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Taming an Iguana and aggressiveness during breeding season


I'm a nice guy but I can get aggressive during breeding season!
      Iguana's are very independent, curious, and sometimes territorial aggressive creatures. Any new owner of a young iguana or even a rescued adult iguana should take note of this and begin spending a minimum of 30 minutes to one hour or more with their iguana in order to bond with, and tame them. If you do not spend some time taming them and letting them know that you call the shots you will regret it when they are adults or when they come into breeding season!

      My iguana was a sexually mature stunted adult of approximately 3 or more years of age when I got him. He was very ill but he was feisty, scared and aggressive from day one. Considering how ill he really was I took his behaviour as a good sign. My boy was a survivor! :)

Ohhhh! Rub my back!
      The best way to start with any iguana young or adult is to handle them daily. If the iguana is very ill or very stressed you may want to avoid doing this until the animal has recovered or acclimatised to it's new home- but do start this as soon as you are able to.

      In the very beginning the iguana may be scared and not move much when you handle him. This does not mean you have a tame or docile iguana. This means the iguana is either terrified of you (thinks you might eat it) or perhaps even that it is ill. It could also mean that you are not keeping the iguana at the correct temperatures - a too cold iguana will not react as much as one kept at the right temps. If the iguana is only scared of you it will probably perk up and begin to struggle when you hold it after a couple of days. If you think it might be ill please take it to a reptile vet immediately! All new iguanas should be seen by a reptile vet shortly after purchase to ensure their good health, and a yearly check up is advised thereafter.

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You may begin by:

  •      Putting your hand into their enclosure slowly. Don't swoop your hand down from above- the iguana may think you are a predator (bird?) and become very frightened. Instead bring your hand in at the iguana's eye level, or from above, but to the side ... approach slowly.

    • The iguana may freak out and begin running through the enclosure trying to get away. Stop moving. Talk softly to the iguana.
    • Or it may stick it's dewlap out (sign of fright or aggression),
    • open it's mouth slightly (sign of aggression- watch out it might bite),
    • bob it's head (could be aggressive behaviour- especially if combined with one or all of the above),
    • Napoleon in a warning pose
      or it might turn it's body sideways to you and flick it's tail a bit (definitely aggressive behaviour, you are about to be tail whipped or bit!).

    •      If you notice any of the above behaviour do not necessarily stop what you are doing, but proceed with caution. The iguana is probably warning you that it is frightened and may tail whip you or bite you if you continue. A tail whip from a juvenile to adult sized iguana can hurt and bruise, and a bite can truly hurt and bleed quite a bit. Their teeth are serrated and extremely sharp! If an iguana bites you the number one thing NOT to do is to pull your hand or finger (whatever) away. Those teeth will, and do, rip skin and the damage will be much worse if you pull away.

           I know what I'm saying may scare you. I don't want you to be afraid of your iguana. I just want to warn you about what can happen if they do bite you and how to recognize a potential attack in the making so that you can use your own judgement and decide how to proceed. Most iguana's usually do give off some warning sign before attacking a human or another lizard. I see you! What are you doing? Go away!

    •      Unfortunately many owners will indeed stop and be frightened themselves when they see this behaviour. This is wrong when you are trying to tame the iguana. The iguana has just trained you to go away. It won!
    •      Don't let the iguana train you. You must let it know that you are not going to hurt it by talking to it gently, treating it well, and not putting up with it's aggressive behaviour.
  •      If all is going well and your hand is in the enclosure .... try to gently pet the iguana. Talk to it gently and don't make any fast moves.
  •      You might want to just do this several times each day for the first week or so in order to let the iguana get to know you and to give it time to realize you don't mean it any harm.
  •      When you feel you are ready, and when you think the iguana is ready you can slowly put your hand in the enclosure, pet the iguana, and then gently scoop your hands under the iguana and lift him out of the enclosure.
  •      The iguana may struggle and try to get away at this point. Try not to let him get away, hold him securely without squeezing or injuring him. Do not grasp your iguana by the tail, they can drop their tails and you will feel absolutely terrible if this happens. Sit with him in your hands and talk to him gently for 15 minutes or so, then place him back in his enclosure.
  •      If the iguana does struggle and get away please don't chase after it right away. This will frighten the poor creature. Watch carefully and see where the iguana goes and approach slowly and carefully. Attempt to pick him up gently while talking softly to him. Resume holding him for a short period of time and then place back in the enclosure.
  •      Repeat a few times each day.

