It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s an… iguana?
You might remember when South Florida made headlines earlier this year because of iguanas falling from trees.
No, they weren’t dead — unless the fall to the ground killed them. After the region’s coldest night in a decade, the tropical lizards were stunned.
The result? Iguanas, stiffened on the ground, legs splayed, vulnerable to predators until the temperatures crept back up.
But scientists say that may change during Florida’s next cold snap. Here’s what this could mean for you and your property.
Will There Be Fewer Iguanas Falling From Trees?
As cold-blooded reptiles, iguanas don’t produce their own body heat. And when the temperatures drop, their already-sluggish metabolism slows down even more. This gives them a near-comatose appearance.
While the creatures have a low tolerance for the cold, evidence suggests it may be getting stronger.
Four years ago, most iguanas could withstand temperatures between 46 and 52°F. Now, scientists say, they can hold up in temperatures as low as 44 degrees.
But you might be wondering why iguanas need to brace for the cold when global temperatures continue to rise.
While temperatures are rising, so is the frequency of extreme weather events. Hurricanes, heatwaves, and droughts aren’t the only byproducts of climate change. Cold snaps can also become stronger and more common over time.
Tropical species were once thought to be especially vulnerable to sudden temperature changes. After all, they need thermally stable conditions to thrive.
But the case for iguanas suggests some species may be able to rapidly evolve. This is an encouraging sign for ecosystem resilience during extreme climate events.
The explanation can be as simple as natural selection. The weakest iguanas may be dying from the cold, while the stronger ones live on to reproduce.
The question remains whether iguanas are physically adapting to the changing conditions. But is this a good thing for the environment as a whole?
An Invasive Species
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recognizes green iguanas as an invasive species. Native to Central America and tropical South America, they were first reported in Florida in the 1960s.
Today, they populate Broward, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties on the Atlantic Coast, along with Collier and Lee counties on the Gulf Coast.
They have even been reported as far north as Alachua, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, and St. Lucie counties. But these are likely escaped or released iguanas that can’t establish populations due to the temperature difference.
But as their tolerance to the cold grows, so does their ability to spread out geographically.
Often considered a nuisance by property owners, green iguanas can wreak havoc by digging burrows. Affected structures can include sidewalks, foundations, seawalls, berms, and canal banks.
Iguanas are also known to take shelter under roof tiles, sheds, and other warm hiding places in your backyard. Some even like to burrow near bodies of water.
They can damage landscape vegetation, including foliage, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Even though they adhere to a mostly herbivorous diet, they sometimes eat native, endangered species of tree snails. And by consuming nickerbean, they threaten the host plants of the endangered Miami Blue butterfly.
Their droppings can damage outdoor fixtures, like docks, moored boats, seawalls, porches, decks, pool platforms, and swimming pools. But they can also pose a threat to human health. Like other reptiles, iguanas transmit the infectious bacterium salmonella through contaminated water and feces.
What Does This Mean for You?
When iguanas are immobilized in the cold, they’re less likely to cause damage to your property. But as their bodies slowly acclimate to lower temperatures, you’ll start to notice them being more active than in winters past.
Increased cold tolerance also means iguanas can begin venturing from the warmer, southern coastal counties into the colder, northern inland counties. While this change will be gradual, it’s important to stay vigilant and iguana-proof your property.
There are a number of plants we recommend that can add color to your property while also keeping the iguanas at bay. Chenille, Mexican Petunia, and Oleander are a few examples.
Keep in mind that iguanas are attracted to many types of flowers — including Hibiscus, Bougainvillea, and Orchids — so it’s best to selectively remove those over time.
You can also invest in iguana control products, like tree wraps, fences, and anti-burrowing barriers. These products are designed to blend in with your property’s natural landscape and prevent costly repairs.
The FWC allows for the killing of green iguanas on private property year-round, with permission from the property owner. However, the killing must be humane since iguanas are protected by anti-cruelty laws.
And if you capture an iguana on your property, keep in mind you cannot release or move it to any other locations in Florida.
If trapping or humane killing is not possible for you, it’s best to seek help from a professional.
Take Preventative Measures
The temperatures will have to drop a few degrees lower before we start seeing more iguanas falling from trees this season. While this means less risk of injury to passersby, it also means an increased risk of iguanas making your property their new home in the future.
At Iguana Control, we take pride in the fact that 95% of our services are preventative, and trapping is a last resort. If you’re beginning to notice signs of a possible iguana problem, we want to help. Contact us today for a free quote.