Cold temperatures expected this weekend in South Florida mean some areas are issuing falling iguana alerts.
According to “Invasive Species in Florida” by Andra Johnson of University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services: “Iguanas are adapted to the consistently warm temperatures of their native habitats in Central America. However, they are now found as an invasive species in Florida. The unexpected cold temperatures of their new home can stun the reptiles, and they’ve been known to fall out of their perches in trees.
“But falling out of the sky is just one threat imposed by invasive iguanas. Green iguanas in South Florida have disrupted native ecosystems and may be responsible for losses of the endangered Miami blue butterfly in the Florida Keys. They also damage sea walls and other structures with their burrows. West Palm Beach recently spent almost $2 million to repair a dam weakened by nesting iguanas.”
When an iguana is cold-stunned, some people take the opportunity to euthanize the invasive pest.
In the IFAS publication, “Dealing With Iguanas in the South Florida Landscape, W.H. Morris Jr. wrote: “Damage caused by iguanas includes eating valuable landscape plants, shrubs, and trees, eating orchids and many other flowers, eating dooryard fruit like berries, figs, mangoes, tomatoes, bananas, lychees, etc. Iguanas do not eat citrus. Burrows that they dig undermine sidewalks, seawalls, and foundations. Burrows of iguanas next to seawalls allow erosion and eventual collapse of those seawalls. Droppings of iguanas litter areas where they bask. This is unsightly, causes odor complaints, and is a possible source of salmonella bacteria, a common cause of food poisoning. Adult iguanas are large powerful animals that can bite, cause severe scratch wounds with their extremely sharp claws, and deliver a painful slap with their powerful tail.”
Once you have captured an iguana, it is against the law to release it.
“After a nuisance iguana is captured, the question is ‘what to do with it?’ Because of the large numbers of nuisance iguanas being captured there are limited live donation options available to homeowners. Many wildlife care centers and wildlife rehabilitators don’t have the room or resources to care for them. This means that euthanasia is the most humane method of disposal,” Morris wrote.
“During winter cold fronts, cold-stunned iguanas can sometimes be simply picked from branches or picked off the ground after they fall from the trees. Using boats along canals and in the mangroves when the temperatures are in the 40s°F has been very successful. This is a very effective method to reduce local iguana populations.”
Acceptable means of euthanasia include:
• Carbon dioxide chamber, if meat is to be consumed.
• Halothane, Isoflurane, Sevoflurane administered by a veterinarian.
• Stunning followed by decapitation.
The publication also notes that in some areas there is a market for iguana meat; “The meat of adult iguanas and the eggs are eaten and considered a delicacy throughout their native range, especially during Easter week. As of 2004, the price of iguana meat was $14/pound in Maryland. Large adults, too dangerous to be kept as pets, may have value as meat in ethnic markets that cater to immigrants from Central and South America. However, make arrangements with the market manager before showing up with a sack of iguanas.”
Iguanas are rarely seen in the Lake Okeechobee area where native wildlife likely control the invasive iguana population. Raccoons, fish, crows, vultures, feral pigs, and other predators dig up iguana nests and eat the eggs. Raccoons, snakes, hawks, owls, egrets, herons, cats, and dogs kill the majority of hatchling and juvenile iguanas.