         NOTE: When you first take an iguana out of it's enclosure it may struggle and get away from you. It is for this reason alone that you should make sure the room is iguana proofed BEFORE you take him out of the enclosure. Make sure the door to the room is closed, place a towel at the door gap if you think the ig can crawl under it. If their are any holes in the walls, cracks or crevices that are just a bit smaller than your iguana- stuff them with newspaper or towels. Believe me I've heard of igs crawling into spaces behind the walls through holes and owners who have had to tear down walls to rescue their iguana. Don't let this happen to you! :)

          It's also a good idea to block off any heavy furniture that the iguana might crawl under, that you may have to move in order to retrieve the iguana. You do not want to move heavy furniture to rescue an iguana, and there is always the risk of injuring it while moving furniture.

          Make sure any potentially toxic plants, breakable furniture or ornaments are safely out of the iguanas way- another room if possible. Iguanas are wonderful climbers and can climb things that you will never think in a hundred years that they could climb. Better to err on the side of caution.

  •      Once the iguana seems to be okay with being held in the hands it's time to let it crawl on your arm or shoulder. It may jump off once freed ... please don't chase it (see above).
  •      It is best not to let an iguana climb on your head. Sure it's cute when they are young but when they are older or adults their weight and claws alone make this an inappropriate place for them. You could easily get clawed in the face or eye, bit, or even tail whipped if an adult iguana becomes aggressive or frightened while perched on your head. It's not worth the risk!
  •      Actually it is not wise to let a juvenile or adult iguana too close to your face. No matter how tame you think they are. Iguana's can be unpredictable animals and while most give signals that they are angry, upset or frightened some don't ... and you do not want an iguana to bite your face, especially if it is a large adult iguana! OW!

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Taming takes time:

I love my dewlap being stroked and my back rubbed.       Simply spending time with, and handling your iguana on a daily basis will go a long way towards taming him and letting him know that you are the boss. Don't let him get away with inappropriate behaviour. If he's struggling in your hands don't put him down right away- your letting him know that you give in easily ... hold him until he calms down and put him down when YOU feel like it. Even if your hands are scratched and bleeding from his sharp claws. They have to learn what behaviour is appropriate around you.

      If you are consistent in your approach, treat the iguana well, and spend time interacting with the iguana daily the iguana will gradually become more and more tame over a period of weeks to several months. The process doesn't happen over night and it can be particularly frustrating and time consuming when you are dealing with a very aggressive iguana, but believe me, every effort you put forth in taming the iguana will be well rewarded when your work is done!

      Iguana's are extremely intelligent lizards and it does take some time to develop a true bond with one and for it to trust you and feel safe in your company. Once the iguana does trust you and knows that you never mean to hurt it, it will begin to interact with you more. You might be surprised to hear this but some iguanas actually seek out human company and affection, actually walking up to their owners wanting to be pet or cuddled. I know some of you are looking at your fierce iguana right now and reading this in disbelief, but it can happen if you just keep interacting with your iguana.

      If you are successful in getting your iguana to be reasonably tame I would just like to remind you that iguanas are still wild animals. No matter how tame they seem they are still wild animals inside and can revert back to their wild nature when frightened, sick, stressed or while in breeding season. They have not been domesticated for hundreds to thousands of years as cats and dogs have been. So, if you are able to make your iguana reasonably tame I believe that you still have to keep working and interacting with the iguana on a daily basis to remind it of the kind of relationship that you want to keep having with it. Never fully trust your iguana no matter how tame it seems - they can do some severe damage with their bite if you don't see it coming! Learn to read the iguana's body language so you will understand it's mood and take proper precautions when it's telling you that its in a bad mood.

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Iguana Body Language:

      If you are fairly new to reptiles you may not realize that they have developed very clear forms of communication through various, often intricate forms of body language. Most reptiles can not produce sounds as they do not have vocal cords. Several species of gecko are able to produce sounds but to the best of my knowledge they are unique among reptiles as far as vocalization goes. Chameleons are particularly adept at communicating through body colour. They can signal various moods through the pattern and coloration of their skin.

