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Male Iguana Aggression Types & Bite Wound Photos
KNOW ABOUT AGGRESSION MOODS AND BITE TYPES
by Henry Lizardlover

[TO HOME PAGE - MENU ]


Henry Lizardlover lives with a family of 33 lizards in Hollywood (since 1982). He photographs these lizards and shares his experience and ideas, mainly on IGUANA BEHAVIOR AND HEALTH CARE... but the main aim is to spread the conscious lizard love, because lizard love is the fulfilling of the law.

Hi Henry,

I am so happy to have found your site.. My 5 year old iguana has for the last year been a real bastard to live with.. Last June 2007 was his first bad season that I noticed a definite change in his behaviour.. But I could handle it..

After his 1st "bad" season - stupid us - we "baby-sat" a female iguana for 3 weeks which I think must have triggered something, as it put him straight back into another season.. I went into panic mode and listened to Melissa Kaplan's advice and separated them and proceeded to try dominate my male to stop this "nonsense behaviour".. (me being a very small petite female) seemed silly, but I trusted it would solve my problem of him posturing at me and occasionally trying to mate my leg..

He'd never actually tried to bite me before (duh, I had never tried to control and dominate him before) but upon listening to Melissa K's advice I am now left with a disfigured hand and a very very unhappy iguana.. He got a mouth full of the palm of my hand on one of my "I'm going to teach you who's boss" sessions, and he didn't let go until all the tendons in my right baby finger were permanently damaged and now disfigured... I cannot believe I didn't realize what I was doing.. Just pissing him off more by trying to control him.. He is still really angry with me.. I've given all my green, yellow, orange, brown, purple and blue clothes away !! He lunges at me, postures even worse than before and the other day for the first time he charged me across the garden.. I had to abandon my cape and box crate that I was standing on and run for my life.. screw what Melissa K said about standing your ground !!

I just want to say thank you for your website.. It makes so much sense (the little I have read on aggression so far). He just needs a time out and to be left alone..Not to be toyed with and made fun of !! Also it just gives me some hope that if I leave him the hell alone when he's in the mood, I might one day get my sweet iggy-pop back..

(comment about Melissa Kaplan sucking, removed)

Cheers,
Vikki & Iggy-pop
Cape Town, South Africa

Hi Henry,

Yes, you can post my email with pleasure Ė hopefully it could help people in similar situations?!... Just some feedback too.. It has been only 5 days since I started listening to your advice and not challenging my iguana anymore.. and WOW.. what a difference..

after reading your website, it just became so very clear to me that I was going about the whole situation in such a wrong way - so I sat Iggy-pop down, petted him and made him a promise that he is the big guy around the house again (best to just let him think that) and I will no longer try to force his head down on the ground when he bobís at me, I will no longer charge at him when he postures or charges at me. I wont stand on a box, wave and shout "baaaaddd iguana" like a banshee when he's done little more than posture me.. I told him that I now understand him a little better thanks to Henry Lizardlover !

Yes, he used to try mate my leg when he got the chance, but it was only when I started trying to show rank that he actually became unbearably aggressive and would hiss and chase me with gaping mouth.. now when I let him out his home he does not follow me all over the house and garden.. no more charging and lunging.. He hasnít hissed once and I can even pick him up now without having to fear he'll chew my face off (although I still have to be careful).. He's just much calmer and peaceful now that he thinks he's back to being the head of the house..

Another note.. He hadnít been too keen on food for the past few months - (you might see by the pictures he's looking a bit thin..) just taking small bites and wasting the rest.. but his appetite is back to full force it seems.

Iíve changed my attitude completely, and Iggy-pop has now changed his too!! Amazing..

So just another big thank you !! The advice on your webpage has really changed our lives !!

Cheers,
Vikki & Iggy-pop
Cape Town, South Africa

I. IGUANA AGGRESSION BEHAVIOR FACTS

By Henry Lizardlover, IGUANA OWNER'S MANUAL (C)1992-2007


4 TYPES OF BITE ACTION BEHAVIORS THAT IGUANA OWNER'S MUST LEARN TO DISTINGUISH & UNDERSTAND.....
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TYPE 1)
ACCIDENTAL BITES - (generally minor damage, not a problem)

Iguana bites your finger accidently as you hand feed and get fingers to close to it's mouth, or confuses your finger for food. It's just an accident, the iguana is not intending to bite or hurt you so there's not a lot of force in the bite, it's really not a problem, only needs to be washed well.
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TYPE 2)
FEAR BITES OR WHIPS - (this may be a problem but in most cases it's not serious/dangerous)

Moments when iguanas are in FEAR/scared or in PAIN: May react in simple self defence by striking out with whips or relatively low intensity bites ONLY when you pursue it or reach at it. This can be annoying or somewhat difficult but it's usually not dangerous.
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TYPE 3)
MATING "GRAB-HOLDING" BITE, BREEDING SEASON - MATING/SEX MOOD, (this is usually easy to deal with but may turn into a seriously violent thing with more and more force being used)

