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As they grow, iguanas will shed their skin and will continue to do so throughout life, with young animals shedding several times each year and older ones shedding sometimes only once a year. When they shed, their skin becomes opaque, their skin color becomes duller, and they typically sit still with their eyes closed and their bodies puffed up to help loosen the shedding skin. They will often rub their bodies against objects in their cage to scratch off patches of shedding skin. Soaking them in a shallow pan of warm water and misting them while they are shedding can help pieces of dry retained skin shed more easily. Shedding can take several days, depending on the humidity level of the animal’s enclosure and whether the pet has rocks or other objects on which to rub.
Iguanas are herbivores, eating predominantly vegetables and fruit in the wild with an occasional insect, snail or bird’s egg. Pet iguanas should be fed a vegetable-based diet with minimal animal protein, as long-term animal protein consumption may have harmful effects on the kidneys. Iguanas should be fed a variety of dark leafy greens including collard, mustard, turnip and dandelion greens; romaine lettuce; and kale. Other vegetables, such as green beans, snap peas, carrots, squash and peppers, should be in their diet, along with lesser amounts of fruit, such as mango, papaya, apples, banana and berries. A varied vegetarian diet is critical to maintain the proper balance of calcium to phosphorus, which is essential to iguanas’ health.
In the wild, iguanas can break off their tails to escape if a predator grabs the tail and holds on. Pet iguanas can release their tails if they are restrained by the tail, or if the tail gets caught and they can’t move. Occasionally, pet iguanas will lose their tails if they whip them against a hard surface or if they are stepped on. Iguanas’ special muscular attachments to the tail vertebrae enable them to break off the tail between vertebrae. If the tail breaks off cleanly, it may grow back, especially if the iguana is young, healthy and still growing. The new tail is typically smoother, narrower and darker than the original tail. Older iguanas on poor diets with traumatic tail breaks not between vertebrae often do not regrow their tails. If an iguana suffers from a tail break, a veterinarian should examine the iguana as soon as possible to see whether surgical or medical treatment is required.
Not only do iguanas have great vision and see colors, as well as UV light, sharply, but they also have an unusual photosensory organ on top of their heads called the pineal gland, or parietal eye. This structure has some anatomical features of a normal eye and is sensitive to light changes, as well as to movement. This “third eye” cannot form images but helps wild iguanas detect predators lurking above them. This extra eye is present in several other lizard species, as well as in some fish.
Although they don’t actually use verbal language to communicate, iguanas talk to each other through head bobbing and through movement of the flap of skin under their necks — called a dewlap. Iguanas will extend their dewlaps to say hello to each other or as a sign of being territorial. Male iguanas will extend their dewlaps when courting females. Iguanas bob their heads slowly up and down at each other to acknowledge each other’s presence. Faster head bobbing, either up and down or side to side, is a sign that the iguana is upset or feeling aggressive. Rapid back-and-forth head bobbing is usually an indication that the iguana is extremely upset and should be left alone. Finally, iguanas whip their tails to protect themselves when they feel threatened. Thus, while iguanas do not “speak,” they certainly communicate.
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