Cuban Rock Iguana

Scientific Facts

Common Name Cuban Rock Iguana
Scientific Name Cyclura nubila
Captive Lifespan More than 20 Years
Size 4 – 5 feet
Mass Up to 7 kilograms
Habitat Mainly coastal areas
Country of Origin Cuba

Physical Description

Image Source

The Cuban Rock Iguana, part of the family Iguana, is the largest species of all West Indian Iguanas. Being one of the most endangered with extinction groups of lizards on the planet, the Cuban Rock Iguana is also known as Cuban iguana and Cuban Ground Iguana.

From snout to vent, adult Cuban iguanas are known to attain a total length of between 4 – 7 feet.

These lizards are sexually dimorphic, with females being significantly smaller in size than males. On their thighs, Cuban iguanas have enlarged femoral pore.

The body coloration of males ranges from dark gray to brick red. Females’ body coloration is olive green, further marked with dark bands or stripes. While it is a common belief that the body coloration of these living dinosaurs tends to be mostly gray, there are some exceptionally colored individuals that may also exhibit a particular amount of blue coloring, too.

The limbs of males and females alike are colored in black, dotted with pale brown ovally-shaped spots, ending with feet that are solid and black in color.

With young Cuban iguanas, the body coloration is usually green or dark brown. Also, the body of the young Cuban ground iguana is characterized with faint dark striping (aka mottling), distributed in a total of five to ten diagonal bands. As iguanas age, these distinct transverse bands are to blend with the body coloration.

These lizards also possess skin that hangs below the neck (aka dewlap). A row of spines run down the back and all the way to the thick tail.

With stout and short necks, and powerful jaw muscles, the teeth of Cuban iguanas are broad and quite solid.

Cuban ground iguanas’ jowls are known to grow larger over time, covered in spiky protuberances.

In both sexes, a photosensory organ that looks like a lightly colored scale can be noticed. This photosensory organ is a pineal gland, also known as parietal eye, and commonly referred to as the “third eye.”

Even though the “third eye” cannot form images, being primarily used for thermoregulation, this organ can detect movement, and is extremely sensitive to both light and dark.


Scientifically referred to as Cyclura nubila, the Cuban Rock Iguana is one of the totals of nine iguana species that are endemic to the large group of islands known as the West Indies.

All of the nine West Indian Iguana species belong to the Cyclura genus, and all are endangered. With a population that is considered to slightly exceed 40 000 lizards in the wild, the Cuban ground iguana is considered the most endangered of West Indies’ iguana species.

Previously, Cyclura nubila was believed to have three subspecies, namely Cyclura nubila caymanensis (the Lesser Caymans iguana), Cyclura nubile lewisi (the Grand Cayman blue iguana), as well as the nominate Cuban subspecies, Cyclura nubila nubila, the Cuban Rock Iguana.

However, after in-depth mitochondrial DNA analysis, accompanied by further research into the scalation patterns visible on the heads of Caribbean iguanid lizards, experts concluded that the Grand Cayman blue iguana should be recognized as a separate species.

Meanwhile, the Cyclura nubila caymanensis has been recognized as a subspecies, endemic to the Cayman Brac and Little Cayman (the “Sister Islands”).

The two closest relatives of Cyclura nubila include Cyclura cychlura (aka the Northern Bahamian rock iguana), and Cyclura lewisi (the Grand Cayman blue iguana). Based on the analysis, these three iguana species have diverged from a common ancestor as long ago as three million years back in time.

Endemic to the Grand Cayman Island, Cyclura lewisi once used to be widely spread throughout the island, inhabiting bothdry and coastal areas. However, nowadays, the Grand Cayman rock iguanas are exclusively found only in the area High Rock-Battle Hill, having fallen victim to both severe habitat loss and predation.  

Habitat & Lifespan

Virtually all over the island of Cuba, Cuban Rock Iguanas live in distinct colonies, spanning across coastal areas, characterized by rocky, sandy beaches.

Apart from occupying the island of Cuba, these iguanas are also known to occupy hundreds of other small islands, as well as cays, located around the main island of Cuba.

These incredible lizards have a fairly long lifespan, just like all Cyclura, and can live up to 60 – 70 years old. In captivity, these iguanas will easily live for well over 20 years, provided the proper care.


