The rhinoceros iguana is a large, stout, and remarkably heavy iguana that is cherished by many around the globe for its docility and companionship. Once a relationship is established, this iguana is known for being friendly, even cuddly, intelligent, and fun to have around. This is especially true when compared to the green iguana. That said, this very large lizard is probably not the best option for a beginner.
Rhinoceros Iguana care includes providing enclosures large enough for it to grow and roam freely, fresh food including fruits and vegetables daily, fresh dechlorinated water, vitamin and calcium supplements, precise temperature control, UVA and UVB lighting, as well as 60% humidity day and night.
Rhinoceros iguanas live anywhere from 15 to 25 years in captivity, with some living up to 40 years. This makes it a long-term pet with many specialized needs. For those who are considering purchasing a rhinoceros iguana as a pet, it is important to understand what these needs are before leaping into rhinoceros iguana ownership.
Size and Appearance of Rhinoceros Iguanas
Rhinoceros iguanas are more stout than many of their relatives, standing low to the ground on very sturdy legs. In size, they range anywhere from two feet to over four feet long when fully grown. This is certainly a large lizard, but in terms of weight it really stands out.
- A fully grown rhinoceros iguana can weigh in at 10 to 20+ pounds, which is nearly twice as heavy as its longer cousin, the green iguana.
- Large male rhinoceros iguanas have even been known to weigh up to 25 pounds.
- The rhinoceros iguana has one of the densest body types in the lizard family, being very heavy for its size.
- Males are larger than females.
- Rhinoceros Iguanas have been seen to use their thick tails as striking weapons when they fight. It is also something you need to consider when handling this large lizard.
Why Do Rhinoceros Iguanas Have Horns
The rhinoceros iguana takes its name from the fascinating horn-like structures on its head that resemble rhinoceros horns. These “horns” are actually larger, more developed scales that stand up resembling horns.
- Rhinoceros iguanas appear to use the horns in mating rituals, possibly to attract females for mating.
- Only male rhinoceros iguanas have noticeably large horns. Females have them, but they are often smaller.
- Male rhinoceros iguanas also use these horns to intimidate rival males in both territorial and mating disputes.
- Scientists believe that these horns may also be used as a deterrent to predators.
The rhinoceros iguana is covered in rough scales that can be colored olive green, gray-brown, or brown, with a wide range of color variations in-between.
Lifespan of the Rhinoceros Iguana
Rhinoceros iguanas can live up to 20 years, given the right conditions. Proper rhinoceros iguana care can have a huge impact on their lifespan.
- In perfect conditions in captivity they have been known to live over 20 years, but this is a rare lifespan.
- An average rhinoceros iguana lifespan is about 15 years both in the wild and in captivity.
- The rhinoceros iguana is a native species on Limbe Island in Haiti. The rhinoceros iguanas are caught and eaten on this island, making their lifespan considerably less, and their numbers fewer.
- Their numbers also suffer from predation by birds of prey as well as introduced animals such as mongoose.
- These iguanas also suffer from diminished food sources due to the introduction of other grazing animals such as cows and goats that compete for browsing areas in vegetation and shrubbery.
- Rhinoceros iguanas are given protected conservation status.
The male rhinoceros iguanas reach sexual maturity at four to five years old, and females reach sexual maturity at two to three years of age. With egg clutches of 15 to 20 eggs, the species has the potential for healthy population maintenance and expansion when they are protected from hunting and wild catching for the pet trade. For more on this check out my article: How long do rhinoceros iguanas live?
Temperament of the Rhinoceros Iguana
The rhinoceros iguana can have a nervous temperament. It is not naturally trusting and will run and hide rather than face down a human at first. Though they might not be extremely aggressive it must be pointed out that larger-sized lizards are naturally more dangerous than smaller-sized lizards. For this reason, I would only suggest the rhinoceros iguana to an experienced owner.
- When rhinoceros iguanas feel threatened their first response is to run and hide.
- When the rhinoceros iguana is cornered with no place to hide, it can be provoked to bite with sharp teeth and strike with its thick, heavy tail.
- With other rhinoceros iguanas, the males are territorial and will not shy away from a fight. They use horns and tails in intimidation displays and will come to fight with teeth and tail when aggression is unavoidable.
- The bite from a rhinoceros iguana may deliver a big hurt, but it does not have any poison glands to add toxicity to the bite. That does not however mean that they cannot inflict very serious harm.
