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Desert Iguanas (Dipsosaurus dorsalis) Care Sheets
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Care Sheet for Iguanas

Average Rating Given To This Care Sheet Is 4.12    (1=lowest, 5=highest)    Last Updated: 03/18/2007

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Years Experience:

5 to 10 Years


Desert Iguanas (Dipsosaurus dorsalis)

Other Species or Phases this Care Sheet May Cover:


Sexing and Characteristics:

Males larger with broader heads, have larger waxy femoral pores especially in spring breeding season. both species get increased red or pink along sides during breeding season.

Mostly Active During:


Substrate and Water Needs:

Preferred = sand, but dirt w/ some gravel and stones is acceptable - sandy type dirt preferred personally with plenty of flat stones and hides in the cool and warm parts of cage. they will burrow if offered a good dirt substrate. moist cave-like retreats are very beneficial to any lizard species that uses them. sand and stones naturally wears their nails down vs. using tiles or newspaper type substrates.feed over tiles or large flat stones to reduce risk of substrate ingestion. i donít provide water bowls, only the greens in diet and occasional misting of fake plants and cool hiding caves.

Lighting and UVB:

Desert level of UVB (high requirements) similar to bearded dragons but hotter basking spots. higher general lighting makes lizards more alert and active.

Temperatures and Humidity:

Basking 130*F surface temp preferred (surface temps are only obtainable using a temperature gun, not a thermometer!), overall ambient temps (using regular thermometers) 75*F to 85*F during the day- they are a particularly heat-loving species, night temps to 60s allowable. humidity dry 40-50% maybe. lizards become generally whiter except for dark gray/black ring around their eyes when fully up to temp during the day. a desert iguana that sits under the heat lamp 8 hours per day with dark charcoal coloring is not kept hot enough. use a temp gun to get surface temperatures accurate at 130*F + on their basking platforms. temperature plays a huge role in proper digestion of food.

Heating and Equipment:

Regular incandescent spot or floodlights positioned over basking platforms, UVB fluorescent tubes if no mercury vapor bulb used (desert or 10.0%UVB variety - higher UVB output is better) and these bulbs need to be within 10" of the lizards except for mercury vaporís due to heat output w/ these bulbs. I like 75watt halogen flood bulbs personally w/ a 10% UVB fluorescent tube running the length of the enclosure. use of UV lights is debatable, but it can either help or do nothing. i choose to use them esp. if the lizards do not get real unfiltered sunlight

Caging Provided:

65 gallon breeder style aquarium w/ a faux rock wall backing is what i use. a sealed box w/ tiny vents and slider windows on the front would be more ideal as it retains heat better (less expensive to heat). they appreciate a longer enclosure for running and a bigger temperature gradient from scorching desert hot to 65 or 70*F in the hides. at least 3x the lizard (length of cage) by 1.5x the lizard (width of cage) and 24" height is minimum caging size. bigger is always better if you have the means and can control the climate offered. Lizards that have climate choices do much better than those that do not. Desert iguanas are usually 16" total length as adults maximum.



Description of Diet:

Generally should be offered a variety of vegetarian food options. assorted chopped greens, grated squashes, fruits like strawberries or mangos, nontoxic flowers, etc as a green iguana would eat but grated up to smaller size pieces. avoid lettuces like iceberg,romaine,leaf lettuces as they are mainly a water source, and not nutriet-rich. Desert igís are very interested in colorful foods. mine love yellow squash and zucchini grated up. in the wild they feed and live on creosote flowers and leaves. rarely will drink water offered in bowl, better to mist the cage once per week and always have greens available as a water source. may drink from an eyedropper dripped onto snout if the lizard is ill or dehydrated as so many new WC are. they will eat mealworms, waxworms, occ. crickets, but these food items should be limited as desert iguanas are "built" to eat plant matter (much like a uromastyx and that debate). Veggies over meat will increase the lizardís longevity despite their desire to eat worms. you would eat fast food and doritos if you didnít know better. fat and fattening up = survival in the wild, but in captivity itís all handed to them so you have to be judicious on feeding correctly.

Supplements, Nutrition and Usage:

Twice weekly a sprinkle of good reptile multivitamin with Calcium and Vitamin D3. You do not need D3 supplement if kept in natural, unfiltered sunlight outdoors(no glass, plexi, screen between lizard and the real sun). Never put an aquarium outside in the sun. They will get extremely hot all over and cook your pet.


Spot clean feces as found. Their "poop" is small and does not smell generally. runny stools may be indicative of health issues. there should be a formed stool and some white semi-liquid urate discharge in the feces. UVB bulbs generally need changing at 6 months of use at 12 hours on per day per studies. Dipsoís will become less active during cooler and shorter days of winter, sometimes even if indoor conditions are held constant during the winter ( brumating behavior ). They are likely setting their seasonal clocks to the outside light through windows. This is common in uromastyx and bearded dragons also (similar husbandry requirements to these species as well).

Some Words on this Species:

Desert igís prefer higher heat requirements vs many other lizards commonly kept as pets. In fact, most lizards kept as pets in US homes are not given a big enough heat range (gradient), especially in the area of hot basking temps. Desert igís have similar caging requirements as uromastyx and bearded dragons. DO provide retreats from the blistering heat despite their heat-loving nature. try keeping them on a sandy soil and see how they will tunnel down and create their own hides in the moist dirt down deep - they appreciate several hiding options spread throughout the enclosure otherwise. You can use a "retes stack" w/ them. Normal behavior is to come out to bask in the a.m. for an hour - then go eat - back to bask - occasionally going back and forth into hides during the day. I was surprised that they are remarkably intelligent and inquisitive for a lizard that caps out at 16" total length. They quickly lose the flight response in captivity. mine will come for hand feedings of waxworms, flowers or anything colorful that sparks their curiosity. I donít hold them or pet them,etc but Dipsoís will tolerate some gentle handling once acclimated. Be aware they are very fast runners and generally "wiggly" in most circumstances of new surroundings,etc. They seem to be very hardy captives if kept in proper conditions. a bit fragile for children to handle IMO. Their small size allows keepers to give them lots of choices in the caging to regulate their temperatures,etc.
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The information contain in these care sheets represents only the opinions and husbandry care of members and therefore is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate or reflects the advice or opinions of It is always advised to seek additional information or the advice of a qualified veterinarian or qualified reptile dealer. It is also advisable for you to a good amount of research before implementing any of the ideas and care described in these care sheets. We also recommend you ask many questions in their related forums before acting on any information.

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