Usually, Cuban rock iguanas will remain still for fairly long periods of time. Due to their body mass, these lizards are known to have a slow lumbering gait. However, they are fully capable of fast bursts of speeds, yet only for short distances.

When they are still young, Cuban ground iguanas are much more arboreal, as compared with adults. Thanks to their great agility, the young are to climb the trees, seeking refuge away from potential predators.

Both young Cuban iguanas and adults alike are able to swim well, although they will mostly take to nearby water only if they are to feel threatened.

If these unique reptiles are to be cornered, they may lash their tails, and they can attempt to bite in defense.

It was at the San Diego Zoo, where a particularly intriguing behavior was showcased by a female Cuban ground iguana. The female built a nest by excavating the sand at the very end of a long chamber. Then she stood near the nest for several weeks, dedicatedly guarding it by hissing at anyone who was to approach nearby, while also shaking her head.

It was thanks to the behavior demonstrated by the San Diego Zoo female, how experts learned a bounty of new knowledge regarding the nest guarding behavior of Cuban rock iguanas.


  1. Adult Cuban rock iguanas have to be provided an enclosure that measures at least 8 x 12 feet in length vs. 4 feet in width. If possible, do not hesitate to provide the lizard with a larger enclosure, as the dimensions listed above are the bare minimum.
  2. Cuban iguanas should be provided a cage tall enough to accommodate shelving used for creating visual barriers, and/or for proper basking, even though adults are not as arboreal as young iguanas. As a rule of thumb, the enclosure should best measure about 5 – 6 feet in height.
  3. Provide the reptile with some sort of retreat, whether it be commercial-grade or a DIY one, covering the bottom with a suitable substrate, such as a combination of sand and potting soil with a depth of 18 inches. The retreat can also serve the purpose of a safe and cozy sleeping spot.The retreat should be at least 2 feet tall x 2 feet wide x 4 feet in length, featuring a hinged lid, as well as an appropriately-sized entrance hole that is located near to the very top and is slightly larger than the widest points of the Cuban iguana’s body.
  4. For housing baby to yearling Cuban iguanas, an enclosure that measures 4 x 2 x 2 (length x height x width) will do just fine. The enclosure has to be well ventilated. Also, don’t forget about providing hide spots that can also double as sleeping spots, just like with adults.
  5. For Cuban iguana caregivers who happen to live in an area where the climate is similar to that in southern states, housing the lizard outdoors is highly recommended. Most (if not all) iguanas, including but not limited to Cuban rock iguanas, are much happier when given the opportunity to thrive outdoors, where the generous rays of the sun, and no artificial lighting, do certainly make up for a more vital lizard pet. Nonetheless, it is easier to provide the lizard with more space outdoors, and this further contributes to the animal’s well-being.
  6. Even the caregivers who can afford to raise their Cuban iguana outdoors thanks to good climate conditions must make sure to provide a warm retreat where the reptile can get during the cooler winter nights (think of anything lower than 62 degrees Fahrenheit) so that the pet will be safe from any possible health risks.

Warm retreat for outdoor enclosures: Tips

The retreat can be something as simple as a DIY box or a readily-available dog house, with a door cutout and a pig blanket hooked up to a thermostat. The pig blanket must not cover the entire floor, though, as the lizard has to be allowed to cool off as needed. Alternatively, a 100-watt light bulb can make an excellent source of overnight heat.

Do note that if temperatures outside are to get in the 50 degrees Fahrenheit range (or below), it is best to close the door of the warm retreat, so that you can fully prevent the iguana from getting out in the cold, yet it is a better idea to keep the door open if the temperatures are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.


  1. For hatchlings, alfalfa pellets (commonly sold as rabbit food), will work great, since even in the case of being accidentally swallowed, no blockage will be caused.
  2. For adult Cuban rock iguanas, the substrate can vary, so the choice is a matter of personal preferences. Sand can do great, and so can cypress mulch. Also, if you do not mind more of an unattractive, simple terrarium, the newspaper is definitely the easiest type of substrate to maintain, and it is also the most affordable.

