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The Iguana Mind and Potential Behavior



By Henry Lizardlover (c) Iguana Owner's Manual-1992

The iguana is classified as a "reptile", which tells us not much, the type of BODY i.e., cold blooded system, no hair, not yielding milk, but these things do not tell us anything about the character or the being, and that's the best part.

Essentially, the iguana is quite the "same" as other earth creatures. He wants to breathe, eat his vegies, get some sun, have a safe place to sleep and live another day in the busy jungle. He clings to life and is very, very afraid of being hurt.


In his actions and gestures, the calm iguana will often exude human like traits. It might help to understand the iguana by imagining him as a "little person", but a much more sensitive person, and sometimes a paranoid person.

Every iguana varies as much as people will vary, this is easy to see when you live with adult iguanas that parade freely around the home. Each and every iguana will have a distinct, unique personality, no fooling! Some iguanas will stay scared and crazy while other iguanas that are potentially a CALM TYPE can behave (sooner or later) so well that everything they do is like perfect "trained" behavior. Until you see for yourself just how normal and intelligently a calm iguana behaves, you may not believe the sophistication and grace they possess.


There are various traits that the iguana may develop but this comes in stages throughout growth. If the iguana has the potential, more character and positive pet qualities will occur as long as he is in an environment that works for him to feel safe and happy. Feeling safe is the key to his good good behavior. You can only hope that he becomes a calm individual.

The inherent personality and sensitivity cannot be "improved" or "trained" to change from what he is to be. When you buy an iguana, you are buying an individual that may have a nasty character, or a sweet mellow character, or a combination, or a fearful character, or a simple dull character, or a very individual leave me alone character, or a crazy biting, tail whipping character, or an egotistical funny character, or a curious and friendly character or anything in between.

The baby iguana is not the teen age iguana, is not the adult iguana. They change, they develop, through stages, just like people. The changes will go in the direction of the iguana's inherent character. It is like a caterpillar that becomes a butterfly or a moth and you cannot change or "train" it out of his natural make up.

The baby can be ideal and fine, then evolve into a less ideal wild beast! Some of the temperamental changes may only be for a short cycle of a few weeks and then reverse back to normal. A change in environment (room or house) can make major changes in his behavior (good or bad).


It is hard to be sure what kind of iguana he really is until he matures. His characteristics usually get better (sometimes worse) as he develops during the first 5 years. It is somewhat of a gamble when you buy a baby iguana because some turn out to be great, some will be okay and some will grow to be thoroughly nasty awful pets. Whether good or bad, you cannot stop their attitude and personality from becoming what they are inside.

With the baby iguanas you can look for signs of physical health but the signs of character are only subtle clues and not always going to be a guarantee of what he will be like when he grows up. If you are getting an ADULT iguana, than what you see is what you get provided you spend a few minutes or hours to handle him and observe his behavior.

The way you treat the iguana as you raise him is still important but secondary to his personal nature. All the petting and handling you could ever do is not going to impress or change a hyper sensitive, scared or totally independent iguana. The calm types will turn out to be calm on their own provided you give them a calm, safe environment (to what the iguana feels is safe). Bear in mind that a cage, aquarium or other things can sometimes work to terrorize and freak out some iguanas. Provide what is safe and works for you and the iguana, but be ready to make adjustments. Remember, the iguana will go through changes and moods, sometimes temporary and sometimes permanent


Once the iguana establishes an inner feeling of confidence, safety and security, the rest comes easy. Take a moment to carefully understand that this "feeling" happens in degrees, and it's not pure fear changing overnight to pure security, it changes in degrees, step by step or moment to moment. I have never "trained" an iguana! Intelligent behavior around people (besides the owner) is natural for some iguanas but not all "calm" iguanas, because some will only be calm at home and not elsewhere with unfamiliar persons.

