the strange dog is not being aggressive. My iguanas are not afraid if the dogs they know are barking but when these iguanas hear a strange dog's bark it alerts them to danger and a quick return back to the house or car. The iguana is very able to differentiate new things or new animals and adjust if necessary as long as no harm comes to him. Yes, the iguana is a big piece of INTELLIGENT LIFE.


My Divine Iguana Bro, Hasbro, known the world over, as the pasta eating, guitar posing, all round cuddly fun guy.


Hasbro is wonderfully calm and graceful, confident and trusting, proud and pompous. This is Virtue that people recognize in seconds upon meeting him. He is the model of a fully actualized male iguana. He was calm and trusting even as a little baby 'bro. The massive ego and pompous body language came later as he grew into the iguana manhood stage (four years at that time).

His collective attributes are somewhat rare in one pretty iguana package. Surely there are other "Hasbros" in the world, hopefully in a safe and comfortable place, maybe your place. When people see him for the first time they usually say "Wow, I never saw a lizard that big". He is a sizable hunk weighing 18 pounds at this time. On his large primal head is a clean, handsome face. Besides the fact that Hasbro is large, he really has amazing physical strength which is immediately noticeable when you pick him up and he grabs hold for a safe position.

He demonstrates real calmness and peace of mind. For a hyper-sensitive creature like the iguana, he is coming a long, long way, this takes great trust and faith! Hasbro always demonstrates strong will and assertiveness. He lives with intense ego and pride which is certainly not a virtue but again a very human trait.

Yes, he is a "lizard", but he will feel frustration when he can't get what he wants and feels pain in fear or injury, as much as any human.

He instantly perceives other male iguanas as hostile competition, resulting in instant outrage especially in "his" territory.

He is very social and actually feels safe with people around or when his two dog buddies are with him in the yard. He will get scared when real danger alerts him and reasonably so. Hasbro will coexist with just about any friendly animals or people. He eats fruit and mainly vegetables but will instantly go for pizza, spaghetti, birthday cake, and burritos (once in a while). He would not think of attacking animals like the birds, squirrels or small lizards that surround him every day.

He recognizes people, recognizes animals, recognizes and returns back into the truck (when I let him go for walks away from home), knows the house where he lives, and he knows about returning to his room in the house from the daily backyard excursion. Hasbro will allow female or baby iguanas to share an area with him but he will never allow any adult males to be around him. He is very active during the day and everything he does makes perfect sense for the sane and friendly kind of guy he is.


His face and body gesture radiate familiar expression you expect to see in a person, not in a creature with a body that looks so unreal, so leathery and lethal. That's the fun part.

Yes indeed, his eyes reflect moods and feelings of a genuinely conscious being. Yes, he is an animal. No, he does not do tricks or "clever" things that a human can, but the gestures, the functions, the being friendly when he gets friendly (treatment), this he does the way a human would.


Hasbro will go freely for a daily walk from my bedroom, out of the house and to the backyard. He licks the ground every few steps as he walks in a proud easy swagger while stopping to bob his head frequently. It is clear to see that he feels like a king and emanates an attitude of owning the place. He swaggers over to a spot in the sun and lays right by two small dogs. Later, he decides to leap onto a table which he likes to lounge on. He bobs and shakes his head. Then Hasbro may want to get on the roof of the garage so he climbs up a tree that serves like a ladder, bobs and shakes his head and then as he gets on the roof he bobs again. Later, Hasbro will climb down and return back to the house. He will go straight to his room in the house taking one casual step at a time, but first stops twice to bob and shake his head while climbing the stair case.

At certain times of the day or night Hasbro loves to stretch across three large hot rocks atop a wicker book case. He constantly watches out the window to see if other iguanas are active in his territory (the backyard).

When he sees another male iguana (Elvis) walking the yard, he bobs and shakes his head to make that primal challenge. He would try to leave the room to out for a fight, but I keep the door closed to prevent the violent bloodshed. I don't want another "Tombstone" happening at my place.


