Do Iguanas Change Colors? Explained by a Reptile Expert

Iguanas are magnificent to look at. They have a variety of species and come in various colors, such as green, red, and blue. Many pet owners wonder if their iguana can change their color. This article will provide you with a guide on what it means if your pet iguana loses their color and do they have camouflaging abilities.

No, sadly iguanas do not change their colors like a chameleon. They can lose or gain pigment in their skin, making them more vibrant. Iguanas can get dull due to many reasons, such as stress, breeding, or illness, but are unable to camouflage with the environment.

Can Iguanas Change Colors? 

do iguanas change colors

Iguanas can change their colors, but not how a chameleon does. Chameleons use color adaptation to camouflage with their environment, whereas an iguana uses color changing to communicate with other iguanas. They also use this ability to regulate their body temperature.

Iguanas have chromatophores which is a specialized skin cell containing pigment in their body. These pigments help iguana to change the tone of their body. Iguanas contract and expand their chromatophores to change the color of their skin. They use this method to absorb heat from the surroundings.

Editor’s Note
Iguanas may get darker if they are feeling cold or may turn a pale color if there is too much heat inside the tank.

Iguanas also change the color of their body to communicate with other iguanas during a terrestrial dispute. This behavior is also common during the mating season to establish dominance with other male lizards. Iguanas also do this to attract females and are a tool to communicate with each other.

You should also know that iguanas are incapable of changing their color to match their surrounding. Although, they use biomimicry and hiding spots to blend in with rock and other natural elements. Color change in iguanas can also be perceived as them being ill or stressed. If your pet iguana appears to be darker or pale than usual for an extended period, you should visit a vet immediately. They might have caught an illness, and a color change is an early indication.

Why Do Iguanas Change Their Color?

owner holding three iguanas in different colors

Iguanas have several species with vibrant colors and appearances. They can change the color of their skin depending on their mood, environment, and health. Unlike chameleons, iguanas use color-changing abilities to communicate with other iguanas and absorb sunlight.

One of the major reasons for iguanas to change their skin is to thermoregulate. Iguanas are cold-blooded and need external sources to maintain heat in their body. When your pet iguana feels cold it will change the tone of its skin to a darker shade to absorb more heat from the environment and turn pale if it is too hot. Turning pale helps them reflect light and maintain their body temperature.

Changing their skin color helps iguanas to not develop medical illnesses such as MBD and dehydration. Iguanas also use color-changing abilities to communicate with their piers. Male iguanas are known to change their color in mating seasons to attract and dominate females. If you are housing multiple iguanas, they might change their color for terrestrial display.

You should also know that iguanas can communicate their health using their color. If your pet iguana is darker or pale for an extended period, it means they have caught an illness or are under stress. Sudden or frequent changes in color can indicate that your pet iguana is not feeling comfortable in its enclosure. You should monitor the temperature and humidity inside the enclosure if this occurs.

Iguanas might have the ability to camouflage but use natural surroundings to hide away from predators. They are arboreal creatures and will climb trees and use branches and rocks to hide from any possible threats. They might also darken or lighten their skin to mix well with the environment. This instinct is extremely helpful in the wild and allows iguanas to hide from potential predators.

You should also know that some iguanas are incapable of changing their colors. Their ability to change the tone of their skin depends on several factors, such as their genetics, species, and health. Different species of iguanas also have different colors and patterns, which helps them blend in their natural environment.

Do Iguanas Change Color to Camouflage?

iguana in dark green color on log

No, iguanas do not change color to camouflage with their surroundings. The primary motive for this ability is to regulate body temperature and communicate with other iguanas. Iguanas are incapable of changing their skin color completely and develop various patterns like a chameleon.

They will instead use biomimicry to merge in with their surroundings. Iguanas are also arboreal creatures and climb on trees to stay away from predators. They also use rocks, branches, and other natural elements to hide from any potential threats. Iguanas can also make their skin look vibrant and shiny to look poisonous to predators. They also have certain patterns and stripes to blend well with trees and branches.

How Do Iguanas Change Color?

iguana with green and dark skin

Now we know about, why iguanas change color let us look at how they do it. Iguanas are incapable of changing the color of their skin and only make it appear darker or lighter in color. They use their color-changing ability to blend in with nature, communicate with each other, and maintain their body temperature. 

Iguanas use a special group of cells known as chromophores to change the vibrancy of their body. They will expand or retract these cells to change the brightness of their skin. Chromatophores are directly responsible for changing the color of an animal’s skin, scales, or feathers. Some species of iguanas can change the hue of their skin to red, green, blue, and yellow.

Your pet iguanas use chromatophores and retract or expand their cells to show more or less pigment through their skin. Contracting these cells allows an iguana to appear darker and absorb more heat from sunlight. This behavior can be seen in the colder or hot season. They can also make their skin pale to reflect sunlight to maintain their body temperature. This helps the iguana to let off extra heat and stay cool, thus preventing dehydration in your pet.

Furthermore, iguanas also use these specialized cells to display illnesses. If your pet iguana is sick or stressed, it might change the color of its skin until the underlying issue is solved. If you notice your iguana changing the tone of their skin suddenly or repeatedly, you should consider seeing a vet immediately. Frequent color changes can be a visible sign of an illness or stress. An experienced vet will help detect the problem and get away with it immediately.

Iguanas also change their skin color to establish dominance with other male lizards. This can be commonly seen during the mating season. You should avoid overcrowding the enclosure and never keep two male iguanas together. Doing so can result in a dispute and even accidental injuries to your pet.


Why is my iguana turning black?

Iguanas may change their color to a darker undertone to absorb more heat. They generally do this when they are feeling cold and want to maintain their body temperature. You should always maintain the optimal temperature inside the tank to prevent stress and illnesses.

Can iguanas camouflage?

Iguanas can camouflage but not like chameleons. They will hide in trees and blend in with their surroundings by changing the vibrance of their skin. Iguanas also use their dewlap and spread them if they feel threatened.

Final Thoughts

While iguanas might not change their color to different hues but can change the brightness of their skin. They do so to communicate with each other and regulate heat in their body. Iguanas will turn to a darker shade to absorb more heat and turn pale if the temperature is too hot. You should monitor this behavior closely, as sudden or repeated changes in color can also indicate sickness or medical issues in your pet.

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