How to Handle a Rhinoceros Iguana
Because the rhinoceros iguana is naturally timid and prefers to hide, because of this handling your iguana will take patiece. This desire to love and handle your iguana is not appreciated by the lizard. This instead will be seen as aggression and it will react to the aggression. If you persist in reaching for the iguana you will get bit and struck, and it will take much longer to earn the trust of your new pet.
- Make the rhinoceros iguana enclosure as warm and welcoming as possible, and be attentive to the conditions in the enclosure, but leave the iguana alone and respect its need for personal space.
- Prepare the rhinoceros iguana’s food where the lizard can watch you so it can equate your presence with food and care. You might even slowly start to hand feed your iguana food when they are small.
- Talk gently and soothingly to your iguana while you take care of it, cleaning the enclosure, providing fresh delicious food, and changing out the water.
- Spend time in view of your rhinoceros iguana doing quiet activities such as computer work, reading, and whatever you can think of that keeps you in view without appearing threatening to the iguana.
- Over time your iguana will learn to associate your presence with pleasant things, and natural curiosity will take over.
- Once the iguana begins to indulge its curiosity about you, it will naturally begin coming out to watch you and even come closer while you are working inside the enclosure.
- Do not be surprised when your iguana starts coming close enough to check out your hands and even begins touching you.
- Do not ever grab the iguana, even if it comes very close and is being very friendly. This will scare it and you will have to start over.
- Once the iguana has become comfortable approaching you, it may begin crawling onto your arms and will eventually enjoy riding around on you and receiving gentle pets.
- The key is to always let the rhinoceros iguana take the steps toward friendship and closeness. Once you have gained its trust and it is comfortable being with you, your dreams of being close friends with your rhinoceros iguana will come true.
- Now that you have taken the time and practiced the patience to establish a mutually trusting relationship with your iguana, you will be able to enjoy petting your iguana, spending time with it outside the enclosure, and even having it follow you around to be with you. It all depends on your time and patience.
- Be careful as the rhinoceros iguana can inflict harm. This is true even at times when they are not trying to be aggressive. They have sharp claws that can easily break the skin.
- Once your rhinoceros iguana gets large it might be a good idea to get some protective gloves for handling.
Rhinoceros Iguana Diet
In the wild, rhinoceros iguanas are omnivorous. They will eat fresh plants, flowers, and vegetables, small rodents and other mammals, insects, and even carrion. The rhinoceros iguana has to compete with many other animals in the wild for viable food sources, causing it to expand its diet. They have even been observed eating fish and small crustaceans.
In captivity, you can give your rhinoceros iguana an ideal diet, ensuring maximum health and longevity for your new pet. Proper diet is one of the most important aspects of rhinoceros iguana care.
- Prepare fresh fruits and vegetables in view of your rhinoceros iguana to encourage good associations with your presence.
- Feed fresh foods on a rotating schedule so that the rhinoceros iguana gets plenty of variety every day. This helps avoid food boredom and more closely simulates the type of diet that the rhinoceros iguana would provide for itself in the wild as it is browsing around near the ground for edibles.
- Even though rhinoceros iguanas in the wild might eat meat when they can get it, it is not necessary to provide meat for your pet rhinoceros iguana unless you want to. Even so, this should be a very rare occurrence.
- Rhinoceros iguanas are often raised on a completely vegetarian diet and they develop well and live long healthy lives.
- All meals can be dusted with a vitamin supplement powder to ensure that the iguana has a well-balanced diet.
Best Vegetables for a Rhinoceros Iguana
In the wild where the rhinoceros iguana is not in competition for food, it will eat a wide variety of leaves, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. The best captivity diet has this natural dietary selection in mind when selecting fresh produce to feed their iguana.
These are some of the best vegetables to rotate in and out of your rhinoceros iguana’s diet. Purchase organic produce that is in season. The iguana’s health will suffer if it is made to eat produce that is contaminated with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. If you can not afford to purchase organic produce, then be careful to clean it as well as possible.
- The main part of your rhinoceros iguana’s diet should be all kinds of lettuces and other leafy vegetables such as chard, parsley, and mustard greens. Choose greens that are fresh and plump. Chop greens to a size appropriate for the size of your rhinoceros iguana. Feed these leafy vegetables every day.
- Other primary vegetables that your rhinoceros iguana will thrive on are other varieties of peas (in the pod and out), parsnips, okra, all colors of bell peppers, and other low-starch vegetables. These should be given at least three times a week.
- Carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, and other moderately starchy vegetables can be given, but rotate them in less often. These should not be primary dietary items.
- Especially for baby rhinoceros iguanas, all vegetables should be shredded or chopped finely. Tough vegetables such as carrots should be shredded.