Some (please understand, NOT ALL) perfectly tame male iguanas will go into a brief sexual mating mood during a breeding season period. -- They attempt to what I term, "GRAB-HOLD", to mate with humans of ETHER SEX, attempting to grab hold with his mouth on any part of exposed skin of a person, and will try to not let go as he is attempting to mount and mate exactly as he would with a female iguana, not intending to cause harm, just to engage in the mating process. This is a usually a MINOR difficulty, NOT dangerous, however, some of the male iguanas can get more and more frustrated as you or a female iguana resists by avoiding or pushing him away, resulting in more intense and forceful attacks to grab hold which can become violent and serious.
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TYPE 4)
MALE COMPETITION BREEDING SEASON - ATTACK MOOD or simply MOMENTS of (reacting to/confusing a human as another male iguana) PERCEIVED MALE IGUANA COMPETITION (this is deadly serious, a major problem)

Some (NOT ALL) perfectly tame male iguanas will go into a radical and VICIOUS ATTACK (COMPETITION) MOOD: The male iguana will react toward humans exactly the same as he would when encountering another male iguana with an enraged (really angry) full power, high speed, scary and vicious leaping, lunging, chasing attack toward HUMANS of either sex. This is very DANGEROUS, THE TRAGIC TOP PROBLEM/challenge facing male iguana pet owners.

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MORE ABOUT MALE IGUANA SEXUAL AND AGGRESSION MOODS

Male iguanas may get into a sexual mating mood which is usually a non violent attempt to grab-hold of a human, exactly the way they do female iguanas, for the purpose of engaging in a sexual function and for no other reason. Even thought it's done with the mouth, it's just to hold on to a person and not an attempt to rip someone apart. The signs of their mating mood are the rather slow approaching with mouth open, looking for a place to grab-hold.
Getting them to release the grab-hold is easily achieved within one or two seconds when you apply light finger tip pressure with you free hand over and to both of the iguana's eyes.

The real problem behavior and what you have occurring with your big male iguana at this time is the temporary situation of his territorial/competition aggression mood, and this is the biggest problem of them all, especially when iguana owners have no idea or confused ideas about what is happening. When I say territorial, I don't mean that the iguana has a concern about who enters his cage or room. I mean territorial in the sense of being hostile
toward male competition and the presence of other male iguanas period. A male iguana will search out other males where ever they exist and engage in war, it's simply a big male ego thing that they have, they want to be the only male iguana, they have no tolerance or mercy toward other perceived male iguanas, they don't care whether another male iguana submits to them. They would rather find other males to make war with then engage in efforts toward mating with females. Again, these are my own views and generally conflict with other views I've seen on this forum.

Male iguanas have built in, extreme rage and paranoia in their minds about other male iguana coming along. Even when they are not in breeding season, they still have hatred toward other male iguanas but when the breeding season effects them with a hormonal rush, it turns up the volume to an extreme paranoia and anger toward other male iguanas or perceived male iguanas, i.e., humans. Male iguanas that are raised without a view of other male iguanas undergo an obvious situation of confusion. It's very easy for them to confuse humans for another male iguana. There is a big misunderstanding going around that this occurs due to menstrual cycles of women that are around the male iguana. It is true that the male iguana can sense menstrual cycles and react to it in various ways but it's a more important fact to realize that male iguanas will go into this kind of mood on their own, with or without any women or menstrual cycles present. The bottom line here is that male iguanas demonstrate the exact same behavior in reaction to a human as they would react toward another male iguana that comes into their view. Male iguanas in this mood may focus this attention on one particular person or all persons, it really does not matter. The problem remains that the male iguana is prepared to do extreme violence toward someone or anyone. The only solution is to avoid giving the iguana any opportunity to get at you or others. When male iguanas get in this mood, they are prepared to leap and lunge with extreme speed and power. The bites from large adult male iguanas that are fully enraged during this mood are extremely serious and dangerous. There is no training or showing the male iguana who's the boss or "Alpha". The only sane and intelligent thing to do is understand his mood and stay
away from him until he comes out of the mood which is made clear by the obvious body language change. You as the experienced iguana owner already know the body language. You can tell when he is uptight and worked up or whether he is calm, relaxed and at peace. The mood always subsides, eventually, within days, weeks or months. When I recommend avoiding him, I don't mean not tending to his needs of care. You should provide for his needs of care
in his off hours, when he is sleeping or completely inactive, whether it's at night, late in the day, very early in the morning, whatever it takes to avoid getting near him when he is fully active and alert. It is a complete mistake to attempt any challenges to a male iguana in this mood. It's just an intense mood they get into that you only need to recognize and avoid them when they get into it. It tends to occur every year and may even linger
for a long time but eventually the iguana tends to outgrow this behavior and can become a perfect trustworthy mellow guy again. Some people don't have the patience to deal with this but many do and will be pleased that they put up with it.



