Melissa has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and has a
bachelor’s degree in biology.
The rhinoceros iguana’s large size makes it evolutionarily adapted to consume
a plant-based diet.
“rhinoceros iguana” by 潘周迪 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Herbivore Pet Lizards
Because most lizard species consume a primarily omnivorous, insectivorous, or
carnivorous diet, owners of these reptiles are generally faced with having to
feed frozen/thawed whole prey or even live insects to keep them successfully.
Lizards and reptiles in general that are mostly or completely herbivorous are
less common, however, some do exist and can be owned as pets, providing an
option for keepers who do not want to deal with live feeding or raw meat.
It should be noted that these animals have somewhat special needs and are not
great pets for most people.
“Green Iguana – Iguana iguana, Fairchild Tropical Gardens, Coral Gables,
Florida” by Judy Gallagher is licensed under CC BY 2.0
1. Green Iguana
Green iguanas are, unfortunately, some of the most popular lizards in the
reptile pet trade, however, they really shouldn’t be. Most casual pet owners
aren’t too keen to construct a large walk-in enclosure that must be adequately
lit with expensive specialty lighting that is in frequent need of replacement.
Green iguanas however do get a bad rap as being very hard to care for, when
the real issue is that most people find their requirements to be more involved
than what they are willing to put into a reptile. Green iguanas are reasonably
easy to care for depending on who you are, and they require a 100% plant-based
While some outdated information suggests iguanas can have some animal protein
and that they might occasionally eat insects in the wild, the most current
evidence points to even small amounts of animal-based foods being harmful to
iguana kidney health .
Most animals, regardless of nutritional needs, may consume things they
shouldn’t in the wild, but this doesn’t need to be replicated. Green iguanas
are the obvious choice for a “vegan” pet reptile, however, there are other
iguanids that can be fed a herbivorous diet when kept as a pet.
Lesser Antillean iguanas eating
“File:Leguan12.jpg” by Jklamo is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
2. Lesser Antillean Iguana
These iguanas, nearly identical in appearance to green iguanas with the
exception of their unique coloration, are also closely related to them, being
of the same genus (their species is Iguana delicatissima).
As their name implies, they are native to the Lesser Antilles of which they
are also endemic. Lesser Antillean iguanas are critically endangered as of
They are uncommonly kept as pets however there are a small number of breeders
who offer them for sale. They should receive the same exact care as green
“Fiji banded iguana (Brachylophus fasciatus)” by Leszek.Leszczynski is
licensed under CC BY 2.0
3. Fiji-Banded Iguana
This beautiful and endangered iguana species will be included here, however,
they are listed as Appendix I by CITES which prohibits their international
trade except for scientific purposes. They are generally not seen being kept
as pets in the United States however some people keep them in other countries
such as Canada and there may be some present in the U.S. Unfortunately, these
animals are most likely descendants of animals that have been illegally
smuggled into the country.
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These iguanas are, of course, native to Fiji, as well as Togo. Some owners
believe they are omnivorous while others see no evidence they are not mostly
plant-eating lizards .
4. Cyclura Iguana
The Cyclura iguana is a genus of iguanids that are known as the rock iguanas
and there are a few species found within the pet trade. Rock iguanas as a
group may be considered to be the most endangered lizards in the world .
Unlike green iguanas, some members of this genus are omnivorous, but even
though those species can consume some animal matter they can be successfully
kept on a completely plant-based diet .
“Rhinoceros iguana” by lyssa is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
5. Rhinoceros Iguana
This is a large, heavy-bodied rock iguana, and it is the most common rock
iguana species in captivity. While some sources suggest that the rhinoceros
iguana is an omnivore and can have a small amount of animal matter, as some
rock iguanas have been observed consuming small animals and insects in the
wild, it is not necessary to feed them animal protein. In fact, feeding them
meat may do more harm than good as too much animal protein can affect their
Like the green iguana, the rhinoceros iguana’s large size makes it
evolutionarily adapted to consume a plant-based diet, as they’ve evolved more
complex colons to absorb more nutrients from plants .
6. Cuban Rock Iguana
As the name suggests, the Cuban rock iguana is distributed throughout Cuba in
dry and coastal areas. This large iguana species is again, primarily
herbivorous, however, there have been reports of Cuban iguanas
opportunistically consuming crabs, birds, and even younger iguanas.
These lizards will happily accept insects in captivity, however, feeding them
animal protein is, again, unnecessary and a risk to their renal health.
Iguanas can gain all the protein they need with a varied and nutritious plant-
based diet .
7. Grand Cayman Rock Iguana
Characterized by its powder blue coloration, this species is only found on the
island of Grand Cayman and their populations have been scarce since their
collection in 1938.
Declared functionally extinct in 2005, they were the most endangered lizard
species in the world, making their collection for the pet trade illegal.
However, recent reintroduction efforts have been largely successful and the
species was downgraded from critically endangered to endangered in 2012.
Like other rock iguanas, it is a mostly terrestrial species and consumes a
plant-based diet with some omnivorous leanings. In the wild, they may also eat
dead birds, crabs, slugs, and insect larva .
8. GCR x Cuban Rock Iguana Hybrid
While a “pure” Grand Cayman rock iguana is illegal to keep as a pet, there are
Cyclura Lewisi hybrids that are mixed with the Cuban rock iguana and these
are allowed as pets. Their husbandry requirements are the same as both of
these Cyclura species .
If a plant-eating species is partially omnivorous, feeding high-protein plant
foods more often may help supplement that part of the diet.
