After fielding literally hundreds of "iguana calls" on the NOAH [Northern Ohio Association of Herpetologists] Information Line, I have developed the following guidelines that would be useful if you wish to kill an iguana.
First of all, you must purchase a hatchling from your local pet shop that deals mostly with fish, birds and small mammals. You may even want to buy from a dealer at a swap meet that has many wild-caught animals. Be sure to choose the very smallest iguana at the bottom of the pile of 50 to 100 hatchlings, one that is real tame and just lays in your hand. Don't buy an iguana that tries to jump out of your hand, bite you or whip you with its tail. Better yet, why not buy two iguanas (they're cheap) so they can keep each other company? Remember, don't buy one of those bright eyed "wild" iguanas.
Don't buy a book on iguana care. You don't want to waste those few extra bucks. Your friends have had several iguanas and they can tell you how to take care of one. Of course, none of those iguanas lasted more than a few months. Never talk to an experienced herpetologist! They often tell you more than you want to know.
Buy a small plastic cage or a ten gallon aquarium. Your friends told you that if you keep the iguana in a small cage it won't get too big. You've seen iguanas that were two years old and only about ten inches long.
Now you need a heat source. A hot rock sounds like a good idea. The guy from the pet shop said that you had to have a hot rock. Your friend said that his iguana loved his hot rock so much that he stayed on it all the time. He did notice one day that the iguana's belly was burned, though. Certainly the iguana would get off the hot rock if it were hot enough to burn him. Never use a thermometer in the cage - just guess whether it's warm enough. After all, digestion of food in reptiles has nothing to do with cage temperature.
What about a light? You remember hearing that iguanas need a light. Don't but a Vitalite®, with proper UV rays; they're too expensive and you'll have to replace it every six months or so. Get one of those inexpensive plant lights. If they help plants grow, why wouldn't they be good for an iguana?
A substrate is the next best thing. Maybe some cedar chips. That will keep the smell of stool down. Gravel or sand might even work. Then you won't be able to see the stool...it will just sink to the bottom. Never use newspaper or astroturf. They have to be changed too frequently. And speaking about cleanliness, never disinfect the cage with a bleach solution.
Don't provide any climbing areas, such as branches. Don't even try to find out what type of natural habitat the animal originates from. After all, it's in captivity now.
When you get the iguana home, be sure to handle it a lot right away. Carry it around on your shoulder and show it to all your friends. They'll be impressed with how tame it is, since it just sits there. They'll probably remark how cute it is and go get one themselves. After all, everybody has one and they're easy to take care of. Why even the five-year-old down the street has one. He even kisses his iguana. Why not? They're clean. Only turtles carry salmonella, right?
Feeding is a simple matter. Just go to the grocery store and get the food the iguana will eat. Offer him lots of iceberg lettuce, bananas, and dog or cat food. Lots of spinach and broccoli is good, too. It's not a good idea to supplement the iguana's diet with vitamins and minerals, but if you must, don't pay any attention to whether the iguana actually eats the food the supplement is sprinkled on. If the iguana doesn't eat, don't worry; he must just not be hungry. Or maybe he's eating food when you're gone. You really never have seen him eat, though. That's okay; you've always heard that reptiles don't eat much food anyways.
If you do give your iguana water (even though you've heard that they get all the water they need from their food), don't change the water very often. It's okay to leave the stool in the water bowl until you get around to cleaning it.
After a month or two you may notice that your little iguana is moving around less than he ever did. He seems to drag his rear legs and his spine is a little crooked. Don't be concerned, though; his arms and legs look real chubby and they're rock solid, so he must be okay. Oh, and those tiny red specks that you see moving around on him...don't give them a second thought.
And for heaven's sake, don't ever take an iguana to a veterinarian who is familiar with reptiles. That would cost much more than you ever paid for the animal. Besides, dogs and cats are the only animal one ever takes to a vet. Can reptiles really suffer and feel pain anyhow?
And last but not least, if you finally succeed in killing your iguana, then just go out and get another one and try again. The first one may have been sick when you got it.
Melissa Kaplan writes:
The above article was reprinted in the August 1994 issue of News from the North Bay, newsletter of the North Bay Herpetological Society, with some commentary by me:
I received the NOAH newsletter in mid-July, read this article, and promptly got hysterical--and not just with laughter. Unbeknownst to me, July apparently was National Dump Your Iguana Month and people were doing just that. In a very short span of time I was given 6 iguanas: all very small for their age with calcium deficiencies, mouth rot, and respiratory infections -- and not one of them was tame, not even remotely so.
Most people spend more time (and put more money into) picking out an inanimate object with built-in obsolescence than they do when buying an animal of any sort. Animals, like much of the rest of our culture, have become disposable items, cool to have around until they get in the way, don't do anything interesting, get sick or are replaced by the latest exotic "thing" that comes along.
We are all only to happy to talk to people about how wonderful our animals are, the neat and interesting things we see them do. It is important, however, to talk about the not-so-fun things - setting up a proper environment and constantly monitoring it, the cleaning up, the buying and preparing of proper foods, the vet visits and how, with the many shortcuts that can be taken, there are so many things which cannot be skimped upon. It is important to be honest with our friends, acquaintances and even strangers when we see that, for whatever reason, they would not be able to provide what the animal requires. Some people are much too young, others are too peripatetic, students or young adults in transition who frequently move from place to place (which includes from home to school and back again). An uncomfortably large number of people get pets for the summer and dump them when it is time to leave for school or new jobs. Others get pets for the kids during the school year and dump the pet when the family leaves for summer vacation.
Still others get animals with no intention of keeping them beyond a certain point: iguanas over five feet, Burmese pythons over twelve feet, Nile monitors over five feet... And all are surprised and hurt when the zoos and wild animal parks don't want their precious pets or when people aren't clamoring to buy their animals when the time comes for them to get rid of the animals that have outgrown their cuteness.
Animals, like children, should be a lifelong commitment. Unlike children, however, animals will never become self-sufficient. You can't send them to camp, they will never go away to school, they will never head out on their own (unless or or someone else is careless securing their enclosure or the house), they will never be able to take themselves to the vet or procure their own food. About the only thanks you will get is an animal who poops and sheds properly and regularly, who consumes its food with gusto, and who becomes comfortable enough with you--through hard work on your part--to not bite, scratch, thrash or try to get away every time you go to pick it up.
Reptiles are not "things"
So, you think you want a reptile?