Why Do Iguanas Bob Their Heads? A Closer Look

Iguanas are very communicative and expressive reptiles, but they don’t do it with their words and facial expressions–they talk with their head bobs!

The reptiles have several types of head bobs of varying speeds and directions. They even have a very quick, shuddering-like head bob!

But why do they bob their heads, and what does each type of head bob mean?

Iguanas bob their heads to talk to their owners or other reptiles. Generally, quick head bobs are for asserting dominance or showing irritation, while slower head bobs are for friendlier conversations and interactions. Meanwhile, a “shuddering” head bob is a male’s way of attracting a female’s affection!

Read on to learn more about each of these distinct iguana head movements!

Five Reasons Why Iguanas Bob Their Heads

why do iguanas bob their heads

Iguanas generally bob their heads for five reasons: They feel assertive, stressed, attractive, conversational, or happy.

They are asserting dominance

iguana asserting dominance

Bob style: Rapid side to side or up and down

Other body language included:

  • Extended dewlaps (skin under chin)
  • Lifted body posture
  • Lifted tail
  • Back legs swaying from side to side

Iguanas may feel the need to assert their dominance for several reasons.

Marking territory

Iguanas are highly territorial and may react if they see another reptile inside or outside their tank. Aside from head bobbing, the most tell-tale sign of this emotion is the lifted body posture.

Editor’s Note
While most adult iguanas live alone, green iguana parents with young will live in a family group for about a year. 

Feeling threatened

Iguanas bob when they sense a predator in the area or are generally feeling threatened. The motion makes them appear big, fast, and menacing, likely making the offender think twice about approaching.

Be careful if your iguana does this twitchy, angry bob. It’s a sign your iguana is ready to attack!

Wanting to be alone

Your iguana’s threat may not necessarily be a predator–sometimes, it’s you. Your iguana might be trying to warn you off that it isn’t in the mood to be handled and prefers to be alone.

They are stressed

stressed iguana

Bob style: Quick and jerky

Other body language included: 

  • Heavy breathing
  • Growling
  • Trying to hide, curl up, or escape its tank
  • Closed eyes
  • Turning into a darker color
  • Wagging its tail

Primarily, iguanas get stressed because of something in their environment.

Their enclosure can be too small or big, have the wrong temperature or humidity, or be dirty. There might be constant loud sounds nearby distressing your reptile. 

You also might have other pets, such as dogs and cats, that visit your iguana when you aren’t looking, causing stress.

Additionally, these reptiles react strongly to new things, from new objects in their enclosure or room to new faces visiting a new daily routine.

They see a potential mate

iguana looking from afar

Bob style: Head “vibrating” (shaking very quickly, like shuddering) and moving side to side

Other body language included:

  • Extending and retracting the dewlap
  • Dominant males may mark territory (nearby rocks and branches) with a pheromone-containing substance
  • Bright colors (some species only)
  • “Push-ups”
  • Mouth gaping

Head bobbing is part of iguanas’ mating rituals. It is a sign from males to females that they are available and interested in mating.

The “shuddering” or “vibrating” mating head bob is evident and different from other head bobs.

Editor’s Note
Typically, pet iguanas breed from February through May and lay their eggs from June through August. However, under suitable conditions, iguanas in captivity can mate at any time of the year. 

They are communicating 

smiling iguana sitting on log

Bob style: Slow and friendly

Other body language included: None

Unlike other pet reptiles, captive iguanas can be affectionate toward their owners. They recognize their owners by sight and sound and may initiate interactions with them.

Sometimes, your pet iguana may gently bob its head when you enter the room. This is your pet acknowledging your presence and saying hello! They are more inclined to do this if they haven’t seen you for a while.

However, your pet may also be trying to get your attention to tell you something else. Maybe it’s bored and wants to play, or it asks you to refill its water bowl.

If the head bobbing is persistent and not accompanied by threatening motions (such as a lifted body posture), it’s probably your iguana trying to communicate something with you.

They are in a good mood

happy iguana staring

Bob style: Slow and friendly

Other body language included: It depends on your iguana!

Sometimes, iguanas bob just because they are happy and feel good about themselves! They may feel like strutting around to let you and other nearby animals know they are king!

What Should You Do When Your Iguana Is Bobbing Their Head? 

Ultimately, this depends on the bob and other body language your iguana displays.

If it was a simple bob as if saying hello, you can return its affections by saying hello back or picking it up for a few minutes.

If it is a persistent bob, check on your iguana and its enclosure to see if it is trying to tell you anything.

However, think twice if your iguana is bobbing quickly and aggressively and is displaying other aggressive behavior, such as a lifted body posture. In that scenario, it’s best to leave it alone until it calms down.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Only Male Iguanas Bob Their Heads?

Female iguanas also bob their head when they are feeling territorial or irritated. 

Some pet owners share, however, that males often bob their heads more smoothly while females do it more jerkily, as if less used to the motion.

Is Head Bobbing A Sign Of Sickness In Iguanas?

Head bobbing is not directly a symptom of disease in iguanas. Common symptoms include lack of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, twitching, and loss of balance.

However, feeling uncomfortable may cause your iguana to be stressed, making it bob its head.


An iguana’s head bobbing is how it talks to us and other animals around it.

Learning the various bobs may take time. But learning to differentiate between an angry and friendly bob will help you care for your pet more effectively and improve your relationship.

After all, we all just want to be seen, heard, and understood–even our pet reptiles!

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