Black spiny-tailed iguana
“Black Spiny-tailed Iguana” by treegrow is licensed under CC BY 2.0
9. Spiny-Tailed Iguana
These are iguana species of the genus Ctenosaura. These lizards are
technically omnivorous, although they consume more animal prey as juveniles
when their protein demands are higher. As adults, they should be fine with
high quality sources of plant protein. Some species that are found in the pet
- Ctenosaura Melanosterna (Honduran spiny-tailed iguana)
- Ctenosaura Palearis (Guatemalan spiny-tailed iguana)
- Ctenosaura similis (Black spiny-tailed iguana)
- Ctenosaura Acanthura (Northeastern spiny-tail iguana)
- Ctenosaura pectinata (Mexican spiny-tailed iguana): The diet of juveniles is more than 80% insects, however, they rarely consume animal protein as adults.
- Ctenosaura defensor (Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana): May prefer more animal protein than others.
- Ctenosaura bakeri (Utila iguana): Needs animal protein as a juvenile.
- Ctenosaura flavidorsalis (yellow-backed spiny-tailed iguana).
- Ctenosaura conspicuosa (San Esteban Spiny-tailed Iguana)
- Ctenosaura Palearis (Guatemalan spiny-tailed iguana)
- Ctenosaura hemilopha (Cape spinytail iguana)
“Chuckwalla” by Joshua Tree National Park is marked with CC PDM 1.0
This United States native is a relatively large lizard that prefers dry, rocky
areas in the Southwestern regions. In fact, they are the largest non-venomous
lizard in the country. While these lizards can be offered animal protein at
younger ages this is probably not necessary and they should be fed only plants
Chuckwallas have very similar dietary requirements to green iguanas, although
they are very uncommonly kept as pets in comparison .
“File:Blumengärten Hirschstetten 2016-02-21 Dornschwanzagame (Uromastyx geyri)
a.jpg” by Manfred Werner – Tsui is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
11. Uromastyx (Spiny-Tailed Lizard)
Though similar-looking to the chuckwalla, the uromastyx is native to North
Africa and the Middle East. These desert-dwelling lizards prefer very warm
temperatures with a basking spot that should be 100-110 degrees F. Dietary-
wise, they are predominately vegetarian, but some owners chose to feed
insects. This is unnecessary, however, and a uromastyx that is fed a well-
supplemented plant-based diet should have no problem with the omission of
Prehensile tailed skink
“Prehensile tailed skink!” by lovinkat is licensed under CC BY 2.0
12. Solomon Island Prehensile-Tailed or Monkey-Tailed Skink
This highly unusual lizard, native to the Solomon Islands, is unique for a few
reasons: it is crepuscular and nocturnal, it has a prehensile tail as its name
suggests, and it is a primarily herbivorous non-iguanid. These skinks should
have an arboreal cage set up with high humidity.
Diet-wise, again, a salad designed for green iguanas would be adequate if it
is accepted. Finicky eaters can be offered sweet potato baby food or the
shoots of the fast-growing pothos plant. This species may practice
coprophagia, consuming its own or other skink’s feces .
Generish, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Honorable Mention: Gargoyle Gecko
This species of gecko that hails only from the island of New Caledonia gets a
mention here because while like most small lizards they consume some insects
in the wild, it is often practiced and even recommended to feed this species a
commercial diet that contains mostly a mash of fruit exclusively (it is
designed for crested geckos). Insects may be offered as a treat, however, this
is not necessary, and some individuals may not even accept them.
Crested geckos are very similar to gargoyle geckos however most hobbyists
suggest supplementing that species’ diet with insects .
- Animal Veterinary Hospital of Orlando. Chuckwallas.
- Candy, Cameron. Husbandry Guidelines: Rhinoceros Iguana. 2009
- Crutchfield, Tom. Cuban Rock Iguana Care Tips. June 16, 2014
- Durtsche, Richard D. “Ontogenetic plasticity of food habits in the Mexican spiny-tailed iguana, Ctenosaura pectinata.” Oecologia 124.2 (2000): 185-195.
- Egnatios-Beene, J. 2002. “Cyclura cornuta” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 30, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Cyclura_cornuta/
- Kaplan, Melissa. Animal protein and green iguanas. 2001.
- SEAVS. Uromastyx Husbandry and Preventative Healthcare.
- Lemm, Jeffrey, and Allison C. Alberts. Cyclura: Natural history, husbandry, and conservation of West Indian rock iguanas. Academic Press, 2011.
- Malfatti, Mark (2007). “A look at the genus Ctenosaura: meet the world’s fastest lizard and its kin”. Reptiles Magazine. 15 (11): 64–73.
- Marie Egurom, Marie. Care of Cyclura. 1998.
- Maryon, Daisy & Brown, Tom & Lee, David. (2020). Ctenosaura bakeri (Utila Spiny-tailed Iguana): DIET.
- New England Herpetoculture. A detailed guide pertaining to the care of Rhacodactylus auriculatus & Correlophus ciliatus.
- Paul, Kelly. Spiny Tailed Iguana Care Sheet. August 7, 2012
- Reptile Talk. Fiji Banded Iguana (Brachylophus fasciatus)
- van den Burg, M., Breuil, M. & Knapp, C. 2018. Iguana delicatissima. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T10800A122936983. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-1.RLTS.T10800A122936983.en. Downloaded on 17 October 2020.
- Wright, Kevin M. “Captive Husbandry of the Solomon Island Prehensile-Tailed Skink, Corucia zebrata.” Bulletin of the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians 3.1 (1993): 18-21.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It
is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription,
or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.
Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a
© 2020 Melissa A Smith
Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on October 17, 2020:
I found going to the pet shop each week for crickets very tiresome.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on October 17,
Very elaborate and very informative article. Thanks.