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CREATING A SECOND NATURE

Green iguanas - whether in the wild or in your home - want to bask on branches in the heat of the day. Here's how to help your herp follow his instinctive habits.

Matters to Digest

To understand a pet's needs in captivity, you need to know something of that creature's habits in the wild. Green iguanas are vegetarians at heart. Although juveniles sometimes catch and devour insects, animal protein in any form is not an essential part of their diet. Not just any vegetation will do, either. Juveniles favor tender new leaves and flowers, mostly because they're soft enough to be bitten off an established plant, chewed and swallowed.

Green iguanas get most of their water from what they eat, so spraying your pet's food with a heavy mist from a plastic misting bottle will ensure that he absorbs enough. Also, unless your home is as humid as a tropical forest, you must moisten the cage each day in order to maintain the proper humidity level. This helps keep your pet's skin healthy, especially since he'll shed it periodically as he grows.

After eating, wild iguanas lie in the sun for many hours, staying warm so they can digest and absorb the nutrients from their high-fiber diets efficiently. The varied limbs of large tropical trees provide all the habitat an iguana needs in a typical day's wanderings. Having a range of basking spots will allow your pet iguana to maintain this vital function. Ultraviolet light in the sun's rays also helps him to absorb certain vitamins and minerals from his food.

Sunning Spots

One key to keeping iguanas healthy is to give them access to a range of basking temperatures and to UVB rays which can be provided by a full-spectrum flourescent light. A hooded light, such as an incandescent light for basking, or a ceramic heater on one end of the cage create a hot end for sunning. The opposite end of the cage should be perceptibly cooler, so your pet can escape from the heat when it gets too intense.

Position branches in the cage at different heights or use shelves so your herp can lie there and get toasty whenever - and for as long as - he wants to. He may pick a spot several inches or more from the basking lamp or ceramic heater, instead of directly by it, where the comfort level is just right. Iguanas instinctively know how to decide this, so let your pet make the call. Make certain the iguana cannot get too close to the light so he won't get burned.