Temperature, Lighting & Humidity

  1. As a general rule of thumb, both hatchlings and adults have exactly the same heat requirements, with heat being an extremely important factor in ensuring the well-being and health of these strictly diurnal, basking-loving reptiles.
  2. In the basking site, keep the temperatures at a minimum of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Even though hatchlings and adults alike share the same heat requirements, adults need several heat lamps to be utilized by the caregiver, while hatchlings will suffice with a single heat lamp.

Important Note

The reason why adults require several heat lamps is that if the keeper is to make use of a single light in order to heat a large adult lizard properly, it is mostly the case that the reptile is to typically bask right under the light so much as to end up with severe burns. One single light is not enough to possibly heat the entire adult lizard adequately since the reptile is to feel the warmth without being able to realize that it is actually being burnt.

4. Throughout the day, the temperature at the cool end of the enclosure should not exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead, the ambient temperatures should be maintained in the high 70 degrees Fahrenheit range to the low 80 degrees Fahrenheit range.

5. It is good to keep in mind that Cuban rock iguanas are able to withstand cold temperatures quite well, as long as these temperatures are reasonably cold, though, usually not below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. For hatchlings, providing a 24 – 36 fluorescent high UVB output light will work just fine. For larger adults, though, it is best to consider opting for mercury vapor lamps. Mercury vapor lamps (aka MVB light) work as a suitable all-in-one basking and UVB source.

7. To understand better the light requirements of Cuban rock iguanas, all you have to keep in mind is that these lizards cannot possibly sit in the exact same temperature all day. Instead, they thrive when having plenty of temperature options to choose from, so the proper lighting within the enclosure is all about the good assortment of temperature options.

Heads Up

One way to ensure that you Cuban rock iguana will have more temperature options to choose from is to give different levels of basking, by strategically positioning some of the basking platforms, such as rocks, further away from the light, while positioning others closer to the light source. Thanks to being able to choose from different basking elevations, the lizard will set its own body temperature, so to say, and this is the shortcut to enjoying a happy, healthy Cuban rock iguana pet.

8. Provide your Cuban iguana pet with a normal day-night light cycle by keeping the lights ON for 12 hours vs. OFF for 12 hours.


Cuban Rock Iguanas are primarily herbivorous. The major part of their diet in the wild (about 95%) consists of various native fruits, leaves, and flowers, consisting of as many as about 30 plant species found in their natural range, such as red mangrove, thistle, prickly pear, black mangrove, seaside rock shrub, olive, as well as a wide assortment of grasses.

Although only occasionally, Cuban rock iguanas are also known to feed on animal matter, consisting of the corpses of fish, birds, and crabs.

Eating Habits

1. Note that because of being primarily herbivorous (over 95%), Cuban iguanas need to eat significantly higher amounts of food to have their nutritional requirements satisfied, as compared with just about any carnivorous lizard. It is best to limit the protein in the young iguana’s diet to about 5%, while with adults, protein should best make up for as little as 2%.

2. Captive Cuban iguanas should be fed with a vast array of yellow and green vegetables/vegetation, including but not limited to dandelions, green beans, collards, romaine lettuce, carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash. Greens, such as endive, book choy, parsley, escarole, collard, etc. should ideally make up for about 80% of the diet, while vegetables should make up for about 20% of the diet.

Important Note

Kale, broccoli, and spinach must only be provided up to once a week (or even once every 10 – 14 days). These vegetables must not be fed as a steady diet as they bind calcium; thus, depleting calcium stores in the lizard pet’s body.

3. Cuban rock iguanas will eagerly and gladly feast on small rodents and insects alike. However, both of these food items must only be fed once a month. If a Cuban iguana’s diet is protein-heavy, this will inevitably lead to damaging the kidneys over time, and in extreme cases, renal failure may occur. However, juveniles can take rodents/insects about once every week.

4. Apart from feeding fresh, organic vegetables, commercial-grade Mazuri Iguana Diet will also work great.

5. Feed adult Cuban rock iguanas as much food as they can eat, about 3 and up to 4 times every week. One smart way to determine the amount of food to offer per serving with the example feeding routine of 3-4 days a week is to provide about one handful of food per adult Cuban iguana.