At any time I can go up to Hasbro and pet or pick him up. When I offer him some food he likes to bob and shake first, just to let me know that he is the master of the house and I am just a lowly mouse. I don't mind because he is a real reptile man.

I can take him in the car and Hasbro immediately goes for his favorite spot on the dashboard, then bobs his head. He may choose to stay on the dash, stretched across with arms back while I drive from city to city, country to country, ocean to ocean.

I can take him anywhere, anytime and put him on the most crowded sidewalk without a problem. Sometimes I take Hasbro up to the mountains and allow him freedom to roam but he just surveys the area as a safety check and does not try to run or leave.

Well, it just happened one day, along time ago, I found Hasbro in a pet shop when he was a tiny baby. Now, many years later, he is my best bro and it's the longest relationship I've ever had.

Among the hundreds of iguanas I have known, my own or those of friends, Hasbro stands out as the Howard Stern of lizards. He has charisma, power, bold assertiveness, will, ego, adventure, tender sensitivity, memory, intelligent awareness, and good looks, no wonder the girls can't resist him.

Some people say Hasbro should be in the wild jungle (natural habitat) and I agree, but if you ask Hasbro, he just bobs and shakes his big fat head, and only wishes he could sneak into my living room so he could tear the head off of Lester (another macho male iguana). Men will be men!

Is he intelligent life, the mysterious and veiled energy that animates an iguana's body or just a machine programmed with electro/chemical induced character? Whatever the iguana is, it sure impresses the hell out of me.

(using Hasbro as reference)



Hasbro has a high level of confidence; It's a nice peaceful feeling to see him walk up to a dog, squirrel or group of persons without hesitating, confident to bob his, trusting and not afraid, letting people reach over to pet him or even kiss. When he is comfortably soaking up Sun on an outside stairway, I have to step over or around him because he trusts that I won't crush him. I can take him to a busy school room, library or a friend's house and within a few minutes he relaxes to make the best of it, acting like he would at home, calm and proud, head bobbing too. Even when I pick him up, he bobs his head while suspended in the air, in my hands. Although he constantly signals with an assertive head bobbing gesture, he trusts and realizes that I am not another male iguana to attack.


Hasbro has a high level of interest and personal eye contact with people. He really looks at you and you will have the feeling that he is very attentive and fully aware of you. His watchfulness feels quite the same as if it were a person. Other iguanas may appear to fall short of this because they do not look comfortably at you but instead they may look at you with a paranoid stare or a spaced out blankness. There is a real difference.


Hasbro rates high in the friendliness department. Friendliness would be any gestures by the iguana that show he is comfortable to be near you. Hasbro will carefully take food from anyone's hands. He will choose to approach and be near people. In the car he will climb right on to your lap, shoulder or head and stay there, not because of any heat either and he knows quite well that you are not a tree.

At home, Hasbro will be sleeping on a hot rock in my kitchen (at night) but when I come home and get into my bed he will actually wake up, leave the kitchen for my bedroom and climb right up to my bed to sleep beside me. I swear this to be true. In the morning, he puts himself on my chest and waits for me to get out of bed. I think anyone that follows you into bed must like you.


Hasbro has the very determined will to travel and do certain routines around the house everyday, even though I might prefer for him to just stay put in his room. Some iguanas are timid and shy; they will want to stay in one spot all day and some pet owners may prefer it that way.

Hasbro has drive of his own. It may be easier to have an iguana that is more sedate and some are just that, but that would be an iguana with less passion than a "Hasbro".

He demands to be let out of his room to walk the house and yard daily. If the door is closed than Hasbro will scratch at the door like any cat or dog would. He wants to go outside to chase away other male iguanas and he wants to enjoy his life while soaking up the sun. If he sees a female and he is in the mood, he becomes very passionate and does his thing.

Wanting to find and fight other iguanas, wanting to travel to a day time hangout, wanting to get to a nighttime hangout. The point is that some iguanas will demonstrate a tremendous amount of desire and determination. Some more, some less, they have a will.