      Lizards generally communicate to one another, enemies, and predators through various forms of body language ranging from tail flicking and whipping, head bobbing, nodding, vibrating the head, togue flicking or licking, puffing the throat or extending the dewlap, body posture, postion and by inflating the body, arm waving, foot stomping, body colouration, hissing, sighing .... the list is endless!

      Now that you are the proud owner of an iguana it's time to start learning what some of it's body language really means!


      Young iguanas or iguanas new to a home will likely not bob their head. Iguanas taken to new places or surroundings that normally bob at everything will often not bob until they are comfortable. In general iguana's bob when they feel confident in their surroundings, feel secure, or feel very threatened. It is usually quite and exciting time for a new owner when they see their first iguana head bob! "Iggy finally bobbed at me- oh it 's so cute!"

      There are many forms of head bobbing. Iguana's of both sexes may bob to say hello to their keeper, signify that they are becoming irritated or to send a warning that they are in a mood and that you'd better watch out. I cannot begin to tell you how to interpret all of these bobs as iguanas are individuals and you will simply have to learn what bobs are harmless and what bobs have the potential to signify that the iguana is becoming aggressive and is warning you away.

      Females do not bob as much as males, but they do indeed bob. Female bobs most often signify irritation, and their bobs are jerkier, not smooth and flowing.

      Male iguanas bobs are grand afairs with straight smooth up and down movement of the head. Males bob much more frequently than females. They bob when they climb to a new basking area- "I am the owner of this spot", they bob when they see you, they bob at other pets they can see, they bob when they are hungry, they bob when they are entering a room, they bob when they are exiting a room ... oh give it up ... they just bob! They are very talkative! :)

      The vibrating head bob, or shudder bob, is a series of small very quick bobs, often accompanied by side to side movement of the head. This is clearly a warning bob, especially if the iguana is standing up while doing this. Other body language that may accompany this bob are standing, puffed out body, tail twitching, white head, presenting the body sideways. Take this bob seriously and be cautious!

      Any bob that is accompanied by more threatening body language such as a white head, slightly open mouth, dewlap extended, puffed body, sideways presentation, tail flicking or undulation should be taken as a clear warning. An iguana expressing irritation or warning that it is in aggressive mood often signifies its mood by extending its dewlap and head bobbing. This is usually the very first body language that you will note, and sometimes the aggression stops with the iguana expressing itself in that manner or quickly progresses to more aggressive body language or behaviour. Remember, head bobbing can be just a form of saying hello or saying I'm the boss, I'm the ruler, this is my place, this is my basking spot, or it could be the very first sign that the iguana is about to make very aggressive moves. Learn to read the head bobs!

      If an iguana bobs at you while it's in a relaxed position such as lying down I would not take this bob as a threat of any kind. This kind of bob is more of a greeting or where the heck have you been I've been waiting for my food to arrive kind of communication.

Other body language

      A relaxed iguana will often extend both its front arms behind it's body while lying down. The arms are often straight out along it's sides and have the palms facing upward. The legs might also be extended backwards along the tail. You may see an iguana doing this while basking or sleeping. Needless to say an iguana that strikes this pose is feeling extremely relaxed and not in the least bit threatened. I often find my iguana Napoleon in this pose. One of the funniest things to observe is an iguana with his arms stretched back behind him, head raised and bobbing at you. Obviously this must be a warm greeting bob!

      Iguana's will often communicate how they are feeling by using their dewlap. An iguana with a neatly tucked in dewlap is generally in a neutral mood. Partially extended dewlaps can signify that they are starting to feel threatened or afraid or even curious, where as fully extended dewlaps are often seen when the iguana is claiming territory while bobbing i.e. when it settles into a new basking place and bobs with dewlap extended, or it can accompany a threat or aggressive behaviour.

      White head: If you notice that your iguana's head is white it might be a good idea to put your guard up a little bit. A white head can simply signify that the iguana is excited - the head may turn white while it's enjoying a particularly tasty favorite treat, but often the white head will signify that the iguana is in a bad mood and you should take this as a very subtle warning.

      Standing in combination with extended dewlap and head bobbing could mean that the iguana is claiming territory or that it is feeling threatened or becoming aggressive. A standing iguana giving warning is an iguana that can leap or lunge at you if it is feeling particularly aggressive. If the iguana starts to pace, gives some vibrating bobs, flicks its tail and tries to present it's body sideways to you this is a warning that the ig is in a mood!