The iguana has the potential to live comfortably with friendly animals and humans when given the opportunity in the right situation. He is however, basically a VERY SENSITIVE creature that can be easily overwhelmed and live in fear or madness. If he does not surrender (let go) of the fear and develop an attitude in some degree of TRUST (faith in his safety), he will most certainly be a miserable unhappy pet.


It makes sense that the iguana will be afraid, especially with the giant appearance of a human. An iguana may or may not be able to make "the step", to trust, to relax and enjoy the comfortable environment you provide him. The calm adult iguana won't react with sudden panic antics like the other more sensitive scared types. Don't take it personally. If they are scared or see you as a challenge they are not able to behave well in that state of mind and may run, whip or hide.

If fear overwhelms the iguana and does not decline, it is a real problem for the pet owner and the iguana. Two to three years is when you really are finding out who this pet will be. The fear will dominate his personality and only drive him into reacting to everything with panic. His fear will not permit for the luxury of comfort or sane behavior. If he is living in fear it rules over him and completely interferes with his perception of the world. His vision will lie to him and when you try to do something friendly he will only see it as a threat. He may respond with whipping, hissing, running into walls, glass or anything.


A calm iguana will radiate with living personality and will perceive friendliness and be friendly. Would a person have to be "trained" to be friendly or to know his friends or his home? No, it's automatic.


When my iguanas reached maturity they behaved in ways that people thought would have required training. These iguanas developed confidence and experience by seeing and knowing the things, places, animals and people at my home with CALM iguana-vision. I never expected any intelligent behavior from iguanas, "lizards".

One day, I decided to take one of my mature iguanas (3-4 years old) out to the backyard just for regular sunning. I would permit him to walk around in order to see what he would do with a little freedom. The iguana would walk toward the house instead of seeking an escape to any of the surrounding trees or bushes in the yard. Then he would climb up a staircase that leads up to the house. He just "knows" where his home is and proceeds to walk by the dogs as he carefully goes up the steps right into the house.

Then Hasbro swaggers on through a kitchen and makes the correct turn to a bedroom and climbs onto the regular furniture that he knows is his rest and sleep place. Because he is not a cat or dog, we expect the iguana to not have that kind of mentality, but they do.

Over the years the other adult iguanas would do the same intelligent maneuvers, to return to the house and never be tempted to escape or stray elsewhere. I found that even if the back door of the house was closed, the iguana would go all the way around the house and attempt to enter at the front door! WOW

I recently took Hasbro (my best pet iguana) to a big empty parking lot for sunning (the first time). He decided to get out of the truck and walked a big circle around the lot. He did get scared for a moment when he saw a boy in the distance walking a basket-ball. I'm sure the basket ball must have been a mind blowing experience for Hasbro. Anyway, Hasbro found his cool and finished the walk across the cement parking lot. He goes right toward the truck, climbs right on to the rear bumper and gets inside "his" truck. Since then he does it every time. A "lizard", knowing to return into the truck, that always impresses me.

Everything these iguanas do, shows various forms of intelligent behavior. Most of the males have a very standard proud ego and thus signal with challenges and dominance toward other male and female iguanas. My most mature-calm iguanas live in social harmony with dogs, squirrels, birds, other types of lizards or people.


For the pet owner, the most important quality of an iguana is how much confidence he develops. To relax, trust and accept the environment is the key. Only when an iguana is relaxed, not scared, will he be a real pet.

There are in betweens and always exceptions. However, on the average, they are either going to be really nice, reasonably tame, or difficult and wild based on their level of fear. They tend to become pretty much one way or the other, feeling secure or scared, one or the other, with instant swings and changes by the more sensitive scared iguanas. Even a CALM iguana maintains a sensitive high state of alert to danger or competition. The difference is that the calm iguana does not react or panic as easily and quickly as the over-sensitive iguana. The calm iguana will notice everything that goes on but because he is not overwhelmed with fear he is still able to realize when the people or animals are friendly. The fear that some iguanas have can fade away to become confident and even possessive over their territory.

