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Desert Iguanas: Care Sheet, Lifespan & More (With Pictures)

Nicole Cosgrove

Iguanas are a great exotic pet because they are docile and fun to watch. One lizard that is not very popular but is a great unique pet is the Desert Iguana. Desert Iguanas may not be the most popular lizard around, but they’re comparable to other lizards yet rarer.

Just like other iguanas, taking care of Desert Iguanas takes a lot of intentionality and care. To find out exactly what it takes to own a Desert Iguana, read on. This care sheet tells you everything you need to know about buying, owning, and raising Desert Iguanas for your own.

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Quick Facts About Desert Iguanas

desert iguana crawling on sand
Image Credit: Raymond Lehman, Pixabay
Species Name: Dipsosaurus dorsalis, Desert Iguana
Family: Iguanidae
Care Level: Intermediate
Temperature: 90 – 105 degrees Fahrenheit
Temperament: Docile
Color Form: Light gray to white
Lifespan: 8 – 10 years
Size: 16 – 18 inches
Diet: Leafy greens, vegetables, and soft fruits
Minimum Tank Size: 36″W x 18″D x 24″H minimum
Tank Set-Up: Sand substrate
Compatibility: Intermediate lizard lovers looking for a more unique pet

Desert Iguanas Overview

Desert Iguanas are lizards native to the southwestern United States, including states such as Southern California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and parts of Mexico. You typically find them in the Creosote bush desert amongst loose and scattered rocks.

These iguanas are not necessarily the most popular, simply because they aren’t found in many places. Still, you can find them pretty easily if you look online.

If you are looking for a unique iguana to add to your collection, the Desert Iguana may be a perfect fit. These iguanas have about the same requirements as any other iguana, yet they aren’t as popular.

We only recommend Desert Iguanas to people who are prepared to take on a large habitat and know how to regulate temperature, humidity, and lighting properly. If you think you have what it takes, then Desert Iguanas are a great exotic pet to have.

How Much Do Desert Iguanas Cost?

Desert Iguanas are not the most sought after iguana type by exotic pet stores, but you can find one if you do a bit of digging online. Because these iguanas are not as popular as others, they are more expensive.

You should expect to pay between $30 and $75 for a Desert Iguana. The iguana is not even the most expensive part of owning these creatures as a pet. You will also have to get the proper tanks, lighting, and tank setup, which can all be very costly when you get all parts at the same time.

Typical Behavior & Temperament

Most reptiles do not like being held, but Desert Iguanas can become accustomed to gentle handling over time. When you first get your iguana, it may be resistant to being handled, but it will start to associate your hand with food and other treats, making it less afraid of being handled.

Even when the iguana is not yet suited to being handled, Desert Iguanas have docile personalities. When iguanas are first caught in the wild, they may bite, but this is unlikely for captured iguanas that have become accustomed to being handled.

desert iguana in the wild
Image Credit: Nhutcherson, Pixabay

Appearance & Varieties

Because Desert Iguanas have evolved in harsh environments, they have developed a long tail and strong legs. This iguana is the only lizard native to the US that has a vertebral row in large dorsal scales, which is really cool.

Desert Iguanas have a pretty short but round head. On the head, they have both eyelids and ear openings.

The coloration of these iguanas is typically gray and white, allowing the body to blend in with its surroundings. There can also be a darker gray coloration that looks almost like a vest around the iguana. This dark gray vest can also be accompanied by white, brown, or red markings.

The Desert Iguana’s tail is most often light gray or white, but it has dark brown spots that create broken bands. Both sexes of the Desert Iguana are ventrally unpatterned. Instead, they have light pink ventrally, but the belly and lower flanks can be light gray.

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How to Take Care of Desert Iguanas

Desert Iguanas are not necessarily the easiest lizard to take care of. Although they can live for a long time in captivity, they require the proper care that most beginning reptile owners have not mastered yet.

One thing that makes caring for Desert Iguanas difficult is that you need to have at least two iguanas in the tank at once. As a result, you need a larger sized tank that is large enough to house two adult sized Desert Iguanas. However, make sure there is only one male per enclosure.

desert iguana outdoors
Image Credit: Steppinstars, Pixabay

Habitat, Tank Conditions & Setup

In order for the Desert Iguana’s tank to be adequately sized, the terrarium needs to be at least 3 x 2 x 2 feet if there are only two lizards. If you have more lizards, you will need the tank to be even larger.

On top of selecting a properly sized terrarium, it also needs to be made from glass. Although certain lizards and iguanas are fine in plastic housings, Desert Iguanas will likely scratch the plastic quickly. Glass will be more durable.

Inside the tank, you will need to have a deep, sandy substrate. We recommend using sand specific for reptiles. Place it 10 to 12 inches thick inside the terrarium since these creatures like to burrow a bit.

In addition to the substrate, be careful about the tank temperature, lighting, and humidity. Desert Iguanas need temperature above 90 degrees. They function best with a temperature range between 90 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit. You must use heat lamps and under-terrarium heat pads with this lizard.

Bright light is a must, as well as humidity. You want the lizards to be exposed to light for 12 hours a day minimum. The humidity should be between 15% and 30%, but it should be slightly higher directly after misting the terrarium.

Do Desert Iguanas Get Along with Other Pets?

You should not introduce your Desert Iguanas to other pets. The other pets may mistake them as a toy or a treat. Even if the other pet does not act aggressively to the lizard, the iguana may become stressed.

With that being said, you absolutely must have at least two Desert Iguanas at a time. Never keep a Desert Iguana on its own because it needs other iguanas to be healthy.

Inside your terrarium, we recommend having two to three iguanas, but make sure there is only one male per enclosure. If there is more than one male, they will fight for the competition. You will not have this issue with multiple females.

What to Feed Your Desert Iguanas

Desert Iguanas primarily eat vegetables, leafy greens, and soft fruit. We recommend focusing most of their diet towards moist, leafy greens. Leafy greens provide nutrients and water. You can feed your Desert Iguana the occasional berry, sunflower seeds, pumpkin, and other unique foods on occasion.

Whenever your Desert Iguana stops eating, make sure to remove any leftover food. Desert Iguanas do not overindulge. If the vegetables are left in the terrarium for too long, they can start to go bad, attracting other pests.

Keeping Your Desert Iguanas Healthy

Keeping your Desert Iguana healthy is relatively easy if you follow the steps we described above. Most importantly, make sure the temperature, humidity, and lighting within your Desert Iguana’s terrarium is exactly as we described.

Like other reptiles, Desert Iguanas need proper light and temperature in order to survive, digest their food, and more. Make sure to regularly monitor these factors, as well as spot clean the tank daily and deep clean it monthly.

Breeding

When you keep the male with females, they will breed on their own. The mated females can lay up to 8 eggs. In captivity, she is likely to excavate within the sand. Typically, it takes 60 to 70 days for the eggs to hatch, unless you are incubating them, in which case it can happen sooner.

Are Desert Iguanas Suitable For You?

Desert Iguanas make a great pet if you are a lizard lover and are looking for a unique iguana to add to your collection. On the other hand, they may not be the best option if you want an iguana today. Since Desert Iguanas are not very popular, you may need to search a bit online to find a breeder near you.

Whenever you have your Desert Iguana, make sure to provide it the proper habitat. If you are diligent in providing the proper environment for your Desert Iguana, it can be very hardy and live a long time in captivity.


Featured Image Credit: Casey K. Bishop, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.