Heads Up

In the wild, Cuban iguanas are known to be opportunistic feeders, meaning that they really do not eat every single day. If an insect or delicious vegetation is to come across their way, they will eat it, but if not, they will be just fine regardless. With that being said, there really isn’t an ultimate feeding schedule that is set in stone for these lizard pets. Some caregivers feed very small amounts of food on a daily basis, while others give large amounts of food only twice a week, so simply take the time to see what works best with your pet.

6. It is fine to feed fruits (e.g. apples, strawberries, mangoes, figs, papaya, and bananas) but only occasionally, as treats, and best to be fed when you want to reward your iguana pet or to make it come to you, for example, while teaching the lizard to come when called by name.

Sleeping Habits

Cuban rock iguanas do not hibernate. These lizards are strictly diurnal, and so they will only feed and bask in the daytime.


As a rule of thumb, the water requirements of Cuban rock iguanas are minimal, since these lizards are known to thrive in xeric areas in the wild.They get the needed amount of hydration from the food they consume.

Neither young nor mature Cuban rock iguanas require to be extensively soaked in water, yet giving them a brief water bath is a good idea. Also, it is recommended to occasionally mist them, and especially when it comes to juveniles.

Regardless of their minimal water requirements, the caregiver must ensure to provide a water bowl available at all times for captive Cuban ground iguanas.

Development and Reproduction

Cuban rock iguanas reach sexual maturity between 4 – 6 years of age. During the breeding season, males will secrete waxy, skinny candle-like exudates, dragging their hind legs and using these exudates to mark their territory.

If the mating is successful, females are to lay their eggs in a nest, with baby Cuban rock iguanas about to hatch in between 60 – 67 days.

Neonate Cuban ground iguanas are about 12 inches in length.

How to Breed

1. Breeding Cuban rock iguanas is a relatively easy process. First, the breeder needs to acquire a compatible pair of adult Cuban rock iguanas that have reached sexual maturity, which usually happens as these lizards become 4 – 6 years old, attaining a length of at least 3 – 4 feet.

2. As a rule of thumb, it is best to keep a pair of male and female Cuban rock iguanas together all year-round, as this greatly increases the chances of successful breeding, since there is some evidence about these lizards’ pairs forming strong bonds.

3. The breeding enclosure should measure at least 12 feet in length x 4 feet in width x 6 feet in height.

4. The breeding enclosure should also provide a night retreat (this can also double up as a nesting box), visual barriers, and large basking spots where the entire length of the lizard can be comfortably accommodated.

Important Notes

In the wild, males usually have a whole “harem” of females, while in captive breeding practices, it is mostly the case that only one female and one male are to be introduced. Because of this, visual barriers are needed to help the dominant male feel like “the king” of the enclosure, by being able to sit on the highest end of the visual barriers (for instance, shelves elevated at varying heights), since in the absence of such barriers, the male may get to physically damage the female while trying to satisfy his natural instincts for domination.

Meanwhile, the visual barriers will also give the female the opportunity to hide for a while, away from the male’s sight, to get some rest.

5. In males, spermatogenesis occurs throughout the last week of March and lasts up until the beginning of June. This is the time to start a courtship, keeping in mind that due to high testosterone levels, even tame males may attempt to bite.

6. The courtship typically begins with the male looking at the female, and then doing several rapid head bobs with mouth open. Next, the female is to usually run away, while the male is to chase her until he succeeds in catching her.

7. You can tell that copulation has begun by noticing the male biting the female’s nape and then twisting his body underneath hers. If the male is to grab the female in a rather harsh, aggressive manner, it is best to avoid separating them, as doing so will only make the male much more aggressive in his further breeding attempts, potentially causing harm to the female as a result.

8. Copulation can sometimes occur many times, followed by the female searching for an appropriate nesting site. A nesting box that is at least 4ft. long x 2ft. wide x 2ft. tall should be provided. Near to the hinged top of the nesting box, an entrance hole that is a bit larger than the female at her widest point should be cut out.

9. The nesting box should be filled with 18 inched deep nesting soil allowing the female to burrow, for example, a combination of sand and potting soil.

10. About 7 and up to 14 days prior to egg deposition, the female is to dig test holes in the nesting box, until she finally gets to deposit between 4 and up to 18 eggs (the number depends on the female’s age and size).

11. The breeder can tell that egg deposition has successfully taken place by the once large-bellied female lizard appearing emaciated. Also, once they have deposited the eggs, females will attack the male, and in fact, may also attack the breeder when he/she is to attempt to approach the nesting box.

