Since 1992, I've become more and more interested in reptiles -- specifically, lizards. Virtually all of them are fascinating to me, but none more than the ones I keep at home as pets: iguanas.
My iguanas are named Darwin and Popeye, and they've been with me and my husband since 1993 (for Darwin) and 1996 (for Popeye). Iguanas aren't an easy animal to keep, and those who buy them as tiny little things usually don't understand the kind of commitment it takes to really keep them in good health. They need warmth, sunlight (or full spectrum lighting), basking spots, and lots and lots of room to roam ... because iguanas can grow up to six feet in length (as ours have).
Keeping an iguana in a small cage is not only destructive, but cruel -- it's like keeping a dog in a travel crate its entire life. Iguanas love to explore; they're highly curious creatures. Building them environments with lots of levels and climbing opportunities keeps them engaged and exercised.
My husband and I built a sunroom on the back of our house for our iguanas. Inside the sunroom, we have a large plexiglass cage (about 6 ft. across by 5 ft. wide by 4 ft. deep) that has its own built-in warming lamps and full-spectrum lights, as well as climbing logs and perches. We leave the doors open to let them come out and try the other basking spots set up in the room -- a small table, and some bricks near the windows where they can warm themselves in the sunlight. They've got food and water in multiple spots, too.
Our iguanas are some of the most tame you'll ever meet ... I can go out, sit down, and they will come over to sit on my lap and eat from my hands (especially bread, they love bread). They love to drink from spray bottles, if I'll do that for them; that provides them with a ridiculous amount of pleasure. They love to be scratched on the head and under the chin, and they've been known to walk over and beg to be picked up and carried around. Darwin is an extremely large male iguana, and as such he's just harder to handle because he's so strong, but he's never in his life acted aggressively toward either me or my husband. Popeye, our female, is sweet and lovable, but she's also the moodier one; she also tends to remember things with astonishing accuracy, sometimes for years. (For instance, she still remembers that she likes the inside of the house better than her sunroom, and every day, she sits at the door and waits for us to open it so she can try to dash inside. It's amazing behavior, for a lizard, to have that kind of focus and memory.)
We don't travel with them anymore; they're just too large, and taking these kinds of animals out of their home environments is stressful for them. But when they were smaller, they actually loved to ride in the car and stare out the windows ... just like dogs.
All in all, I've had dogs as pets, and still love them, but my iguanas have been absolutely unique and fascinating, and full of personality. And -- best of all, for a writer -- they're fine without me for long stretches of time. I'm accepted into their family, but they don't need me, really ... although they do miss me. So it's a perfect balance for me!
A word of caution for potential iguana enthusiasts: iguanas are wild animals. Adaptable as heck, but still wild at a very basic level. Like all wild animals, to socialize them you have to handle them from an early age and interact with them on a regular basis. Iguanas have long, sharp claws that they use for climbing and digging, and they can easily slice you up like Wolverine if they get upset or panicked; it's best to keep their claws trimmed. They also have a powerful bite, if alarmed. So if you're going to keep iguanas, obey some simple rules: make sure you get the enclosure and lighting right; give them the right mix of foods (dry iguana food is available at many pet stores, and I supplement it with fresh salad mix and vegetables like peas and beans, with some occasional pieces of fruit); and -- perhaps most importantly -- handle them often, and with gentle respect.
Thank you so much for visiting today Rachel! Rachel Caine is the author of the popular young adult Morganville Vampires series and the adult Weather Warden and Outcast Season series.
Find out more about Rachel and her work here - Website / Blog / Twitter
For more information about the Author's Animal Antics feature click here