Can Iguanas Swim? Swimming Speed, Distance, & More

can iguanas swim

Iguanas are known for basking in the sun, but can they swim, and are they good swimmers?

Iguanas are natural swimmers that love to live near water and excel at swimming. They can also hold their breath up to 15 minutes. If in danger, iguanas will dive from tree branches into the water in order to safely swim away.

Below, I discuss a lot of the frequently asked questions about iguanas and their ability to swim, float and survive in the water.

Can Iguanas Swim?

Green iguana going for a swim

Yes, iguanas can swim, and they swim very well. When they hit the water, these lizards press their limbs against their bodies and wiggle their tails to propel themselves forward.

Their tail movement gives them speed when they’re swimming.

In some parts of the world, particularly in Mexico, iguanas will swim with their heads above the surface to see where they are going. In other parts of the world, they dive under the water for a quick escape from predators. 

Did you know that the marine iguana is the only type of iguana that actively spends its time in the ocean? I wrote about this iguana and whether it makes a good pet in my post “5 Best Pet Iguanas: Green, Rhino, Spiny Tail, Desert, Blue.”

Can Iguanas Swim in Cold Water?

If you own an iguana or you’re thinking about owning one, you probably know that these reptiles are tropical animals. They love heat and humidity. If the temperature gets too cold, their movement slows, and they can be at risk of dying.

So, as you may have guessed, these reptiles cannot swim in cold water. If the water is too cold, iguanas may actually be at risk of drowning or getting sick.

For bathing and swimming, it’s best to keep the water at 83-85 F. You may find that your iguana likes the temperature a little warmer or cooler, but never too far from the range of 83-85 F.

Are you wondering whether an iguana can swim in your chlorine pool? Check out this guide I wrote called, “Can Iguanas Swim in Chlorine Pools? Keep You & Your Pet Safe.”

How Fast Can Iguanas Swim?

Iguanas are excellent swimmers, and they can spend a considerable amount of time underwater. However, they aren’t the fastest swimmers.

Most iguanas can only swim at a speed of 1.5 feet per second. That’s about on par with the average human swimming speed.

Even marine iguanas, which spend a lot of time in the water, cannot maintain this speed for long. They likely alternate between periods of active swimming and floating to reach their destination.

How Long Can Iguanas Swim?

No one knows for sure how long an iguana can swim. Factors like the temperature of the water will greatly impact how far an iguana can swim.

If the water temperature is too cold, the iguana won’t be able to swim for long.

Ultimately, iguanas (with the exception of marine iguanas) really don’t have a reason to be in the water for too long.

Another factor that may affect the iguana’s ability to swim is its health. For example, iguanas can lose their tails, and in this case, swimming can be impossible or far more difficult.

If your iguana loses its tail, be sure to read the post I recently wrote, “What to do If Your Iguana’s Tail Falls Off.”

How Far Can Iguanas Swim?

There is no scientific data on how far an iguana can swim. However, marine iguanas have been observed moving between islands that are pretty far apart.

For example, a group of marine iguanas moved from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal, which is 65km away. The feat surprised researchers, as the water surrounding the archipelago is relatively cold and likely limited their swimming time.

Other reptiles have been observed riding oceanic currents, so it’s possible that marine iguanas would do the same.

As for green iguanas and other similar species, researchers don’t know for sure how far they can swim. 

Can Iguanas Swim Underwater?

Green iguana swimming underwater

Iguanas can swim underwater and hold their breath for long periods of time. However, iguanas cannot breathe underwater because they don’t have gills. 

How Long Can Iguanas Stay Underwater

In his book, “Green Iguana The Ultimate Owner’s Manual,” author and iguana expert James W. Hatfield says that he witnessed an iguana stay underwater for 15 minutes during a research trip in Latin America.

He states that he has heard of iguanas being submerged in water for up to 30 minutes.

How can they stay underwater for so long? Iguanas have complex circulatory systems that allow them to stay underneath the water for extended periods of time.

How Deep Can Iguanas Dive?

Different iguana species may have different diving abilities, but the marine iguana is the true diver of the species. These iguanas grow to be over 4 feet long as males and 2 feet long as females.

Both sexes can dive a staggering 65 feet or 20 meters into the water.

However, the life of this species is rather interesting. They’re believed to have evolved from land iguanas and were brought to the Galapagos Islands. Out of their natural element, they evolved to be swimmers and thrive in water.

Do Iguanas Prefer Living on Land or Water?

Iguana bath time and water guide

Iguanas are beautiful reptiles that live on land but near water. In the wild, you’ll find most iguanas on land, basking in the sun and living near water.

Since they’re excellent swimmers, the iguana prefers living near water and will use this ability to escape danger.

Often, you’ll find an iguana in a tree and then see them suddenly:

  • Leap off of a branch
  • Splash into the water
  • Rapidly swim away

This tactic is not a mistake or the iguana being “clumsy.” Instead, the iguana exhibits this behavior when they’re threatened and trying to make a tactical escape.

So, while iguanas may prefer living on land because they can’t live in the water for long periods of time, they will definitely use their great swimming abilities to their advantage.

Plus, the water allows them greater control over the regulation of their body temperature on hot days.

Note: There is one exception to this rule. Marine iguanas may prefer living in water, although they don’t have gills, so they can’t live in the water. Instead, they can stay in the water for up to 30 minutes at a time.

Didn’t know that iguanas can jump? I recommend reading my recent article titled, “Can Iguanas Jump & What to Expect.”

Can Iguanas Run on Water?

Iguanas can defy the laws of gravity – somewhat. Two types of iguanas run using just their back legs: the collared and basilisk. These two varieties run very well on water thanks to the skin on their toes.

There’s a small fringe of skin on the toes of these iguanas that allows them to run on water to catch prey and escape from predators.

Do Iguanas Float?

Iguana floating

Iguanas can float, and there’s a very interesting story behind this, too. Back in 1995, a hurricane caused 15 iguanas to float over 200 miles (on a tree raft of sorts) and invade the island of Anguilla.

However, it is very unlikely that any iguana would have survived this voyage with their own natural floating ability.

Final Thoughts

Iguanas are skilled swimmers, and many species enjoy swimming or floating around. They may dive into the water to forage for food or escape predators. While they can spend a considerable amount of time underwater, they don’t swim particularly fast.

With all of this information in mind, it’s really no surprise that pet iguanas enjoy bathing and swimming in bathtubs.


Phillip is the proud founder of Scaly Pets, a website dedicated to educating reptile pet owners. As a former owner of various reptiles, Phillip not only brings well researched topics to the table, but also years of personal experience. Now, he's sharing his passion with the rest of the world.

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