12. Secure the female using a large fishnet, and collect the eggs. Mark the top of the egg so that you can position it the same way as found in the nest.

13. Eggs need adequate humidity but must not be kept wet. Incubate the eggs at between 86 – 89 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the babies pip, allow them to emerge by themselves as to take the time to fully absorb the egg yolk. Offer food 7 to 10 days after hatching.


1. As a rule of thumb, every time the caregiver is to attempt to pick up a hatchling Cuban rock iguana, the lizard will perceive this as a severe threat, thinking that it is going to be killed and then eaten by a predator, based on its natural instincts.

With this in mind, the best way to tame a Cuban ground iguana is to first and foremost allow the animal to get better used to its new environment without stressing it out. Next, the caregiver wants to allow the iguana to come to him/her overtime, marking the beginning of a strong, beautiful bond that can last for a lifetime, provided patience and respect towards the reptile are practiced at all times.

2. Do note that newly acquired Cuban rock iguanas will typically even refuse to eat in the caregiver’s presence at first, that’s how shy and nervous they are before getting well-used to the keeper, as well as to the enclosure. This period shall pass, though, as, over time, the iguana will start to associate the caregiver with food, and hence, with positive interaction. As soon as this happens, half the battle to establishing a strong bond and getting able to handle the iguana is already won!

3. Expect for the Cuban rock iguana to become better-used, and significantly calmer in your presence, gladly approaching you without any fear, when the lizard is about 2 -3 years old, and about 2 -3 feet in length. It is good to know that the smaller the Cuban iguana, the more hyper the lizard is, gradually becoming more personable as it grows.

4. The Cuban Rock Iguana is known to be one of the easiest of all Cyclura species to tame. Therefore, if the caregiver has done his/her job well, the lizard pet is sure to become very personable, inquisitive, and friendly, making up for an extremely rewarding relationship between the keeper and the pet.

5. Regardless of how amazingly tame, friendly, and tolerant of handling a Cuban Rock Iguana pet can become over time, the caregiver must always remember that these lizards’ bite is fully capable of severing a toe or finger in the blink of an eye.

Whenever one is to handle large, and especially angry Cuban ground iguanas, utmost caution and care must be applied to prevent any possible bites. For this purpose, wear leathery gloves while grabbing the lizard only from behind the head, securing the hind legs at the same time, since the claws on the hind legs are much more likely to cause potential harm, rather than the front legs’ claws.

How to Treat and Prevent Possible Health Issues

1. Cuban rock iguanas can be long-lived pets, and they are very hardy in general. However, as these amazing lizards have more complex captive care requirements, as compared with other lizards, so it is a must that the caregiver-to-be is to do his/her best research before acquiring the animal. Also, work out the heating and lighting prior to buying your Cuban iguana, so that the lizard’s new home will be set up correctly, ensuring the health and well-being of the reptile.

2. If severe burns are to occur due to faulty lighting, the affected area will resemble a circle. Contact a qualified reptile vet to help you out with the needed treatment.

3. With Cuban iguanas, scarred legs and/or stomach due to light getting concentrated onto one area of the lizard’s body may occur, as these reptiles do not realize they are getting burnt from the light, but only feel the warmth, so they continue to bask. Because of this, using hot rocks is a big NO-NO.

4. Remember that utilizing UVB lights for indoor enclosures is an absolute must since these lizards require UVB light in order to create Vitamin D3, which then metabolizes into calcium, ensuring strong bones.

5. Providing calcium supplement once a week is also crucial to keep your Cuban rock iguana in perfect health.

Possible Dangers to Humans

Cuban Rock iguanas are not aggressive, and they do not have any venom. Given the proper care, and provided the caregiver is to always wash hands thoroughly with soapy, hot water, after handling the lizard, as well as after cleaning the enclosure, no serious threats to humans’ health are posed by these beautiful living creatures.

However, the small, sharp teeth of Cuban rock iguanas are fully capable of tearing human skin severely. Although these lizards will only attempt to bite when they are to feel severely threatened or otherwise cornered, usually also lashing the tail in defense, it is a must not underestimate their bite power.

Availability: How to Get a Cuban Rock Iguana?