Squash for a Rhinoceros Iguana
Squashes can be fed to the rhinoceros iguana. To prepare squashes, remove the skin and all of the seeds. Then shred them and feed them up to 3x weekly along with the primary supply of leafy greens.
- All summer squashes such as yellow crookneck and zucchini.
- Winter squashes such as kabocha, butternut, pumpkin, turban, and delicata.
Best Fruits for a Rhinoceros Iguana
Stone fruits should be pitted before giving them to the rhinoceros iguana. Stone fruits include peaches, pears, plums, apricots, and cherries. All other fruits should have the seeds removed and be chopped finely or shredded before giving them to your rhinoceros iguana.
Fruit should come in secondary to vegetables on their diet. Rhinoceros iguanas can become overweight so make sure not to overfeed them with fruits.
- Tree fruits such as apples, pears, papaya, mangoes, nectarines, figs, kiwis, and bananas.
- Berries and vine fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, strawberries, and acai berries.
- Melons like watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydew, and other ripe melons.
Flowers for a Rhinoceros Iguana
Rhinoceros iguanas can eat edible flowers, and this is a fun treat that adds variety to your pet iguana’s diet. This is just a short list of plants with edible flowers that you can add to your rhinoceros iguana’s menu.
Be sure that flowers are not sprayed with chemical pesticides or herbicides that will make your iguana sick. If you are unsure simply avoid feeding them to your rhinoceros iguana.
I should note that these flowers are not something that needs to be added to your iguana’s diet regularly. But if you have access to them they can be a great treat.
- Hibiscus flowers
- Dandelion greens and flowers
- Borage leaves and flowers
- Calendula flowers
- Marigold flowers
- Elderberry flowers and berries
Foods to Avoid
Some rhinoceros iguana experts advise that you avoid feeding certain foods to your rhinoceros iguana. These foods include goitrogens which can inhibit thyroid function when consumed in large amounts, plants high in oxalates which inhibit calcium binding, and foods that are high in phosphorus content.
- Brussels Sprouts
This advice is not universal but is something to consider when you are choosing your iguana’s diet. If you have a wide variety of other vegetables to choose from, then you may opt for those items rather than these vegetables which are debatable in terms of safety and nutritional benefits.
Never feed your rhinoceros iguana something you are unsure about. Knowing what not to feed your iguana is essential for proper rhinoceros iguana care.
Feeding Your Rhinoceros Iguana
When you feed your rhinoceros iguana, you should provide a fresh variety of leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables every single morning. Do not let the food sit in the enclosure all day long. Allow the rhinoceros iguana a few hours to eat the food that you have provided and then remove the leftovers. This keeps the rhinoceros iguana from consuming spoiled food and will help avoid problems with gnats and fruit flies.
- Use a broad and low-sided dish that is difficult for the rhinoceros iguana to tip over during eating, or while walking around inside the enclosure.
- Do not put substrate directly around the feeding area. This can allow substrate into the dish. If your rhinoceros iguana eats too much substrate, it can bind up or even block the intestines.
- Supplemental vitamins and minerals should be dusted over the iguana’s food according to the manufacturer’s directions. Usually, juvenile iguanas receive more supplementation than adult iguanas.
Watering a Rhinoceros Iguana
Hydration is essential when caring for your rhinoceros iguana. Rhinoceros iguanas get most of their water from the fresh fruits and vegetables that you provide, but you will also need to provide clean un-chlorinated drinking water as well.
- Make clean water available to your rhinoceros iguana at all times, and place it in a cool area of the enclosure, away from basking lights.
- Use a water dish that has a ramp on one side to provide safe access to the water.
- Chlorinated water is unhealthy for your rhinoceros iguana. Allow chlorine to dissipate for 24 to 36 hours by sitting out in the open air before you use it to fill the water bowl.
Vitamins and Supplements for a Rhinoceros Iguana
Proper supplementation should not something that should be looked over when it comes to rhinoceros iguana care. Consult a veterinarian that is familiar with reptiles to help you establish a supplement plan for your reptiles.
Calcium is the most important supplement for you to provide in your rhinoceros iguana’s diet. This is vital for every rhinoceros iguana, but even more important for growing juveniles, pregnant females, and iguanas that are recovering from a high-oxalate diet.
- It is important to supplement phosphorus along with the calcium in a ratio of two parts calcium to one part phosphorus.
- The ratio can vary based on the age of the rhinoceros iguana.
