Beware of falling iguanas.
No…really. Though we don’t have any signs which actually say this in South Florida, it is a possibility. It even happened to my neighbor. Let me back up a bit.
From Palm Beach County south to my neck of the woods, and all the way down to the tip of Key West, we are pretty much overrun with lizards of all kinds. In the last 15 years or so, though, the iguana population has exploded down here. Part of it is people who keep them as pets and then let them go in the wild, and the other factor is shipments of you name it from Central and South America, where the scaly green dudes become stowaways on ships and in crates. When you drive past a canal in Miami or anywhere nearby (we have canals everywhere), you can glance over at the canal bank or the strip of grass next to the road and, chances are, you’ll see an iguana or two soaking up the sun. You see, they are solar-powered and this is where the falling comes in, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
We also have anoles which range in size from the little ones which don’t get much longer than a ballpoint pen (we’ve got billions of these), or the Cuban green anole which can get a couple of feet long. The subtropical climate here is perfectly A-OK for these critters, and the abundance of canals (iguanas are really good swimmers) provides lots of vegetation and many little fish to munch on, though they are primarily herbivores. The problem comes when we fall victim to our “cold” spells. Now, it’s entertaining for all you Northerners who get a good chuckle at the fact that below 50° down here is pretty rare – we might have eight or nine days all year that chill down to that point – and, yes, once or twice a year, the mercury can dip down into the high 30s and we become all excited, put on thick jackets and make hot chocolate. The lizards, however, aren’t down with all this chilliness.
The iguana epidemic was first noticed about seven years ago, when a freakish cold snap plunged the daytime temperatures into the high 40s and nighttime was in the mid-30s. While you Midwesterners walk out in that weather and say, “Let’s wash the cars!” cold-blooded reptiles instead go into this power down, standby-like state of hibernation. They can’t move and they lose their grip. It’s kind of like when you’ve come home from the holiday party after 11 vodka tonics, and you end up falling off the sofa, glasses on, TV still playing, remote in hand (not that I’ve ever done such a thing). So, that winter at Tropical Park – which is like iguana Grand Central Station –people found iguanas lying in the grass under the trees and thought they were dead. But, they weren’t – instead, they were in a semi-comatose state where they couldn’t move and their hearts were still beating slowly, and they were probably saying to themselves, “Why the hell did I ever leave Venezuela?”
A few years ago, during another February cold wave, my neighbor was getting out of his car and a large anole landed on his shoulder. He was alarmed, to say the least, but he handled it well. He only jumped a couple of feet into the air, sending the snoozing anole tumbling to the ground. The anole was unharmed and reportedly came to a couple of days later. Had that happened to my wife, the anole would have gone permanently deaf from her screams and no amount of medication on this Earth would have cured her.
By now, you are saying, “Nyberg, what on God’s green Earth does this have to do with law enforcement?”
It doesn’t, at least not yet. The iguana invasion has become a problem and many communities have appealed to their local governments for help. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is having a workshop in the Keys this month to educate the public about what can and can’t be done, but, make no mistake, legislation or some sort of control is on the way. We already have a hunting season and special license for Burmese Python (which have become the alpha predator in the Everglades), and it’s safe to say that some kind of control for the proliferation of iguanas is in the works as well. Iguanas don’t upset the food chain the way the pythons have, but they do love flowering plants and, unless you have some sort of protection for your garden, they will munch all of it up in short order, and crap on your patio on the way out.
You can’t poison them, because that’s Animal Cruelty (F.S. 828.12), but they are relatively easy to chase away, or you can call “Iguana Catchers,” one of several exotic animal removal companies which do a very healthy business here in the subtropics.
If you catch them, experts say that euthanasia is allowed – as long as it is humane. This includes carbon monoxide asphyxiation; the administering of either Halothane, Isoflurane or Sevoflurane by a licensed veterinarian; or, my favorite, “stunning, followed by decapitation.” How does one “stun” an iguana? It sounds like a joke with a great punch line waiting. Tell him he won the lottery? No, no…you use a captive bolt gun (a device for stunning animals) or some other device (not a TASER®; don’t get excited). You have to use this means of anesthesia because, if you decapitate a reptile, their brain might be active for as long as an hour afterward, and then we’re falling under 828.12 again. Let’s not even go there.
There are lots of things to get ironed out and I hope most of this is addressed at the FWC iguana workshop. In the meantime, if you’re visiting South Florida during one of our lovely cold snaps, well…heads-up.
Ramesh Nyberg retired from law enforcement in November 2006 after 27 years in police work. He now owns his own private investigation agency, Nyberg Security and Investigations, and can be reached at Ramesh@NybergPi.com. He enjoys getting feedback from readers.