Are you interested in getting a pet iguana but worried about the cold? Maybe you’re curious whether wild or pet iguanas hibernate during the winter.
Iguanas do not hibernate. Because they naturally live in tropical areas, iguanas don’t typically need to hibernate. But if temperatures dip too low, they may go into a catatonic state.
In this guide, I’m going to explain why iguanas don’t hibernate and what they do instead.
Do Iguanas Hibernate in The Winter?
It’s rare for iguanas to hibernate. The iguana’s native habitat is tropical, which means that it’s warm and humid throughout the year. So, they generally don’t have a reason to hibernate when they’re in their native environment.
Even iguanas that are native to North America do not go into hibernation. But they may go into what’s called brumation.
Brumation is a state that lizards go into when temperatures get too low. They become really sluggish or inactive. It’s not true hibernation, but it may look like it.
When they are in a catatonic state, iguanas may appear to be dead, but that’s not always the case.
When temperatures warm back up, many of these “frozen iguanas” will slowly defrost and get back to their daily routines.
But in severe cases, iguanas can go into a state of shock and die if the weather gets too cold.
When temperatures drop, an iguana’s body temperature also drops. That’s when they enter brumation. In this state, their metabolism slows down so that they can conserve energy.
When their body temperatures get too low, iguanas become cold-stunned and start to experience hypothermia. According to James W. Hatfield, author of “Green Iguana The Ultimate Owner’s Manual,” an iguana’s ideal body temperature is 85°F.
Clearly, iguanas are not made for cold climates. Even Florida can get too cold for iguanas in the winter.
Do Iguanas Hibernate in Florida?
Iguanas do not hibernate in Florida. Although the state is known for its warm weather year-round, they do experience cold periods in the winter.
It’s common for iguanas in Florida to go into brumation when there’s a cold spell – typically when temperatures fall below 50°F. They actually have “falling iguana” advisories in Florida because these lizards will go into a catatonic state and fall from trees.
Why do Iguanas Not Hibernate?
So, if the cold is so detrimental to an iguana, why don’t they hibernate? Because they’ve never had to.
It’s important to remember that iguanas aren’t native to Florida. They’re native to:
- Central America
- Some parts of South America
- Some parts of the Caribbean
Central America’s climate is tropical and humid. Temperatures rarely fall below 50°F, making it the perfect place for an iguana to live.
So, iguanas don’t hibernate because they’re not supposed to.
Iguanas are also active lizards, so they would overheat if they attempted to hibernate.
Where do Iguanas go in The Winter?
If iguanas do not hibernate in the winter, where do they go? The answer is: nowhere.
Iguanas generally don’t hibernate or migrate in the winter. Because they go into a catatonic or sluggish state when they get too cold, iguanas usually stay put when it gets too cold.
Like many reptiles and animals, iguanas have a great instinct for the changing seasons. Many iguanas in the wild will eat more to “fatten up” before the cold weather hits. The reason for the weight gain is for these cold snaps.
When the iguana is in a catatonic state, it’ll rely on its fat reserves for energy.
As you can imagine, since the iguana is in a frozen state, they use significantly less energy already, so they can survive off of the little amount of fat that they have.
Do Iguanas Live After Being Frozen?
Yes and no. I know what you’re thinking, “he’s either alive or dead.” You are right, but here’s the thing:
- If an iguana falls into an icy lake, there’s a good chance that he will die.
- However, if your iguana is “frozen,” it may not be the literal definition of frozen.
In the cold, an iguana enters a “frozen-like” state. You can see this in states like Florida, where they have actual advisories about iguanas falling out of trees. The fall can kill the iguana, but most are actually alive.
What happens is that the cold causes their muscle control to shut down to conserve energy.
You’ll find many reports of people videotaping iguanas being frozen, and then they sort of “wake up.” Of course, this is startling for anyone who assumes the lizard is dead.
They may even jump when they thaw out.
Are you interested in learning more about iguanas jumping? Read through the guide I wrote on this very subject: Can Iguanas Jump & What to Expect.
If you find an iguana in this frozen state or your pet gets out and seems frozen, you can do a few things to help them out:
- Wrap a blanket around him and bring him to a warm location. Even if you don’t have a cage for him, it’s better to be indoors than to be exposed to the cold for too long.
- “Thaw” the iguana out indoors and warm him up. You can do this in quite a few ways, as you’ll see below.
- Put the iguana in the sink and warm him up with warm water. You need to be sure the water isn’t scalding hot because you don’t want to harm him.
- Set him back in the sun when the weather warms up and allow him to bask in the sun for a while.
- Provide a good amount of food because the iguana will use their fat for energy while in this state to survive.
You can expect the iguana to sort of reanimate as he reheats. Often, you’ll notice small muscle twitches and even eye twitches. As the body warms, you’ll even notice breathing improves. It’s actually an amazing sight.
I do want to mention that the iguana will be docile when he first warms up. Many people handle the frozen iguana forgetting that many of these reptiles are wild animals.
When the iguana is fully unfrozen, he is very likely to become timid and not want you to hold or handle him. Be very careful if you’re trying to warm a frozen iguana back up after a cold snap.
I do recommend learning the signs that an iguana is stressed out. You can read my guide on stress and iguana called “15 Signs an Iguana is Stressed & What to do About It.”
How Long Can Iguanas Stay Frozen Before They Die?
Iguanas can be “temporarily” frozen, as explained just above, but at what point does an iguana actually die from being frozen?
It seems the answer keeps changing as iguanas begin to evolve.
One report found that Florida’s iguanas are becoming more tolerant to cold weather and can withstand temperatures below 46°F – an abnormality for them in the past.
What we do know is:
- Iguanas can tolerate cold temperatures for longer than in the past
- Zoo coordinators state larger iguanas can tolerate the cold for longer
In general, if an iguana is exposed to temperatures of 40°F for eight hours or more, they’re at serious risk of dying. Colder temperatures can cause the time of death to occur much faster.
I’m unaware of any concrete studies that analyze how fast iguanas will freeze and die, primarily because researchers do not want to harm these reptiles.
If you’re in an area where you have a cold snap and you find an iguana frozen outside, you may be able to “bring him back to life.” I just recommend being as cautious as possible because the iguana may be in a bad mood when fully thawed.
What’s the worst that could happen if you can’t revive the iguana?
If you’re like me, you pamper your iguana and ensure that he has a habitat that is as close to his natural environment as possible. You’re definitely a curious reptile owner if you’re reading this article.
I do recommend reading my other article, titled “11 Signs of a Healthy Iguana” to learn just a bit more about the signs of a healthy reptile.