In a state of less fear (you cannot expect absolute, no fear) there will be more receptive attitude, automatically the stable and good character emerge and radiate. The more familiar you become with a group of iguanas, you see more and more subtle differences of their emotional states.


Remember, every iguana has a very unique personality. For this reason describing a single personality that fits each iguana is impossible, lame, not groovy. It would be iguana racism. There are some generalities that do apply to iguanas but there are always exceptions too.

The sweetest quality of the iguana lies in his willingness to TRUST despite such a strong, innate fear of harm. When you see the complete trust of an iguana you witness a sacred event.


The iguana is not a server or obedient creature like a horse or dog, that is why he is an iguana and a horse is a horse of course of course! The iguana does as he likes, similar to an independent cat. He hears you calling but does not care to respond, why should he, what does it do for him? It's not that he is "stupid" or the "brain is too small".

He is basically very self centered, self oriented, selfish, but that's okay, that's Life. However he may at any time, choose to be on or near his regular human. If you are agreeable to him: he feels safe around you, enjoys the meals you serve, etc, etc, then he likes you, that is intelligent. It is not what he can do for you but what you can do for him, him "the pet", you are the "domestic help". If he was a real person, you might detest that kind of attitude, but as a pet it makes sense. At least he does not pretend to "love" you. Maybe this is where we get the term "lounge lizard". Generally he is a passive type of creature, (except toward other iguanas over territory, especially the males or creatures that threaten to harm him). Passive in the way of a bird, that likes to watch over the environment from a safe place.

He WANTS and PREFERS a sane, safe, calm environment but can, if necessary, tolerate a noisy and busy environment. Young children usually enjoy an environment full of activity and play where as iguanas, just like adult people, prefer a tranquil still environment.

Their desire to get comfortable and stretch is fun to watch and the egotistical pomp (head bobbing) of some iguanas can be charming and fun to watch as long as their ego does not go too far, not willing to share the territory with humans.


The iguana has no sense of humor or play. I have a friend that liked to toss his iguana up in the air over and over thinking this "play" was understood and enjoyed by the iguana. Iguanas will do funny things and can make you laugh but they do not understand or want to participate in any play like a dog or some other animals. His sense of a good time is more on the level of basking in the sun and basking in the sun and basking in the sun, get the picture?.

Behavior and Ability of A Calm Well Adjusted Mature Iguana (Hasbro)

1. He is comfortable and will behave well in the house or just about anywhere (without a cage or any restraints). He will be harmonious with most other kinds of animals as long as they are friendly. He may want to patrol or walk the house but will not desire to escape or run. He will return to the house after he takes a brief walk in his familiar outside yard. He is a passive OBSERVER, not a player or predator except for the territorial antics with his own kind.

2. Always very ALERT, very AWARE. Even during sleep he is somewhat alert to the noise of approaching creatures. The vision, hearing and smell sense are as good or better than human. The sense of touch is very sensitive to feel anything on his body and even along the tail. He also has a keen feel for temperature levels as well. He sees very accurately in color and his vision is NOT limited because his eyes are at the side of his head. He can see things through windows or at long distances and at night also.

3. He has a picture sharp memory. He knows-remembers cars, houses, yards, furniture, animals, people, rooms, places, faces. He can also recognize different voices and noises. He knows where his personal resting place is located in the house. He will develop regular routines and be very predictable. He will usually leave his resting place during the day to get where the sun light, food or pooping area is and then return to his special place.

4. He will always let you approach him and never ever want to escape or run from you. He will never try to whip or bite you unless you are hurting or doing something wrong and stupid to scare him. He will usually give a fair warning to something that hurts or scares him with grunts or gasping sounds. You can bring him anywhere and set him down without the concern of him running off but he will tend to feel safer with you. He is not afraid or uncomfortable with people or even crowds of people. He will allow you to touch, pick up, pet, and carry him any time without a problem, however you must remember to allow him the RESPECT for his own private independent space and time. In other words, don't wear out your welcome.

