Animals / Reptiles

The Desert Iguana

Синонимы и названия на других языках

Wüstenleguan (German)


Order: squamata

Family: iguanidae

Subfamily: dipsosaurus

Genus: dipsosaurus

Species: Dipsosaurus dorsalis.


The desert iguana is native to the south-west of the USA and Mexico.

It prefers open dry and hot areas with sandy soil and scrubs. For hiding places it digs holes and uses other animals’ ones.  

Внешний вид

The desert iguana grows to about 20 cm (tail included), although specimens of 40 cm length have been reported too.

The desert iguana has a large cylindrical body with strong legs that enable the lizard to run on the sand very quickly. The head is quite small. The desert iguana has protective coloration: it is mainly gray with many white, brown and red spots. The coloring may vary depending on the habitat in order to comply with the substrate for better disguise; it enables the iguana to sneak up to the prey and to hide from predators.

Males and females look similar. 


The desert iguana likes space and requires a large tank. It rarely shows aggression, mostly during mating season. But you have to remember that if you keep several iguanas together, you must have a considerably bigger tank.

Don’t forget that in the wild iguanas live in a complicated system of tunnels which they dig themselves. In captivity they will try to do something similar, so they will most probably destroy the design of the enclosure. The air inlets should be located in the upper part of the tank, otherwise there will be sand all around the tank. 

Содержание и уход

The tank for a couple of desert iguanas should be at least 100х50х50 cm large. This reptile needs a horizontal enclosure with the biggest bottom area possible, so that your iguana can run and move actively.  The iguana needs a thick layer of substrate, because it loves digging. For substrate you can use damp sand. Large stones make good decorations and hiding places.

Desert iguanas are not difficult to keep. They like hot weather, so you will need powerful lamps, but not too close to the tank bottom: the lizards can get burnt. A heat mat is a good option; you can put it under the tank. A UV lamp is a must. Males shouldn’t be kept together: they get aggressive during the mating season and can fight and injure each other.

You will have to mist the enclosure daily, because desert iguanas drink by licking water drops from stones. A water bowl is not needed; iguanas don’t drink from it and don’t bathe in it.

The ambient temperature should be around 33°C at daytime and a little lower at night. It can reach 35°C at the basking spot.

The air humidity should be between 15% and 30%.

The desert iguana needs 12 hours of bright light every day. 


The desert iguana is a herbivorous species. It eats pumpkin, squash, corn, berries (raspberries, strawberries), citrus fruit, lettuce, dandelions and other vegetables, fruit and herbs. The lizards should be fed daily. You have to add to the food calcium supplements. Sometimes you can offer them a treat – cockroaches or crickets from tweezers.

It is best to put the food in a shallow bowl with short walls, so that the iguana can easily get it, and at the same time it shouldn’t have a chance to drag the food all over the tank. You should regularly take away the uneaten food so that it doesn’t rot. 


The desert iguana have interesting behavior patterns, they are fun to watch.

They get used to people and are not afraid to see them behind the glass of the tank.

This species is easy to keep and to feed.

They can be skittish and it is difficult to tame them. It is best not to handle them, since it’s a big stress for this lizard.

During the adaptation period they easily get scared and hide when someone comes up to the enclosure.

The desert iguana requires a large tank. 


The iguana can get rachitis due to the lack of UV light and calcium. Then its limbs and spine get distorted. 
Mites can occur: they can be seen on smaller scales. The iguanas scratch a lot and can even stop eating. To prevent this, you need to keep the tank clean and not to let the food rot. The mites should be taken away manually, with the help of tweezers. 



It is an egg-laying species. One clutch includes 5-10 eggs. The female buries them in the sand. During the mating season a female usually makes two clutches. 3 months later hatchlings come out. They have to be fed daily with finely cut fruit and vegetables with calcium and vitamins. UV lamps are compulsory. If one of the hatchlings grows slower than others, it should be kept separately; probably its siblings bully it.

Average life span in captivity is from 8 to 12 years. Under good care some the desert iguana can live up to 15 years. 

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