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How to Tell the Difference Between Male Female Iguanas

Nicole Cosgrove

Determining if an iguana is a male or female can be a difficult task. The younger the iguana is, the tougher it will be to figure out the sex based on physical characteristics. It is not until they reach sexual maturity that iguanas display clear physical differences that allow the average person to tell if they are male or female.

If you are reading this article, you probably have a pet iguana and want to know if it is a male or a female. Or, perhaps, you are considering an iguana as a pet and want to know if you should look for a male or a female. Whichever category you fall into, this article will explain how to tell the difference between male versus female iguanas. It will also explore the differences in temperament and health.

divider-reptilePhysical Characteristics of Male and Female Iguanas

As juveniles, both male and female iguanas look the same. Upon reaching sexual maturity, the males begin to develop different physical characteristics. Depending on the species, iguanas reach sexual maturity between 1 and 4 years of age. Prior to this, the only way to determine the sex of the iguana is to have a veterinarian probe the cloacal vent.

Once your iguana has reached sexual maturity, you should be able to differentiate between male and female based on physical characteristics.

Male Iguana Characteristics

Marine Iguana
Image Credit: Geschenkpanda, Pixabay
  • Size – Male iguanas are longer and thicker.
  • Musculature – A male iguana will have a more muscular chest and legs.
  • Femoral pores – On the inside of their legs, the male iguana will develop large femoral pores.
  • Dewlap – The male iguana will have a larger dewlap under its chin.
  • Spikes – Male iguanas will develop longer spikes on their heads and along their backs.
  • Hemipenal bulges – Only male iguanas will have two hemipenal bulges on their belly near the tail.

Female Iguana Characteristics

Fiji Banded Iguana
Image Credit: Simon Blüthenkranz, Pixabay
  • Size – Female iguanas remain smaller and thinner than males.
  • Spikes – While they will develop spikes on their backs, females do not develop head spikes as males do.
  • Dewlap – The dewlap and jowls on a female iguana are smaller than those on a male.

Breeding Season Changes in Male and Female Iguanas

Male and female iguanas don’t just demonstrate changing characteristics when they reach sexual maturity. Breeding season can also cause differences in appearance and temperament between the two sexes.

Males are typically more aggressive during the breeding season. They are more likely to bite and attack. Males also change color during the breeding season. Often, they will change to a bright color, like orange or red, to appear more attractive. They can become restless and pace back and forth, bob their heads, or swing their tails. Their appetites can also decrease, resulting in weight loss.

Females also experience changes during the breeding season. Some will also change color to a bright orange or red. They will start to lose their appetite as their eggs develop. Some females will lash out at their handlers or at other iguanas during this time. Unless they appear to be ill, it is best to leave the iguana alone to avoid overstressing her.

Temperament Differences between Male and Female Iguanas

Iguana Sideview
Image Credit: Elsemargriet, Pixabay

When it is not the breeding season, male and female iguanas are typically similar in temperament. Their behavior will vary depending on breed and situation. Maintaining a healthy and engaging environment is the key to a happy pet iguana. It is important to remember that even pet iguanas are wild animals. You should always be mindful of their needs and avoid over-handling them.

Health Conditions for Male and Female Iguanas

There are some health conditions that both male and female iguanas are prone to. These include metabolic bone disease resulting from a lack of UVB light. Parasites can also be deadly for both sexes if not treated properly by a qualified exotic animal veterinarian.

Male iguanas are more likely to experience injuries to their tails and limbs during the mating season, due to their high levels of aggression.

Female iguanas are prone to egg binding. This is when eggs become trapped inside and the iguana cannot lay them. If not treated, egg binding can be fatal.

divider-reptileIs a Male or Female Iguana the Best Pet for You?

If you are not breeding iguanas, the sex is not critical in determining if an iguana is a good pet choice for you. Both exhibit similar temperaments and health risks that are heavily reliant on their care and habitat. Males and females will also both exhibit changes during the breeding seasons regardless of whether or not they have a mate. The most important thing to consider is whether you can properly care for your pet, male or female.

You May Also Like: 10 Types of Iguanas: An Overview


Featured Image Credit: Robert Balog, Pixabay

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.