Iguana Body Language
Understanding Your Iguanas Body Language
Understanding your iguanas body language is crucial to you understanding your iguana. Animals can't tell us what they are thinking so they have physical signals in which they use to communicate. Some of those signals can warn you of an impending attack while others will let you know your iguana is relatively comfortable in its habitat at that moment. Identifying these signals will help you build a relationship with your iguana that you both can feel comfortable with.
Iguanas posturing can indicate both content and aggression. It's important for you to know which you should be weary of and which may be an indication that your iguana is appreciating your companionship.
Iguanas sometimes enjoy our affection when they are being considerably tolerable of us. Sometimes as you rub them your iguana may arch its back and push into the petting. I like to refer to this as affectionate posturing. The iguanas seem to be enjoying the rub and the possible "itching" it is supplying around the spikes. This is considered "good" posturing.
Bad posturing is a sure indicator that the iguana is preparing to attack or feels threatened. This type of posturing normally begins with the iguana turning itself sideways, showing you its full size and flaring up. The flaring creates a larger profile of the iguana making some predators believe the iguana is larger than it actually is. The iguana may strike a pose in this flare or it may begin a very deliberate and slow walk while twitching the end of its tail. (The tail twitching can be indicative of an impending tail whip.) Its mouth may be gaping (indicative of a prepared bite reflex) and its eye will be very focused on you.
This type of aggressive posturing should be avoided when possible. This is often seen with males who are stressed, feel threatened, are territorial, or who are in breeding season.
Male Iguana Posturing
Gaping is when an iguana slightly or completely sits with its mouth open. This is typically done when the iguana is overheated. If you experience this, move your iguana to a cooler location and offer it water so it doesn't dehydrate. You should check the temperatures in the enclosure and ensure they are accurate. You should also ensure that the iguana is capable of accessing a cooler area on its own. This is why it is important to provide a proper heat gradient. Without a proper heat gradient the iguana can overheat, dehydrate and die.
If your iguana is gaping and you can hear wheezing, gurgling or coughing, your iguana may be showing signs of respiratory disease and should be seen by a qualified reptile vet immediately.
Gaping can also be a sign of aggression and should not be taken lightly. If your iguana is posturing and is gaping you should stand clear. An iguana bite can cause severe damage and have even removed peoples fingers. Below are some images of an iguana bite that was unprovoked. Lacey (the iguana owner) and her iguana were relaxing. Her iguana was resting on the back of the couch while Lacey was sitting on the couch itself. Without warning, her iguana turned and bit her face. Lacey was fortunate and her eye didn't receive a direct blow or she may otherwise be blind in that eye.
Iguana Bite - 40 Stitches
Iguana Bite Stitches
The dewlap of an iguana is an interesting body part. The dewlap, when fully extended, can make the iguana look much larger than it is. This is a defense mechanism to help ward off predators and other males during territory disputes. The dewlap is also used during breeding season to communicate and help court a female. When basking, the dewlap may be extended to create a larger surface area for both heat and UV to collect.
Movement - Strut
If you have seen the iguana strut, you know exactly what I am referring to without any description. When annoyed or threatened your iguana may begin walking in a manner that isn't typical behavior for him or her. It will move slowly and deliberately, almost circling whatever it is intimidated by. This is to keep the intimidator in its view. The strut may also be accompanied by some posturing or tail twitching.
Head bobbing is a trait that is often seen by males, though females also head bob. The head bob serves many purposes and can mean many different things. It is important for you to know what they mean or to understand how your iguana uses them.
Iguanas head bob to say hello and to say "leave me alone". They head bob to attract females and they bob to tell other males to stay away. They use it to announce that this is their territory and to say good morning to you. They do it to reassert their dominance. Sometimes they head bob very slowly (the most commonly seen method) and other times they head bob rapidly (shudder bobbing). The slow head bob typically means they are relaxed. The shudder bob is very rapid and the iguanas head typically sways side to side. This type of head bobbing is meant to show displeasure and agitation. This type of head bob may be followed by posturing, gaping and tail twitching.
Tail twitching is normally a sign of displeasure and that the iguana is prepared to whip you. The twitch could be very rapid or it could be a slow side to side sway. The iguana is often posturing while twitching which will help you know it is not happy.
Author: Richard Brooks
Posturing Iguana © Richard Brooks
Iguana Bite Wound Images © Lacey LaDuke