- Follow supplement directions carefully, taking into account the age of your rhinoceros iguana.
- It may not be necessary to supplement your rhinoceros iguana with vitamin D3. This is because the UV lighting allows the rhinoceros iguana to synthesize true vitamin D3 through its own skin.
- Choose a calcium supplement that has the right calcium to phosphorus ratio, and no included vitamin D3.
- The only time you would need to supplement vitamin D3 is if your vet says that the rhinoceros iguana is low in vitamin D3 or you see signs of vitamin D3 deficiency.
- The most efficient way for any rhinoceros iguana to get vitamin D3 is natural sunlight.
Your rhinoceros iguana does need to receive a multivitamin supplement. Look for a multivitamin supplement that includes:
- Vitamin C, an array of B vitamins, folic acid, vitamin A
- Magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, and beta carotene
- A wide variety of trace minerals such as copper, iron, manganese, and zinc
- A wide array of amino acids. Amino acids are necessary for proper cell growth and development.
Your vet will probably recommend a multivitamin supplement that will work well for your rhinoceros iguana and help supplement the fresh fruits and vegetables that you give.
If you are feeding a commercial pellet diet due to time constraints on preparing fresh foods, then it is of utmost importance that you supplement your rhinoceros iguana’s diet with calcium and mineral supplements.
Enclosure Requirements for a Rhinoceros Iguana
Some people believe that they can keep their rhinoceros iguana smaller by keeping them in a small enclosure. This is simply not true. It is cruel to keep the rhinoceros iguana in an enclosure that does not give it adequate room to roam and live a healthy, happy life. If you cannot provide the proper space then the rhinoceros iguana is not the right pet for you.
- You can start out with a smaller enclosure for your baby rhinoceros iguana, but you will have to graduate to larger and larger enclosures as the iguana grows.
- Do not start a baby rhinoceros iguana in the full-sized enclosure. This is very stressful and disorienting for a tiny iguana to navigate a giant space.
- A baby rhinoceros iguana can live in an enclosure that is around two feet wide and three feet long for the first six months or so. Once it is large enough to not have enough room to roam, it needs to be moved into a larger enclosure.
- An adult rhinoceros iguana needs to be in an enclosure that is at least 8 feet long and four feet wide.
- Enclosures do not need to be super tall. The largest enclosures should be about three feet high unless you plan to create areas for the iguana to climb up.
Your enclosure should mimic the type of terrain that is natural to a rhinoceros iguana. They live in an environment that is oriented around the terrestrial preferences of this iguana. They do not climb trees, but they like rocky outcroppings and places to rest and hide.
- Provide a nice source of fresh water.
- A UV basking light is a must and is a source of vitamin D3.
- Include a stable food bowl that is stationed in an area clear of the substrate.
Custom Built Enclosure for a Rhinoceros Iguana
Buying a giant enclosure can be super expensive, and many owners would rather build a custom enclosure to provide additional space and interest for their rhinoceros iguana. This is a great idea because you can get a huge amount of space for less money.
- The iguana can be given a dedicated room in your home if you have the extra space and are willing to set the room up for the health and safety of the iguana. You have to make sure you can keep the room at the right temperature and humidity year-round.
- Your iguana also must be adjusted and familiar with the home before you let it roam around the house or have its own room to live in.
- You may want to retrofit the room door so that you can look in on the iguana without opening the door. This can be done with a glass or plexiglass window.
- Make the size of enclosure that you want with wood framing and join it together with screws.
- The walls of the enclosure can be made of glass, plexiglass, or welded wire.
- If you choose welded wire, this must be half-inch squares. This is because smaller squares can snag the iguana’s nails and injure the foot.
- The base of the enclosure should be ¾ inch plywood.
- Make a door that is large enough for you to enter the enclosure as much as you need to to clean out the enclosure and care for your rhinoceros iguana.
When you build your own enclosure, you need to make sure that you do not leave cracks, holes, rough edges, or sharp areas for the iguana to get caught in and hurt.
* There are also companies such as Custom Reptile Habitats that do the work for you!
Substrate for the Rhinoceros Iguana Enclosure
The main thing to keep in mind is that you want to choose a substrate that is highly absorbent, easy to change, and does not contain dyes that will attract curious iguana mouthing.
Keep in mind that iguanas tend to go to the bathroom in the same place every single time, once they are established in their enclosure. You can place additional substrate layers in this area, and go lighter in other areas, keeping it away from food and water.
- Alfalfa meal. This is a pricey option, but it is nice because if the iguana eats it, then it is also nutritious rather than dangerous. Put one to two inches inside the enclosure.
