July 10, 2019

FLORIDA KEYS — Iguanas have joined lionfish and pythons as a public enemy to be eradicated from the Florida Keys.

The large reptiles native to South America now are classified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as an invasive species that poses an environmental and health menace.

The FWC “encourages homeowners to kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible. Iguanas can be killed year-round and without a permit,” the agency says in a fact sheet.

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press
A juvenile iguana sits on a fence in the Upper Keys. State wildlife officials are advising homeowners to eradicate the reptile.

Green iguanas are not native to Florida and are considered to be an invasive species due to the damage they can cause to seawalls, sidewalks and landscape plants, FWC says.

“Some green iguanas cause damage to infrastructure by digging burrows that erode and collapse,” the agency said of roads, foundations, berms and canal banks. “Green iguanas may also leave droppings on docks, moored boats, seawalls, porches, decks, pool platforms and inside swimming pools.”

Not long ago in South Florida, iguanas were considered a relatively rare and harmless curiosity. Decades later, iguana populations have exploded with females laying dozens of eggs.

The primary population control for iguanas in the Keys apparently is traffic on U.S. 1.

“In Bahia Honda State Park, green iguanas have consumed nickerbean, which is a host plant of the endangered Miami blue butterfly,” the FWC says. “As is the case with other reptiles, green iguanas can also transmit the infectious bacterium Salmonella to humans through contact with water or surfaces contaminated by their feces.”

Iguanas are vegetarians but may consume native tree snails, state scientists found.

Florida Keys law enforcement officers urge residents to use caution when trying to dispatch an iguana, and to abide by local laws that restrict the use of firearms in Monroe County.

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press
An iguana makes tracks on Plantation Key. Native to South America, the iguana population in Florida has reached ‘invasive species’ stage, state wildlife officials say.

The FWC’s call to kill iguanas “in no way impacts on the enforcement of firearms law in Monroe County,” said Monroe County Sheriff’s Office information officer Adam Linhardt. “There are laws that prohibit shooting in residential areas. Those rules still apply.”

“You can try to shoot [iguanas] with a pellet or BB on your private property, but you can’t go hunting for them other places,” FWC Officer Bobby Dube said.

However, it can take several hits from a pellet-type gun to kill an iguana that may be five feet long.

When cornered by people or pets, iguanas have the ability to defend themselves with claws, teeth and a whip-like tail.

Traps are recommended, and animal-cruelty laws also apply to iguanas.

Hunting for iguanas is permitted on 22 public areas in Florida, but none of those areas is in the Keys.

Iguanas may not the smartest creatures around but they do have to ability to nimbly climb trees and disappear into the foliage, burrow underground and swim in fresh or salt water.

To help control Monroe County’s iguana population, the FWC last year hired an invasive-species biologist whose main job is to remove the reptiles from publicly owned conservation lands.

“Try to make your property a place where iguanas don’t want to hang out,” FWC iguana specialist David Jacob said at an April meeting for Upper Keys homeowners. “They come onto a property for food, shelter or nesting. Never feed an iguana, and try not to create problems, intentionally or unintentionally.”

Iguanas look for bright colors so they’re drawn to edible flowers like hibiscus, orchids and roses, or fruits like strawberries and bananas.

kwadlow@keysnews.com