No matter how wonderful your relationship is with your pet male iguana, no matter how much you think you have shown him that you are his boss, master or alpha one, etc., no matter how much you followed the instructions of Melissa Kaplan or any vet or expert on iguana behavior.

A lot of people get their ideas about iguana aggression from some false ideas that Melissa Kaplan has written and perpetuated on the net and or the minimal experience some people have with dealing with very few iguanas and thinking that all other iguanas will act in a similar way, not knowing that some male iguanas will act out far more violently than others, in ways that are seriously dangerous to any persons that get into range of the attacking male iguana. There are so many iguana owners incorrectly assuming that the minor whips and bites of a pet iguana acting out for a moment of fear or annoyance are what's referred to as male iguana aggression mood or breeding season.

Some of the large adult iguanas will at some point, whether it's at 2 years old on up to 12 years old, get into a mood, whether it's a momentary thing or something that lasts for up to a year or longer, get fully worked up and enraged, in exactly the manner they would when encountering another male iguana, and they will lash out toward a human with all the intensity they would toward another male iguana. The large adult male iguanas, once fully
enraged, exhibiting body language or signs of standing up, puffing up, stalking, sideways shuffle with tail wiggling, dewlap out, etc.etc., can suddenly leap, charge or lunge at a person. Large adult size male iguanas can inflict truly serious deep flesh wounds, can tear off sections of facial lips, nose, ear, fingers, etc., can chop open the skin anywhere they come in contact, can cause massive bleeding to a human, can and will continue to inflict more deep flesh wounds if the human continues to confront or be available in the iguana's range.

The little cute stories about innocent or even painful whips and bites are going to deceive many iguana owners into thinking that there is not something beyond those little defensive moments of fear or annoyance. The fact is, there's a world of difference in how large adult male iguanas will respond to something that is a momentary annoyance or something that scares them, as compared to what happens when these adult male iguanas become enraged over something they perceive in the same way as another male iguana or when they are taken over by a breeding season mood and the male iguana aggression mode occurs.

Even with descriptions and warnings about this, until the full deadly serious attacks bite wounds occurs to them, many an iguana owner will go on not believe or imagine how serious it can be.

SPAYING FEMALE IGUANAS WORKS WELL, SO WHAT ABOUT NEUTERING MALE IGUANAS TO FIX THE AGGRESSION PROBLEM???

Having pet female iguanas fixed makes a world of sense for a variety of reasons but it's not the same for male iguanas.

1) The surgery to spay a female iguana is relatively safe and by far easier but it's different for the male iguanas, considered far more difficult, somewhat life threatening and risky due to location of the parts with vital arteries. But some vets are able to do this successfully.

2) The main reason for not neutering the males is due to the fact that the results are so questionable. DVM Doug Mader has reported after doing hundreds of these surgeries on male iguanas that unless it's done before the male iguana has had it's first hormonal rush, it appears to be uneffective. Other vets claim neutering is effective. The reports vary so much, it's impossible to know one way or the other. I've never tried it with any of my iguanas. I tend to be skeptical of the results. I've often wondered whether the claimed results were merely just the temporary shock to the body from the experience of the surgery.

Melissa Kaplan claims that the idea of challenging and showing a male iguana that the human is the boss or "alpha" to the male iguana, is the effective method to correct the aggression problem and it's the solution instead of neutering surgery or avoiding the males while in this mood as I recommend. What I find amusing and sad at the same time are all the people that are so convinced by Melissa's instructions that these people go to absurd lengths to dress up in costumes and get up on platforms in all kinds of impractical attempts to scare these males out of the mood which I believe might work only for a few minutes or a day at the most with actual cases of male iguana attack mood.


II. MALE IGUANA BREEDING SEASON ATTACK MOOD

Henry Lizardlover, (c)1992-2003

I must alert all iguana owners of the universe to the folly of the wide spread, dogmatically repeated ideas of Melissa Kaplan on this subject. It is my firm belief that some of the ideas and instructions on behavior in her book and website are misleading nonsense and the instructions for dealing with the classic case of male iguana aggression attacks are totally dangerous, especially considering the fact that Melissa failed to provide clear warnings of the kind of serious bite wounds that can easily occur when following her instructions to challenge or control a male iguana in a full out attack mood, aside from my belief that those instructions are not effective, DO NOT WORK.