5. His presence will impress you and make you feel good. A cage would be torture and ridiculous for this ADULT iguana. He will know and except the special place you set up for him and readjust to a new location if necessary.

6. He will behave so reasonably and sane that you think he is a person that only looks like a lizard. You cannot resist loving and respecting this kind of iguana. He can get spoiled with privileges of freedom to roam the house or to go outside and bask in the sun. He deserves and commands that treatment and freedom. You could never be disappointed with a pet having this character and behavior if you are any kind of animal lover. The calm iguana's behavior will win the respect of people that normally do not even like reptiles or lizards once they look at him for a few minutes.

7. In the car the calm iguana is wonderful. He may make himself comfortable on the dash board or some other place in the car that has a view. There are times when Hasbro will climb over the headrest from behind and hold onto my head while I drive for long distances. I'm sure this looks very strange to people in other cars. At night Hasbro may decide to climb on my lap and sleep while I drive. The floor of the car is warmer but he may feel more comfortable on me. (Be careful with small iguanas because they sometimes climb into hard to reach areas in the car, such as under the instrument panel.)

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There is generally a very classic difference in personality between the male and female iguana. The female is clearly more timid, shy, sensitive-scared, independent, and less adventurous, usually. The male is generally the opposite. The male's bold assertiveness and sense for adventure is not without various drawbacks or even serious potential problems. Each male iguana will manifest his characteristics differently which determines whether he will be a heavenly thrill or a pet out of hell.

The issue of labeling one iguana as a "better pet" than another iguana is a relative matter. There are going to be some people that will prefer the simple, more sedate and serene behavior of the classic female, calling this the "better pet". There are going to be some other people that consider the classic male with his more active attributes to be the "better pet". And then there are going to be some people that do not see one as being a "better pet" than the other, but rather see each one as being different, with those qualities to be enjoyable for what they are, active and inactive.

The more dominant male is bold, arrogant and more active. The male has a passion for adventure, he wants to cruise throughout the house or yard and challenge, conquer, possess, mate or whatever to satisfy his big male ego. He is definitely the most interesting and fun to watch but will require more patience to supervise the trooper that he is. Guaranteed to intrigue, fascinate and amuse anyone, anywhere, anytime. Example: Hasbro, "the perfect pet": This prince of primal power walks around the house like he owns the place. Then bobs his head every two or three feet and also when he succeeds to climb on to something like a chair, table or me. He will bob and shake his head as a "Hey, I'm the king, I'm the Master, My territory" as I offer him food and whenever I come into his view. Just like a gorilla that pounds his chest. He is a macho man and commands respect as he maintains his pompous attitude anywhere I take him.

This dominator will want to watch and stand guard over his territory during the day. Many other male iguanas just want to relax and enjoy living in a safe environment but a dominant male tends to have a serious mission and to be on a fulltime guard for competition. Some males will only become warriors if another male comes into their territory but the dominant male will be active on a mission to search out and destroy other males. That's Hasbro!

Once a year some dominant adult males will get into what I call the "MALE HEAT". This is a very aggressive and stressful sexual mood. For Hasbro, this is always in the earlier part of the year. It is only TEMPORARY for a period of exactly two months. Call it hormones if you like but BE AWARE of this condition. It can happen and the male may appear to be turning against you but HE IS NOT. More on this in the Male Heat section.

The not so dominant male, MELLOW MALE is more of a happy medium and can be perfectly satisfied to just hang out comfortably in one place with less of the active energy. This is the easiest pet iguana to keep. This iguana never has the annual "Male Heat". He is always mellow and sweet, sweet, sweet. He will be happy with just one comfortable place in the house and not desire to travel as much as others. He does not have the desire to do anything in particular except to get very comfortable on a hot rock or lounge in the sun light. Never any trouble. You can take him with you anywhere and he behaves perfectly calm.

