Monday, September 25, 2023
HomeEditorialFeeding the domesticated Iguana - the cool ectotherm

Feeding the domesticated Iguana – the cool ectotherm

Image Credit: schizoform on Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Iguanas are a popular choice for pet reptiles, but their care can be challenging and requires a deep understanding of their biology, behaviour, and unique needs.

In this article I discuss the keeping of iguanas as pets, focusing on their biology and the various aspects of their care, including diet, feeding, and nutrition. I will also relate these aspects to the broader field of ectothermic vertebrates and reptilian bioenergetics, citing relevant academic research wherever feasible.

Iguanas are a reptile belonging to the family Iguanidae, which includes over eight hundred species of lizards. They are primarily found in tropical regions of Central and South America, as well as in certain Caribbean islands. Iguanas are large, herbivorous lizards, and their size can range from two to six feet in length, depending on the species. They have a distinctive appearance, with a long tail, strong limbs, and a prominent dewlap, which is a flap of skin under the chin used for communication and thermoregulation.

Iguanas are ectothermic, or cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external heat sources to regulate their body temperature. As a result, their bioenergetic demands and metabolism is closely tied to their environmental temperature, and they are often inactive during cooler periods. Iguanas are also highly social animals and are known for their complex social behaviour, including territoriality, dominance hierarchies, and courtship displays.

As ectothermic animals, iguanas have a lower metabolic rate than endothermic animals, such as mammals and birds. This means that they require less food to maintain their energy needs, but they also have a lower digestive efficiency and slower growth rates. Iguanas are primarily herbivorous and require a diet that is high in fibre and low in protein and fat. In captivity, they are often fed a variety of fruits and vegetables, such as kale, collard greens, and squash, along with calcium and vitamin supplements. One of the most critical aspects of iguana care is providing a balanced and nutritious diet. In the wild, iguanas have a varied diet of leaves, flowers, and fruits, and they spend most of their day foraging for food. In captivity, it is essential to replicate this natural diet to ensure that they receive all the necessary nutrients. It is also important to provide fresh, clean water at all times and to monitor their food intake to prevent overfeeding and obesity.

As such, Iguanas require a specific diet to maintain their health, and inadequate nutrition can lead to several nutritional diseases. Here are some of the most common nutritional diseases that affect iguanas:

Metabolic bone disease (MBD): This is a common nutritional disease in iguanas that occurs due to calcium and vitamin D3 deficiencies. Iguanas require UVB light in the correct spectrum and intensity to synthesize vitamin D3, which is essential for calcium absorption from the diet. Without sufficient calcium and vitamin D3, iguanas can develop MBD, which results in weak bones, fractures, and deformities. Recent research has highlighted the importance of calcium in the diet of iguanas. A study by Willette et al. (2018) found that captive iguanas are often deficient in calcium, which can lead to a range of health problems, including metabolic bone disease. The authors recommend supplementing the diet with calcium and monitoring the levels in the blood to ensure proper absorption.

Vitamin A deficiency: Iguanas require vitamin A for proper eye and skin health. Lack of vitamin A can cause skin infections, eye problems, and even blindness.

Protein deficiency: Iguanas require a diet high in protein to maintain muscle mass, but many commercial iguana diets are deficient in protein. A lack of protein can lead to muscle wasting, weight loss, and poor growth.

Obesity: Iguanas are prone to obesity, especially if they are fed a diet that is high in fat and low in fibre. Obesity can lead to various health problems, such as heart disease, liver disease, and joint problems.

To prevent these nutritional diseases, it is essential to provide domesticated iguanas with a balanced diet that meets their nutritional requirements. A diet for iguanas should consist of leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and a small amount of protein from insects or boiled egg whites. It is also important to provide UVB lighting to help iguanas synthesize vitamin D3.

It’s important to note that while pelleted feeds can be a useful part of an iguana’s diet, they should not be the only food that they are given but used a balancer. Pelleted feed is designed to be complimentary for the maintenance, growth and development of iguanas and contain formulated blends of natural ingredients, vitamins, and minerals to support their health and wellbeing. There is active scientific research into diets for use with the hobbyist and zoo market.

Article contributed by Professor Simon Davies, Nutrition Editor, International Petfood


Most Popular

- Advertisment -

Recent Comments