Thanks to Florida’s sub-tropical climate, green iguanas have been able to thrive and rapidly increase in numbers. However, iguanas are not native to The Sunshine State, and like most invasive species, their growing population is damaging many aspects of the environment.
Iguanas are bad for Florida because they threaten native plants and animals, damage gardens, crops, public and private property, spread disease, and can potentially harm people and pets. Fortunately, Floridians have taken action by regulating the capture, possession, and distribution of iguanas as well as loosening hunting regulations.
If you’re thinking about visiting or especially moving to The Sunshine State, you may want to read this post to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.
What Problems Are Iguanas Causing In Florida?
Nobody could have suspected the gravity of the situation back when iguanas were first seen in Florida, but as the old saying goes, hindsight is twenty-twenty.
The following points include all the negative consequences Florida has endured because of the green iguana.
Damage To Native Plants, Gardens, & Agricultural Crops
Iguanas are folivores, a type of herbivore that primarily consumes leaves. However, they won’t hesitate to eat vegetables and will go absolutely bonkers for fruit. No vegetation is safe from the wrath of a green iguana (with the exception of citrus fruit), especially when you include the fact that they’re excellent climbers and can run extremely fast.
Native wild plants are most at risk, as crops can be resowed, but once native plants become extinct, nothing can be done.
You can protect your garden plants and crops from iguanas via the following ways:
- Build fences around your plants that iguanas cannot climb
- Grow species that iguanas dislike such as milkweed, citrus, pigeon plum, oleanders, coonties, and tough, thick-leaved plants along with your desired garden plants.
- For large trees, install sheet-metal cylinders about 18 inches away from the base.
Threat To Native Animals
Fortunately, iguanas haven’t endangered any animal species to the point of extinction, but they have made their lives harder in many ways, from eating their eggs and food supply to taking over their habitat.
Although iguanas are herbivores, they’re also opportunistic feeders, and have therefore been observed eating bird eggs. However, should the opportunity arise, iguanas will also feed on eggs from turtles, crocodiles, and basically any species.
Competing For Food
Iguanas are obviously not the only herbivores in The Sunshine State, which means native herbivores such as birds, tortoises, turtles, and green anoles have to compete with them for food and other resources.
Taking Over Habitats
In addition to the growing competition for food is the competition for habitats. Iguanas are arboreal animals, meaning they spend most of their lives on trees.
However, females iguanas create burrows in the ground as do many females from other species, and make it more difficult for native animals to reproduce.
They also compete for space with vulnerable native species, such as burrowing owls and gopher tortoises.Tampa Bay Times
Damage To Personal & Private Property
Burrowing presents a problem for native species, but also for people.
Some green iguanas cause damage to infrastructure by digging burrows that erode and collapse sidewalks, foundations, seawalls, berms and canal banks.Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
As you can imagine, this type of damage usually translates to thousands, if not millions of dollars for tax payers and home owners.
Spreading Of Diseases
Like all reptiles, iguanas pose the risk of carrying a disease called Salmonella. You’ve probably heard the name before regarding eggs and various types of meat.
Salmonella is a type of bacteria found in the iguana’s intestinal tract and feces, and is zoonotic, which means it can spread from people to animals and vice versa.
You can contract the disease by simply making contact with a surface that has also been in contact with an infected iguana, and then touching your eyes or an open wound.
Fortunately for most people, contracting Salmonella will, in the worst case scenario, result in diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps.
However, Salmonella can be fatal for certain high-risk groups such as babies, the elderly, and people who have a weakened immune system or serious medical conditions.
Physically Attacking Humans & Pets
Iguanas not only look like dinosaurs, but they behave just like you’d imagine a dinosaur to behave. They are extremely aggressive, especially when cornered.
Adult iguanas can inflict serious bodily injuries with their razor sharp teeth and claws, easily tearing the skin and requiring stitches.
Additionally, iguanas use their muscular tails as whips, which can also result in lacerations and stitches. In my opinion, however, their most brutal form of defense involves the iguana latching onto its victim with its powerful jaws and rolling aggressively, similar to the notorious crocodile death roll.
If you happen to come across an iguana, play it safe and give it space. Also, don’t let your pets near wild iguanas.
Last but definitely not least, is the issue of iguanas defecating in places where feces is the last thing you want to see, kind of like pigeons and seagulls.
Even if an iguana is disease free, having to constantly clean poop can become a real hassle, and can also cost taxpayer money.
Florida’s Response To The Growing Iguana Crisis
Not surprisingly, Floridians have had enough. Legal measures have been initiated in order to reduce iguana populations and the problems that come with them.
Permit Required To Own A Pet Iguana
Thinking about taking your pet iguana to go live in Florida? Think again.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission requires a special permit from all Floridians who possessed a pet iguana or tegu prior to April 29, 2021. The permit, which must be renewed annually, allows these pet owners to keep their pets until they die.
Like the rest of the public, however, permit holders are not allowed to possess a new iguana or tegu once their pet dies.
Releasing Iguanas In Florida Is Illegal
One of the primary reasons for the growing population (and problem) of iguanas is due to pet owners releasing releasing them in the outdoors.
Therefore, Florida has passed a law stating that individuals who are caught releasing iguanas in the state can face up to one year in prison or a fine of $1000.
In addition to requiring permits and outlawing the release of iguanas in the state, the FWCC’s Exotic Pet Amnesty Program joined the cause by working with individual iguana owners.
The program removes exotic pets including green iguanas from the illegal or legal possession of pet owners without asking questions or criminalizing the individual, and therefore, reducing the number of iguanas released in the state.
Property Owners Can Kill Iguanas
The FWCC grants property owners the right to kill iguanas on their property and any private property for which they have received the owner’s consent.
Humanely killing iguanas (death by pellet gun, stabbing the brain, or decapitation) is the only condition. Like all non-native species in Florida, iguanas are only protected by anti-cruelty law.
Want to get paid to hunt? Then maybe you should move to Florida.
According to Fox 13, the city of Miami Beach paid each iguana hunter a handsome wage of $50,000 in 2021, and one city commissioner proposed increasing it to $200,000.
The state of Florida does not directly hire iguana hunters, but many private companies paying up to $22 per hour do.
In South Florida, iguanas can be hunted yearlong without a permit or hunting license in 32 public lands.