The female can be pleasantly serene and well behaved if left more or less to herself. SOME FEMALES WILL be nice and fairly calm around people but often the female is more aloof than the male. Generally speaking she is inclined to be more sensitive, finicky, less tolerant and gets scared much easier than the confident calm male.

I want to emphasize however, to some pet owners, the female can be a "better pet" than the male, lacking the male antics, a female iguana that is the sedate type, well settled in a comfortable environment.

Primal Nature

Even tiny baby males raised together will challenge and chase their cage mates. A baby male will bully females whereas the adult male is almost always tolerant to females.

There are always exceptions and know that some female iguanas can even be domineering to a male. So, females or males can both be good pets but the male has a definite advantage for more character with his assertive traits, ego, and much greater willingness to be handled or travel with the pet owner.


Every iguana will develop a general demeanor that determines his individual unique character and relations toward people. The categories below divide basic attitudes and sensitivity types among iguanas. This applies mainly to the mature ADULT (3 to 5 years old). Do not prejudge a baby iguana!

1. The OUTSTANDING PET iguana. SUPER CALM--VERY CONFIDENT, Bold and Brave enough to confidently parade around the house. Can accept changes and new environments easily. Not at all afraid of people and extremely cooperative. You may have to go through a lot of iguanas to find one like this. Usually a male and usually shows this calm confident character at an early age. May go in to MALE HEAT once a year.

2. The GOOD PET iguana. This type is common and quite enjoyable as a pet. Does well without being restricted in a cage. Some degree of fear or tension but still behaves well. Handling is tolerated but with some resistance. --- NOT AS CONFIDENT, FLEXIBLE OR VERSATILE as the first type. Male or female.

3. The VERY INDEPENDENT PET iguana. Does quite well when left alone in his or her area. Very female. Willing to eat and live well but REFUSES HANDLING. Very difficult to transport because of hypersensitivity with lots of struggling. This iguana is just stuck in a very highly sensitive state of mind that prevents him to relax with people and as such he will choose to jump, run and hide for safety when you pick him up or take him out of his area. He may grunt, hiss and even whip when you get close or try to touch him because of that heightened sensitivity that induces heavy FEAR. Changing the environment will cause panic. Male or Female

4. The DIFFICULT PET iguana. With TOTAL FEAR and WILD EXTREMES. Freezing still to act dead or runs wildly for escape or cover as soon as he sees you. Some like this may be too scared to eat or come out of a hiding spot. IF he does get used to an environment he goes into shock if you change the environment. This type is just too scared to function and may be so paranoid that he or she self destructs. A real disappointment.

5. The NASTY PET iguana. ANGRY, SCARED, NASTY and DEFIANT. This type is only a problem when you get close or try to touch him or her. This is usually a scared, feisty male that will threaten and choose to bite or whip. Do not confuse this type with the temporary MALE HEAT (sexual passion) or The MAD MALE - ATTACK Iguana.

6. The MAD MALE - ATTACK Iguana Now, here is the ultimate problem type. It happens with approximately 1 out of 100 males (never with females). This is a male that thinks people are male iguanas! I say this because the male will be acting exactly as if he sees another male iguana. This iguana will attack you when he is loose, (not locked behind bars), meanwhile even if he's in an aquarium, he will leap into the glass when you get close enough! He is like a TERMINATOR, comes looking for you if he gets out of his cage or aquarium. He is healthy, handsome and crazy. IMPOSSIBLE TO KEEP if he stays in that mood. When he is in this condition you need to leave him locked in an isolated part of the house or a cage and tend to his needs at night when he has cooled down. He may or may not change back to normal, however in most cases they do get back to normal when the mood wears out, anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months. This should not to be confused with MALE HEAT (sexual passion) which is not an attack and always temporary. Some veterinarians suggest castration as a method to alter the mood but the operation may have no effect. It might be better to wait it out and use ingenuity in caring for the iguana.

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