Yet another invasive species is taking over the Sunshine State, and they’re leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.
Hordes of green iguanas, native to Central and South America and the Caribbean, are invading South Florida yards, parks, and swimming pools — joining other invasive reptiles like Burmese pythons, Nile crocodiles and giant tegus. Attracted to a wide variety of leaves and flowering plants, the brightly colored lizards regularly eat their way through gardens and landscape vegetation, leaving a trail of poop for property owners to clean up.
But these reptiles aren’t just a nuisance; they’re causing millions of dollars in damage as they create phone and power outages, disrupt water management projects during storm surges, destroy habitats of protected and endangered species, and damage seawalls, pools, and patios.
The iguana problem started in the 1960s through the pet trade. Many escaped by accident during strong hurricanes, while others were intentionally released by owners that no longer wanted to care for them. From there, the sneaky reptiles spread by taking advantage of the large network of man-made water channels which they use to easily navigate the state.
Invasive wildlife control experts are doing everything they can to manage the situation, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be making a dent. In fact, warmer temperatures have only allowed the populations to thrive.
“There’s no real way to come up with a valid estimate of the number of green iguanas in Florida. But the number would be gigantic,” Richard Engeman, a biologist for the National Wildlife Research Center, told the Sun Sentinel. “You could put any number of zeros behind a number, and I would believe it.”
And they aren’t always easy to catch. When frightened, the lizards, which grow to more than 4 feet in length, can flee swiftly on land and in water and may retreat into burrows.
Florida residents that find iguanas on their property are legally allowed (and encouraged) to humanely euthanize the reptiles by shooting them with a pellet gun, stabbing them in the brain, or even decapitating them — as long as they don’t suffer. Residents are strictly forbidden from drowning, freezing, or poisoning them, as these methods are considered animal cruelty.