      Pacing and presenting the side of a puffed up body, sort of shuffle walking sideways in quick small movements, often accompanied by an undulating tail is a sign of an imminent attempt to attack or an attempt to mate with you! If the iguana is able to it will often try to circle around you while doing this walk.

      Tail flicking on it's own, with no other body language or just a head bob or two might be just a small warning of the iguana's mood. Tail flicking accompanied by more threatening body posturing, vibrating bob and or open mouth and a white head should be taken quite seriously.

      An iguana shutting it's eyes could mean that it's tuning you out or that it is complete relaxed and enjoying being pet. An iguana with the eye closest to you shut while the other eye is open is clearly trying to cut you out of the picture- you are no longer there- sorry!

      As you can tell iguana's combine a number of different forms of body language in order to communicate how they are feeling or to give us a clear warning to watch out. Many forms of iguana body language are just means of greeting or claiming a territory or perhaps even getting attention. Most forms of body language seen singly are very mild, it is when two or more forms of body language seen in combination that the iguana is more than likely giving off some kind of warning or threat.

      Please do learn to read the basic forms of body language communication that your iguana displays. This will help you to interact with your iguana better and will possibly help prevent you from receiving a serious injury.

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Breeding Season Aggression

      Breeding season and aggression are another story all together. Both male and female iguana's may become more aggressive towards their male, female or both owners at this time. Please do try to remember that this is a natural occurrence for iguanas, they have breeding seasons when their hormones are raging and whatever behaviour they exhibit is to be considered normal. You will have to understand and learn how to live with, or deal with, this behaviour.

      Male iguanas may see male owners as a rival and attack them, males iguana's may see their female owners as potential mates (especially if the female owner is ovulating or menstruating ... I guess they can smell the increase in hormones!) and attempt to attack them and try to mate with them. It sounds unusual and humorous but if you are on the wrong end of an iguana's attentions it is not pleasant! Female igs may do just the opposite of males- becoming more aggressive with female owners seeing them as rivals or invading their territory, and may become somewhat attracted to their male owners.

I was mistreated and sick      Some iguana's are great during their breeding season and remain fairly calm and handleable, other's are simply scales, teeth and tails! It is during breeding season that many iguana owners give up on their animals. You will often see an increase in iguanas for sale, or free to good home ads in newspaper classified's, and more ig's are abandoned or brought to the Humane Society, SPCA, rescue shelters or returned to pet stores during this time as well. :( My Napoleon was a mistreated or abandoned ig .. I'll never know ... this is what he looked like when we first got him. :(

Maybe someone abandoned Napoleon because they didn't understand iguana behaviour.       It's very sad because it doesn't have to be this way!

      Iguana's can be handled and maintained during their breeding season in pretty much the same manner as described above. Just more caution must be taken, and the owner should have already put in a lot of time training and taming the iguana prior to breeding season if possible. Yes the ig may still be aggressive toward it's owner(s), but you can still work with them. Perhaps you won't handle your ig as much.

      It should be noted here that iguanas usually have at least one breeding season per year that can last up to three months or more. Some iguana's have two breeding seasons in a year. What time of year is breeding season? It depends on where you live, and probably where exactly your iguana is from. Many iguanas do go into breeding season in the fall or spring months, while some go into breeding season in the summer or winter months. It varies!

      I should also probably mention here that when an iguana is in breeding season, along with increased aggression towards it's keeper or other members of the household, you will likely note a decline in appetite, increased energy and activity, and orange colouration on the iguana's legs, body, and perhaps it's head area.

     Female iguanas may pace, try to get out of the cage, exhibit digging behaviour, defecate more frequently etc. This could be a sign that the female has become gravid and needs an egg laying site! Please see Melissa Kaplans Iguana Care pages (Iguana egg laying and incubation) for more info on how to care for a gravid female iguana and how to set up a proper egg laying site.

      Male iguanas may expose their hemipenes, and leave seminal deposits in their enclosures. You might even find dried up seminal deposits- known as seminal plugs - sticking out of the iguana's vent or passed while the iguana is defecating. If you do notice something that is perhaps slightly brownish or tan in colour but semi translucent sticking out of the iguana's vent this could be a seminal plug. You might want to soak the iguana in chest deep luke warm water in the tub, and after the soak gently try to pull the plug out. Don't force it. If you do remove the plug you will notice that it has a rubbery or melted cheese like texture to it. Seminal plugs are no cause for alarm and they are usually pushed out of the vent during deification or when the male iguana exposes his hemipenes, but they can sometimes build up and start to block the vent- this is when they can cause a problem.