It's possible that Melissa's direct experience with raising iguanas is too limited, although it's been greatly exaggerated by the many vague statements she has made over the past years. According to what Melissa has written, the longest she has raised an iguana was for about 6 years (and that one happened to go blind and died of kidney failure), I'm not making this up. It seems that most of any other iguanas she's been involved with were kept for relatively short periods. It seems to me that her basis of ideas on behavior are greatly influenced by the old diehard Pavlovian concepts and she is stuck on the idea that what works with dogs must apply to male iguanas. Her writing style is perfectly authoritarian and therefore, very convincing, no doubt, but still remains terribly wrong in the area of behavior.

Since 1995, I have repeatedly urged her whenever and wherever she gives instructions about challenging male iguanas, to please let the pet owners know that large adult male iguanas in this mood can inflict truly serious, and multiple, deep flesh wounds if given the opportunity. Either Melissa remains unaware of the serious risks of getting within attack range of male iguanas in this kind of mood or she has no concern for the pet owner and does not choose to pass on that information, failing to give clear warning about how fast and powerful the attacks can be. If you have read Melissa's website or book, do you remember reading any clear warnings of the dangers while putting yourself in the iguana's range when attempting to challenge him? She also pushes the idea that if you show fear, the iguana will attack, giving the completely false idea that not showing fear is going to prevent an attack.

The "looking big and dominant" stance is just another part of Melissa's approach but it does NOT work in valid cases of this kind. It only puts humans at risk of getting hurt and acting silly to an enraged and angry male iguana. Male iguanas will not and do not recognize humans as their "Alpha One" as Melissa claims. Male iguanas don't tolerate other male iguanas or creatures such as humans when perceived as male iguanas. The male iguana in this mood is reacting toward a human in the exact same manner that he would if he encountered another male iguana. In my simple theory of it, male iguanas that are raised with only with humans around, will often develop an identity confusion, they are perceiving humans as male iguanas for two reasons, one, they never see other male iguanas as they grow up, only humans and two, because the breeding season brings on a hormonal rush that raises the volume of anxiety to full blast, so their sensitivity and paranoia toward male iguana competition is brought to a fever pitch, they seek out other males, will travel to other territory to do battle. They get completely charged up and crazed about male iguana competition, and when only humans are all they see, then humans are male iguanas to them.

Very few iguana owners can imagine any of this, so they don't wake up to the angry rage potential of male iguanas until they see it. And they have to see the awful bite wounds to believe this is very serious. So many iguana owners convince themselves that if you develop and good and loving relationship with the male iguana, then it will remain that way, also thinking that the ones that get vicious only got that way because they were abused or the owners did not spend quality time with them, but those are false misconceptions. The male iguanas are overwhelmed by the effect of breeding season hormonal rush and the fact that their mental make up is very intolerant of other male iguanas. Please understand that all of this varies among individual male iguanas, some will never go into these kind of severe moods, some will but to a lesser degree. Also bear in mind, that the most problematic male iguana can out grow the whole thing after one or more breeding seasons and go on to become the most mellow and trustworthy pet.

DO NOTHING, KEEP SAFE, ISOLATE IGUANA

There is nothing you have to do to change the behavior. In most cases, this can easily be resolved with patience and the exercise of common sense. Do not confront him or get in his attack range while he is showing any signs of aggressive body language. In most cases, the mood only lasts about 2 to 4 months, then the mood subsides and the iguana gets back to his normal non-aggressive sweet lovable self and the iguana can go on to develop more trust and calm as time goes by. The mood can last longer with some males, up to a year in some rare cases, it varies in duration and intensity with each individual. Unless he sees other male iguanas to focus his attention, he is easily triggered into action by seeing humans, again, male or female are both at risk. It's also common for them to focus on one person in particular, that can happen.

There's also another thing that some iguana owners can do which works very well in many cases. Placing the iguana in a completely strange and new environment such as another room of the house or another house or place altogether, which takes him out of his area of familiarity, will be a shock and tends to intimidate him, makes he feel less confident, which often cancels his aggression mood right away.

Here's an example. A friend of mine could not allow his male iguana to free roam in the upstairs part of the house, because the iguana was charging at family members. So he relocated and ISOLATED the iguana in the basement of his house which immediately took the iguana out of his aggression mood, but the guy had to keep the iguana in the basement for a few more weeks before the iguana could be returned to the upstairs part of the house. Everytime he brought the iguana back upstairs, the iguana got into that mood again, but after three weeks went by, the mood had run full cycle and the iguana would no longer go into the aggression mode when he was brought upstairs to his old home. The mood always subsides but you have to wait it out in some cases.

You should simply avoid getting anywhere near the iguana during this time. You simply attend to his needs and maintenance only when he is clearly not active or sleeping, such as early morning or evening. The most important thing to do is avoid chances of anyone getting harmed. Avoiding the iguana will not cause him to become wild or lose any tameness he had. Challenging him and attempting to convince him that you are Alpha One and dominant over him, is dangerous and does not work.

You have to get familiar with all of the body language signs that clearly tell you whether he is in this kind of mood or whether he is calm and relaxed.


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