Although iguanas are relatively large reptiles, they’re nowhere near the top of Florida’s food chain. Bigger and much more ferocious animals are known to make delicious snacks out of iguanas.
The following include the most common iguana predators in Florida, a state which considers them an invasive species.
1. Birds Of Prey
The reason why I placed birds of prey as the number one iguana predator in Florida is due to their incredible skill in hunting these lizards.
Every type of bird of prey in The Sunshine State is known to kill and eat iguanas. Some hunt juveniles and hatchlings, while others, like the bald eagle, can take down a fully grown adult.
These birds include the following:
- Bald Eagle
- Great Horned Owl
- Barred Owl
- Eastern Screech Owl
- Red-Shouldered Hawk
- Red-Tailed Hawk
- Cooper Hawk
- Merlin Falcon
- Kestrel Falcon
- Peregrine Falcon
- Great Egret
- Laughing Gulls
Birds attack their prey from above, where the element of surprise is in its favor. More specifically, birds of prey will dive bomb with their talons out at incredible speeds after spotting an unsuspecting iguana.
Some birds of prey, like the falcon, can dive bomb at speeds of over 200mph while hawks reach roughly 120mph!
Once the bird’s razor-sharp talons have literally dug into the iguana, the odds of escaping become slim to none. The bird then finishes the job by using its beak to puncture the iguana’s skull, killing it almost instantly.
With flying speeds upwards of 100mph, you’d think an iguana doesn’t stand a chance. However, iguanas have developed a fascinating defense mechanism to help them survive bird attacks.
Located at the top center of a green iguana’s skull lies its third eye, also known as the parietal eye. I’m not joking. Iguanas have three eyes.
However, the third eye is not the same as the two regular eyes located on the sides of its head. In fact, it looks more like a small, pale scale than an eye. T
he parietal eye is responsible for detecting light, more specifically, shadows from birds flying overhead.
Iguanas are arboreal animals, which means they spend most of their time living in trees. However, iguanas are very strategic regarding which branches they rest on. They usually spend most of their time on branches located directly above a body of water.
Once the parietal eye detects an overhead shadow, the iguana immediately dives off the branch and into the water to escape a bird attack.
Unfortunately for iguanas, Florida is riddles with a plethora of ferocious snakes. To make matters worst, iguanas’ third eye only helps with overhead attacks, but is virtually useless against a slithering snake.
Snakes that hunt iguanas include the following:
- Burmese python
- Boa constrictor
- Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
- Water Moccasin
- Coral Snake
If a snake is carnivorous and can fit the iguana in its mouth, you can best believe it’s a predator.
Although the parietal eye is almost useless against snakes, additional defense mechanisms can help iguanas escape unharmed, the primary of which includes its tail.
Iguanas use their muscular tails as whips. One accurate whip from an adult iguana can break the skin and send a snake slithering for the hills.
Additionally, iguanas can detach their tails in a process called caudal autonomy, allowing them to escape unharmed while the predator focuses on a squirming tail.
Unfortunately, only baby iguanas can fully regrow their tails, while juveniles and adults only experience partial growth.
Furthermore, iguanas will also use their sharp teeth and claws as a last-resort defense mechanism, when the predators is in close range.
In Florida, bobcats and pumas are known to hunt and eat iguanas. I’d add house cats, as they can be a huge threat, especially to baby and juvenile iguanas.
Iguanas will not hesitate to use their tails, teeth, and claws to defend themselves as they do with snakes. However, they have another defense mechanism for dealing with felines that is useless with snakes.
Iguanas have the ability to camouflage, which is incredibly helpful when you regard the fact that felines are exceptional climbers, can see in the dark, and have bigger teeth and claws (camouflage doesn’t work with snakes as they have heat vision).
Although they can’t change colors the way chameleons do, their various shades of green most certainly help to camouflage while they’re up in the trees.
4. Alligators & Crocs
Alligators and crocodiles are opportunistic hunters and will eat anything they can get ahold of, including iguanas.
The following types of gators and crocs have been observed eating iguanas in Florida.
- American alligators
- American crocodile
Gators and crocs can run relatively fast on land, but not fast enough to catch an iguana. Furthermore, they can’t climb trees.
Therefore, gators and crocs can only hunt iguanas when a lizard enters the water or is near the water’s edge. Crocs and gators have powerful jaws that clamp down on their victim with immense form, making it unlikely for an animal as small as an iguana to escape.
The only defense iguanas have against gators or crocs is to out-swim them, but fortunately, iguanas are excellent swimmers.
Like crocs and gators, iguanas use their muscular tails as propellers to swim underwater. Since iguanas are much smaller, their only chance of escape is to swim faster!
5. Predatory Fish
Warm ocean temperatures in Florida are known to attract a wide variety of sharks. As you probably already know, sharks will eat anything that fit in their mouths, including inanimate objects.
These sharks include:
- Bull Shark
- Tiger Shark
- Great White Shark
Sadly, there is very little an iguana can do to defend itself from predatory fish. Once the iguana enters deep waters, it’s completely defenseless, as it’s slower and smaller than predatory fish, can’t whip effectively underwater, and compromises its ability to swim if it releases its tail.
Pet dogs are not the only canine threat to iguanas, as The Sunshine State is also home to including:
- Red Fox
- Grey Fox
- Pet Dogs
With the exception of an overweight house dog, iguanas are unlikely to outrun most canines, nor are they likely to win in a confrontation.
Fortunately for iguanas, canines are poor climbers, and, assuming the fact that the lizard is not in a large open field, can easily escape by climbing up the nearest tree or structure.
Additionally, iguanas will release their tails once a predator has gotten dangerously close.
Note: please keep your dogs away from iguanas, as reptiles can transmit bacteria called Salmonella.
Although they’re unlikely to go out of their way to catch an iguana, the Floridian Black Bear wouldn’t pass up a chance for an easy reptilian meal.
Black Bears in Florida can weigh up to 350 pounds! They’re excellent climbers and can run as fast as 35 miles per hour. Unfortunately for iguanas, a tail whip is unlikely to do much damage.
Therefore, the best defense against bears is camouflage and to avoid them altogether. Should a curious bear get too close, iguanas may be able to climb up the highest and lightest tree branches that can’t be climbed by its predator.
Although raccoons are omnivores, they prefer eating plants much more than animals. However, they’re also opportunistic, and will occasionally attack juvenile iguanas if hunger pushes them over the edge.
They have sharp claws and teeth which they can use to attack and tear a small iguana apart.
An adult iguana, however, is a formidable opponent, as they also have sharp teeth, claws, and can tail whip raccoons to keep them away.
Raccoons can be found virtually throughout the entire US, including Florida. Therefore, be mindful of raccoons when leaving your pet iguana outside.
9. Feral Pigs
Feral pigs are considered to be one of the worst invasive species on the planet, wreaking havoc on the land, posing a danger to native animals and people, and eating nearly everything in sight (sometimes even non-edible items).
Feral pigs found in Florida, also known as wild boar, can weigh as much as 150 pounds and grow sharp tusks. Therefore, feral pigs can easily overpower a twenty-pound iguana and render its tail whips almost entirely useless.
Fortunately for iguanas, hogs can’t climb trees, which is why iguanas are a rare item on their menu.