Hey baby, lets Tango!      If your iguana is acting aggressively towards you you should speak to it in a firm tone of voice. Find a way to punish the iguana without harming him. Some people hold onto their struggling whipping gnashing igs until they calm down (message- you are not getting away with this), others place their ig in a place they don't like too much for 15 minutes or so for a time out (the bathroom is good for this), some people pin their igs legs down on something holding them firmly until they stop struggling (higher risk of injuring the animal this way) ... find a way to tell the ig his behavior is bad and that you do not like it. Don't give in to bad behavior or it will get worse.

      Don't become abusive to the animal either when it is aggressive (especially during breeding season) as it is only doing what is natural and hitting or screaming at the iguana will only frighten it, make it mistrustful of you, and possibly make the behavior or attacks much worse than they otherwise would be. Not to mention that if you injure the animal when you are upset with it, it is you who will be paying the vet bill and trying to care for the injured animal. :(

      Napoleon is currently in his breeding season (Usually October to December for him) and while he basically ignores my husband (meaning my husband can definitely carry on with daily care without being on the receiving end of aggressive behavior, or very little of it at that), he thinks I am his intended mate!

      While in his breeding season, whenever I walk into the room Napoleon only has eyes for me! He starts bobbing at me right away, weaving his body or head from side to side, presenting the side of his body to me while puffed out, and charging at me as I walk by the bookshelf that he's on, or as I try to place his food dish on the shelf. He lunges at me with open mouth at times but I have either avoided being bitten very well or he has fallen short of biting me- probably realizing the punishment for that will not be good!

      When Napoleon is not in his breeding season I generally feel safe around him and he has about 95% of my trust, but when he's in his breeding season I never take my eyes off of him when I'm working with him or walking by him. Most of the time he's harmless and the only times he's been aggressive towards me has been in the bedroom- his home territory. He is not aggressive towards me after bath time in the bathroom, although he will head bob and present sideways while in the tub, and occasionally bob while being towel dried after his bath. Never the less I never let my guard down, and I never let him climb up on my shoulder no matter how good he's acting these days. That is just to close to my face, thank-you.

      If he's being aggressive and I have to work with him i.e. take him to the bathroom for his bathtime and defecation time ... I watch my fingers carefully, and I watch him carefully. I read his body language. If he's in a lunging mood I use one hand as a decoy while the other swoops around behind him and picks him up. He calms down immediately when he's being held ("she's got me now! Darn!"). When ever he's aggressive towards me or lunges at me he gets a firm "NO, Bad Iguana, BAD!" and I pick him up, face him towards me and firmly tell him "Bad Iguana, Bad Napoleon, No Lunging" I then hold him for a few minutes until he calms down, and then I place him back on the shelf far away from me. He usually doesn't lunge at me again for a while after this.

      I have been blessed with an exceptionally good iguana. I have never experienced the horrors of breeding season as many other iguana owners have. Yes, Napoleon does become aggressive when he's in season. Yes he does lunge at me, yes he does snap at me with open mouth. Yes he does a lot of aggressive body posturing. Yes he has even stalked me and circled me. However, while he does display all of the classic signs of breeding aggression he is and remains quite manageable while in season. He'll lunge at me and I can calm him instantly. This is NOT the case for many iguana owners. I do not know if my ability to control Napoleon when he's in season is just because he's such a great iguana, or whether it is because of all the work, taming and interaction that I have done with Napoleon that makes him so manageable. I think it is a combination of training and taming and Napoleon's exceptional personality.

      Oh, did I tell you that I think Iguana's have foot fetishes? :) Napoleon really isn't interested in socked feet, but put some shoes on and walk into his room and he can't take his eyes off your feet. Better yet, walk in the room with bare feet and he goes nuts! Starts to climb down onto the ground when he sees bare feet- that is when I leave! (or pick him up) or even better, let your bare feet stick out of the covers on those rare occasions when you can sleep in and wake up to an ecstatic iguana bobbing madly at your feet and looking like he's about to pounce off the shelf onto them! Ahhhhhhhh! Many people on the iguana mailing list have mentioned iguanas attraction to feet and I can only confirm what they have already said. :) Iguana's are weird!

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