Because of being listed as a threatened species on the IUCN Red List, considered “vulnerable” to getting extinct, mainly because of rapid habitat loss, it is best to acquire a Cuban rock iguana from reputable breeders and to avoid opting for wild-caught specimens.

Stimulating the export of these amazing lizards from their natural habitat for the pet trade is certainly to further contribute to the decline of their already endangered populations in the wild.

Fortunately, the captive breeding of these lizards is especially successful, so obtaining a healthy Cuban rock iguana from various reputable vendors is not difficult to achieve nowadays.

Fun Facts

  1. It was back in the 1960s when a small group of Cuban iguanas that were raised in a zoo located on Isla Mayaguez was released, with their population consisting of over 700 lizards being the sole contribution to the local population of these amazing reptiles on the Isla Mayaguez. What experts noticed is that some of the complex social expressions typical for these lizards, such as wobbles and head bobs, have dramatically changed as compared with their Cuban relatives, for as little as about 50 years of living in isolation.
  2. Cuban rock iguanas have somewhat of a hangover experience, if one is to look closely into their eyes, and that’s because of these lizards possessing a golden iris and a red sclera.
  3. The name “Cyclura” is derived from the Greek word “cyclos,” translating as “circular,” while “oura” means “tail.” “Nubila” translates into “gray,” so the scientific name for Cuban rock iguanas (Cyclura nubila) can be loosely translated into “gray lizard with a round tail.”
  4. In order to be protected from potential predators in the wild, Cuban iguanas are known to make their homes near or directly within prickly pear cacti.
  5. Cuban iguanas have excellent vision. They can detect movement and shapes alike at quite long distances. In fact, these lizards can also see ultraviolet wavelengths! However, they have poor low-light vision.
  6. The scalation patterns on the heads of all Caribbean iguanid lizards, including Cuban rock iguanas, are unique, and act as an extraordinary sort of “fingertips.”

How to Take Care of a Cuban Rock Iguana

To take the best care of a Cuban rock iguana, reptile enthusiasts must keep in mind that the captive requirements of this lizard species are regarded as advanced, so this reptile is not a suitable choice for beginners. On the bright side, once the (somewhat) complex husbandry requirements are properly met, these lizards can make awesome, personable, hardy, long-lived pets.

Not the least, Cuban iguanas require a lot of space in order to thrive. After taking all of these considerations into account, one can make the conscious decision to acquire a Cuban iguana pet, enjoying these fantastic companions for many years to come!

FAQ Section

Are Cuban Iguanas Good Pets?

Yes, Cuban rock iguanas can make great pets for the right owner who is willing to put the time and care into ensuring their captive care requirements, as these lizards are very tame, friendly, and nonetheless, they do possess an impressive appearance.

Can Cuban Rock Iguanas Swim?

Yes, Cuban rock iguanas can swim very well, although they will only do so if the need arises. While not considered marine iguanas, these lizards are adept at surviving possible floods and hurricanes by being able to spend long periods of time both in, as well as underwater.

Do Cuban Rock Iguanas Recognize their Owner?

Yes, Cuban iguanas can recognize their owners. These lizards can recognize their owner by sight, as well as by sound, as they can hear very well, too.

How Long Do Cuban Rock Iguanas Live?

Cuban rock iguanas can live for well over 20 years, and in fact, they are known to be capable of reaching an impressive age of between 60 and 70 years old.

Do Cuban Rock Iguanas Enjoy Being Handled?

While it takes some time to tame Cuban rock iguanas, especially since babies are more nervous when interacting with their caregiver, as compared with adults, these lizards do tolerate being handled very well. Mature Cuban rock iguanas can become very docile, and sweetly lazy creatures, enjoying to sometimes climb on their owner, too.

Are Cuban Rock Iguanas Bites Dangerous?

Although Cuban rock iguanas are not aggressive and will rarely attempt to bite their caregiver, provided they are well-used to his/her presence and interaction, the powerful jaws of adult specimens can exert considerable pressure, capable of delivering painful, nasty bites to both people and pets alike. Keepers want to make sure to avoid getting bitten by a Cuban iguana, since these lizards will bite more than once, tearing the skin severely rather than merely puncturing it, and therefore, minors must not be left unattended with the lizard pet.

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