Tolerance is very important and Hasbro rates high with great flexibility, whether it's putting up with restrictions to his liberty (at certain times) or flexibility in remaining calm and friendly through changes or events that other iguanas would not put up with. Some iguanas will be very calm at home but if you take them out to another house, car or any strange place, they get scared and may even panic.

Hasbro can travel with me anywhere and remain calm and cool. Some iguanas will be calm as long as you approach them in a careful way (which you always should), but Hasbro is so tolerant, he can be approached and picked up in a variety of ways without getting scared or angry. Flexibility and tolerance to changes is a component and aspect of their character, varying among different iguanas.


Every iguana has his own particular ways of walking, eating, communicating, sleeping, fighting, etc, etc. Hasbro does it all in his own distinct super style which again demonstrates cool iguana character. For example when Hasbro bobs his head he does it in firm long strokes like a military man doing the perfect salute. Other iguanas may do a very wishy washy head bobbing. Females do a less exaggerated head bob. When Hasbro takes food from my hand he is careful and gentle whereas some other iguanas rip and attack the food like uncivilized heathens. When Hasbro walks you see a proud style and steady swagger while other iguanas may walk low and timidly. Other iguanas may make quick jaunts from one location to the next demonstrating some fear or urgency. Every iguana will have different resting positions. Hasbro style is most comfortable as he throws his legs back so the feet extend even over his tail. That is just one part of his style but almost all iguanas have a wonderful way of finding comfortable rest positions. The point is they all have different style and mannerisms that demonstrate very individual character.


Hasbro demonstrates outstanding memory which is clear to see because of the extended activties he engages in, whereas an iguana that spends his time in an aquarium may have "memory" but has no way of demonstrating it to the observer.

Hasbro knows which door leads out of his room and travels through the house to places he has traveled before, taking the correct turns and paths. After exploring the familiar areas of the house and backyard he remembers how to return to his room all by his self. Hasbro remembers the car that he so often travels in. It is obvious he remembers as he will bob his head as soon as I get him near or into my truck, also have the same favorite spots he goes to in the truck.

He remembers the look of myself and if I were to wear a beard or hat, Hasbro would be visibly alerted. Of course Hasbro also remembers the dogs and other animals at the house. I have a tree skink (lizard) named Menace that Hasbro will not go near. He closes his eyes and snorts and grunts when Menace approaches him but he will not act this way if one of the other tree skinks goes near him. Menace and Hasbro had previous clashes and Hasbro obviously remembers. Memory is constantly demonstrated by this "lizard".

Iguanas will remember and continue to remember, places and people, even if they have been isolated away from being handled.

The point is that an iguana can demonstrate memory or other intelligent acts just like a cat or dog provided the iguana is not scared or angry which will be a great interference to the higher iguana abilities.



When people get an iguana, they usually assume it will react in a similar manner as other pets (cats, dogs, birds) whereas if you show it kindness (petting and handling) it will like you. When it comes to cats, dogs and even birds, these creatures begin the pet owner relationship in a rather neutral and receptive mode, being "neutral", neither considering you an enemy (to be feared) or friend and simply await the treatment you give them and act accordingly.

However, when it comes to the iguana, he is not always starting from this neutral and receptive attitude, he usually is in a position of FEAR, he is scared, scared, scared, usually. The iguana is not viewing his new owner with a "fair" or unbiased viewpoint, he starts off convinced that people will harm him. That means the iguana is much more sensitive and more worried about his safety than a dog or cat might be. As explained further on in this book, the iguana owner must provide the iguana with opportunity to feel safe (not by handling per se, but rather "safe places, safe environment") for him to become relaxed and build up his confidence (a peaceful easy feeling) within himself first.

Yes, you may handle the iguana but, try it when he is showing signs of being calm (not when he is scared and freaked), don't force friendliness -- don't handle him "to make him calm". Pet him where and when he is comfortable with your presence and don't make him think you are a human that doesn't have a life.

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