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Rhinoceros Iguana

How To Care For A Rhinoceros Iguana

Native to the beautiful Caribbean island of Hispaniola, the rhinoceros iguana is a massive and bizarre looking creature.  This threatened lizard varies in length from three to almost five feet with skin colors in shades of brown, dark green and gray.  These stately lizards receive their name from the pseudo-horn on their snout that resembles a horn that you would find on a rhinoceros.

You certainly know a rhinoceros iguana when you stumble across one.  Their large bodies are complimented by their vertical flattened tail and strong legs.  Also, a trail of scales, appearing as pointed horns extends all the way from their neck to the very tip of their tail.

Their well-known rhinoceros-looking horns are believed to serve an important function of protecting them against rocks or from other confrontational male iguanas.

Natural Habitat

These overly large lizards roam freely throughout the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Hispaniola.  Most of their population are found near offshore islands where they can avoid as much human interaction as possible.

Their populations are decreasing rapidly due to human clearing practices and deforestation so now they traditionally stay in rock habitats, lowlands, coastal terraces and scrub woodlands.  When these lizards are caught, they are often eaten by the local people.  However, catching them is not necessarily an easy task.  They are diurnal and are quick to flee if they sense danger.  Although they do traditionally avoid confrontation, the rhinoceros iguana is known to attack quite aggressively by using its tail to strike and also by biting.

Housing Requirements

While you may be able to get away with a 50 gallon tank when your rhinoceros iguana is young, it will need a large custom-built cage as it grows.  The ideal housing will also be as tall as the length of your pet because they really love to climb. That being said, be sure to place a few very strong branches in the enclosure.

Ideally, the temperature will remain around 85 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.  These iguanas use their body heat to aid in food digestion as well as fight disease so it is vital to their health to maintain this temperature.  Under-tank heaters, heat tape or a spotlight are ideal heating tools.  Heat rocks should never be used.  They can burn or irritate your iguana’s skin.

Humidity in the enclosure is just as important as the heat.  A humidifier or a daily misting will help maintain the proper humidity level.  Ideally, your rhinoceros iguana prefers a humidity level between 95 and 100 percent.  It is recommended to use a gauge that will monitor both the humidity and the temperature together.


Although these iguanas are considered omnivores, in the wild, their main diet consists primarily of fruits, berries, leaves and flowers.  Interestingly, seeds that are consumed pass through the lizard’s system quickly.  This makes the rhinoceros iguana a very important contributor to the ecosystem of the islands that they reside on.

When kept as a pet, it is important to be aware that their health is essentially a direct result of the diet that they are provided.  They need a diet that is rich in phosphorus, calcium and vitamin D3 which you can get from turnip greens, dandelion greens and mustard greens.

These iguanas love cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and sprouts but only offer them these as a treat because too many can result in thyroid problems.  Other treats that can be given occasionally are bananas, blackberries, raspberries, squash and zucchini.

Although it may be tempting to give your iguana cat or dog food, both of these options can cause kidney failure.  Also, you must never give them spinach because it binds calcium.


Full spectrum bulbs are important for the rhinoceros iguana because they help them absorb calcium by providing them with vitamin D3.  That being said, your pet also needs natural sunlight as well on a regular basis to be truly healthy and happy.

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