- Coconut fibers. This is also pricey, but it is also safe if it gets accidentally ingested. It is highly absorbent and easy to scoop out the dirty area and replace.
- Cypress fibers. Also natural, this is a safe option for your rhinoceros iguana that can also help eliminate dirty smells.
There are dirt-type substrates that are also available for your rhinoceros iguana enclosure, but these tend to be much messier and are more dangerous if your iguana ingests them while eating or drinking water. These substrates are easier to use in an outdoor enclosure where mess made while cleaning the enclosure is not such a headache.
Decorations for a Rhinoceros Iguana Enclosure
This is not so much of a worry as far as the iguana’s enjoyment, but rather the type of ambiance you want from the enclosure. As far as the iguana’s needs, they are few, and mainly revolve around having space to roam, places to hide, a nice basking area, and a safe area for food and water.
- Rock tunnels are popular because they give the rhinoceros iguana a place to hide away when it feels threatened or tired.
- A fun-themed area that is big enough and close enough to the light for basking.
- Low branches that it can crawl on and hide under.
- A decorative shallow water feature that is kept clean and filtered at all times.
Temperature and Humidity
Getting the right temperatures and humidity is a very important aspect of rhinoceros iguana care. Install a small hygrometer in the enclosure and aim to keep the humidity at around 60%.
- You can spray some mist of clean, dechlorinated water into the enclosure twice daily.
- If this does not keep the humidity high enough, then consider getting an auto-misting unit. Your rhinoceros iguana will love this mist.
- If you are working a decorative water feature into the design of the enclosure, then you can try adding a bubbler which will help to add humidity into the air.
Rhinoceros iguanas live in hotter climates, so give them hotter temperatures to keep them healthy and happy. The ideal daytime temperature range is 75 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit. The ideal nighttime temperature is 65 to 75 degrees.
They will also need a basking spot that gets much hotter than this on one side of the enclosure. You will want a warmer and cooler side in your enclosure. This way your rhinoceros iguana can choose where to roam throughout the day.
Use a programmable thermometer to keep the temperature just right. Adjust it to warm during the day and cool off at night, without getting too cold. Remember that rhinoceros iguanas never experience winter in the wild, so they are not adapted to cold temperatures.
Do not use heat rocks, because the iguanas naturally get their heat from the sun, not from the earth. They are not acclimated to this and may get overheated from basking on heated rocks.
Keep the basking lights and heater equipment at one end of the enclosure so that the other end will be cooler. The rhinoceros iguana needs to be able to switch from hotter to cooler so that it can regulate its body temperature.
Lighting a Rhinoceros Iguana Enclosure
Rhinoceros iguanas naturally manufacture vitamin D3 in their skins through exposure to natural sunlight. This sunlight provides both UVA and UVB rays from the sun. The best light that you can provide will replicate this benefit.
The basking area can be much hotter than the rest of the enclosure ( about 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit ) , topping out at 110 to 115 degrees. This area should be large enough for the iguana to enjoy, but small enough that it can get well away and cool down when necessary.
You can either provide a UVA basking light and a separate UVB bulb, or you can buy a mercury vapor lamp that provides heat, UVA, and UVB rays all in a single bulb. Keep in mind that a larger iguana needs a larger, more spread-out basking area. A single screw-in bulb will not give it a comfortable amount of basking area.
Are You Prepared to Care for This Giant Lizard?
Rhinoceros iguana care is not easy. You must have a thorough understanding of what is required to raise a healthy, happy, and well-balanced rhinoceros iguana. You must be willing to put in the time, money, and effort required to provide this incredible lizard with a happy life. To thrive, this iguana needs careful attention to diet, enclosure, heat, and privacy requirements. If you can commit to those things, then this is a pet that you will love for many years to come.
The rhinoceros iguana is not a short-term pet. This is a special lizard that requires daily care and a ton of patience before it becomes a docile member of the family. You must be willing to give it plenty of space and respect its needs before it will honor you with friendship. Once this relationship becomes established, this iguana will reward you with love, intelligence, companionship, and fascination.
That said, it is a large long-lived lizard that is not easy to care for. I would not recommend them for a first-time reptile owner or for children. Though they can be friendly the last thing you want in your house is an untamed 25-pound lizard. Too many people abandon their pet reptiles when they realize they are over their heads. All I am asking you to do is to do your research before purchasing one of these amazing lizards.
If you really want a large-sized lizard I would suggest also checking out my article: 9 Best Large Lizards to Keep as Pets!