You’ve probably heard of iguanas and bearded dragons. If you’ve ever seen pictures of them, you probably thought they look pretty similar. So, what are the differences and similarities between them? Which type of lizard makes a better pet? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll compare and contrast the iguana vs. the bearded dragon.
What You'll Learn Today
What is an Iguana?
An iguana is a medium to large lizard native to Central and South America, though they are commonly found in Florida and other extreme southern parts of the U.S. well. They are commonly kept as pets in the U.S. and throughout the world.
There are 30 species of iguana, many of which grow up to 7 feet long. Iguanas can live for up to 20 years in captivity, though 10 to 12 years is a more common lifespan; they typically live for even fewer years in the wild.
Iguanas are commonly found in tropical forests and swamps. As tropical animals, they need warm temperatures of at least 75 degrees and high humidity levels.
Iguanas have long bodies with short, stout legs, triangular shaped heads, and long tails. Many of them have a row of distinct spines down their head, neck, back, and tail, and they all have a prominent, loose hanging skin flap under the chin; this skin flap is called a dewlap.
Iguanas can become aggressive, especially during mating season or whenever they are feeling threatened by something. They will stiffen their dewlap, shake their head, open their mouth, and attempt to stand up taller when displaying aggressive behavior; they may bite or attempt a “death roll” if further threatened.
Iguanas are mostly herbivores; they will eat leaves, flowers, fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods. Some species will occasionally eat insects and small mammals as well, but most are strictly herbivores.
Iguanas sometimes dive into water and swim away to escape predators. Marine iguanas, in particular, are excellent swimmers and can stay underwater for as long as 15 minutes.
What is a Bearded Dragon?
The bearded dragon is a small, adorable lizard native to Australia, though it is commonly kept as a pet throughout the world. There are multiple subspecies of bearded dragon, and they range in size from 4 to 24 inches.
Bearded dragons, or “beardies,” grow based on their environment–if they are kept in too small a tank, for example, they won’t grow as large as they could. Males are also generally larger than females.
Beardies are generally short and low to the ground with four short legs, a tail about half of their body length, and a flat, triangular shaped head. They have rows of spikes on the sides of the body as well as around the head.
The name “bearded dragon” comes from the pointy scales on their chins that puff out and change color when the lizard feels threatened. This puffing and color-changing scheme makes it look like the lizard has a beard, as you can see in this short video:
Beardies are adorable creatures with very mellow behavior. They will wave their arms and bob their heads to show friendliness, submission, or sexual interest.
Bearded dragons are omnivores. They will eat a variety of foods including insects, other small lizards, small mammals, fruits, greens, and flowers.
They are generally sedentary creatures, but they can run up to 9 miles per hour to escape predators or other threats.
Beardies can live up to 14 years in captivity and usually about 5 to 8 years in the wild. They are typically found in deserts, savannas, and wooded regions of Australia.
Iguana Vs. Bearded Dragon: Similarities and Differences
Reading the above sections, you probably noticed a number of similarities and differences between iguanas and bearded dragons. Let’s take a closer look at some of those similarities and differences.
- Both lizards: Both iguanas and bearded dragons are reptiles and, specifically, they are types of lizards. This means that they are both cold-blooded, lay eggs, and live in warm environments.
- General appearance: Since they are both lizards, they share many basic physical features. Both crawl around on four short legs, both have similar reptilian eyes and face shapes, and they even have similar coloring–bearded dragons tend to be shades of gray and brown, while iguanas can be green, gray, brown, black, and occasionally other colors.
- Habitat: Both bearded dragons and iguanas live in warm habitats, though bearded dragons tend to live in drier environments while iguanas tend to live in wetter environments.
- Scientific families: Iguanas belong to eight different genera in the family Iguanidae, while bearded dragons are in the Pogona genus in the family Agamidae. They are both lizards, but they are not very closely related to each other.
- Distribution: Both iguanas and bearded dragons are kept as pets in many parts of the world, but they are native to completely different regions. Bearded dragons are found in the wild only in Australia, while iguanas are native to Central and South America.
- Size: Iguanas tend to get much larger than bearded dragons. They can grow up to 7 feet long, while beardies can only grow to a maximum of 2 feet long.
- Diet: Though their diets are fairly similar, bearded dragons tend to eat more meat-based foods than iguanas. Most iguanas are herbivores, while all bearded dragons are omnivores.
- Physical characteristics: Iguanas have a row of spines down their back, while bearded dragons have rows of spines on each side between their front and back legs. Bearded dragons have scaly “beards” which can be puffed out, while iguanas have loose skin folds called dewlaps that they can tense when showing aggression.
Iguana Vs. Bearded Dragon: Which is a Better Pet?
Both iguanas and bearded dragons are popular pets, which begs the question: which lizard makes a better pet?
The answer, of course, depends on what you’re looking for in a pet; that said, the bearded dragon will probably make a better pet for most people.
As mentioned, beardies are calm, laid-back, and very gentle–they almost never get aggressive with humans. Many beardies will even let their humans dress them in clothes and play with them.
Even when they feel threatened, bearded dragons don’t attack or bite–instead, they will puff out their “beard” and they might change colors or open their mouths to appear intimidating. They don’t need a lot of care and they love being touched and held by their humans.
Bearded dragons make great pets for anyone who wants a loving, gentle animal that isn’t very high-maintenance.
Many people keep iguanas, but they are far more high-maintenance than bearded dragons. They have specific temperature and humidity requirements, need to be kept in a large tank or room, and require lots of food.
Iguanas are also more likely to become aggressive than bearded dragons; they are larger and can cause injuries.
If you plan to keep an iguana as a pet, you have to know what you’re doing and will probably need to invest a lot of time, money, and energy to keep your iguana healthy and happy.
Bearded dragons and iguanas are both lizards, but bearded dragons are smaller and gentler than iguanas. Both lizards make great pets, though if you’ve never kept a reptile of any kind before, you’ll find that bearded dragons are far easier to care for and much more low-maintenance.