US: Iguanas spread in Florida as climate warms: ‘They’re a menace’ - - PressFrom - US

USIguanas spread in Florida as climate warms: ‘They’re a menace’

20:30  02 july  2019
20:30  02 july  2019 Source:

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Iguanas have arrived in the Sunshine State and are marching north, leaving a trail of destruction in Florida 's warm , sunny weather and extensive wetlands support a paradise of diverse flora and But when non-native species arrive and take advantage of the Sunshine State 's enviable climate and

They can come back to life again when it warms up. In Boca Raton, Frank Cerabino, a Palm Beach Post columnist familiar with the critters , stepped Iguanas , which can be as long as six feet, are not native to South Florida . They have proliferated in the subtropical heat, causing headaches for wildlife

Iguanas spread in Florida as climate warms: ‘They’re a menace’ An iguana trapped last month at a South Florida home. (Lori Rozsa)

FORT LAUDERDALE — The first time he saw iguanas on his roof last winter, Bob Lugari was enchanted. He had recently moved from California to South Florida, and the bright green lizards seemed to fit right into the subtropical vibe of his new home.

“I thought, how adorable, how cute, how Floridian,” Lugari said. “They looked so tropical. I never had iguanas in California, and I thought, this is part of the Florida experience. I should embrace this.”

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In South Florida , iguanas are the second leading cause of power outages, behind squirrels. But that’s well behind power failures caused by vegetation, Beltran points out. The species are native to Central and South America and the Caribbean and thrive in Florida ’s subtropical climate .

" They ' re like rats, they ' re always going to be here," Wood said. "I think it's going to be a growing business." Not much threatens adult iguanas here except cars and cold weather In the Florida Keys, iguanas ate up the host plant for the endangered Miami blue butterfly in Bahia Honda State Park.

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But soon Lugari found his carefully cultivated ornamental plants defoliated. He started finding messy brown piles of iguana droppings on his pool deck. He saw several lizards, fattened from months of feasting on his flowers, hanging out around his house and yard.

“They aren’t cute anymore,” Lugari said this month of the animals, which are not native to Florida. “They’re a menace.”

The state of Florida agrees. After a warm winter and now with record-breaking summer heat — the kind of weather iguanas thrive in — the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has declared open season on the exotic reptile.

“The FWC encourages homeowners to kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible,” the commission recently wrote on its website. “Iguanas can also be killed year-round and without a permit on 22 public lands in south Florida.”

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They 've been considered mostly harmless because they eat plants instead of native animals. But their burrows undermine seawalls, sidewalks and Compared with elusive pythons in the Everglades, iguanas are easy to spot. They can grow to more than 5 feet long, and they like what draws people

Green iguanas , like most reptiles, are coldblooded animals, so they become immobile when the temperature falls to a certain level, said Kristen Sommers of According to the Sun Sentinel, iguanas arrived in Florida as pets, and once they escaped or were freed by We noticed you’ re blocking ads!

Agency biologists say they don’t know how many iguanas are in Florida, but they know the kinds of problems they’re causing. These include “erosion, degradation of infrastructure such as water control structures, canal banks, sea walls and building foundations,” state biologist Dan Quinn said in an email.

Along with doing damage by digging, iguanas destroy landscaping and ornamental plants, including some that are endangered. They can also carry salmonella.

Green iguanas have been spotted in Florida since the 1960s, but their numbers have soared in recent years. They’re native to Central America, parts of South America and some islands in the eastern Caribbean.

Climate change is helping them spread quickly in South Florida, said Joseph Wasilewski, who has studied green iguanas for 40 years. He’s part of the University of Florida’s “Croc Docs” team of scientists who study wildlife in Florida and the Caribbean.

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Iguanas in their yard that they are not happy about, you've seen them further north in large numbers,” Sommers Joko Widodo was re -elected after beating his rival, retired General Prabowo Subianto. Children chant slogans as they watch a demonstration outside the army headquarters in Khartoum.

They ' re not the only reptiles stunned by this week's cold snap: Sea turtles also stiffen Green iguanas are an invasive species in Florida known for eating through landscaping and digging burrows that "In most cases, they ' re going to warm back up and move around again, unless they ' re euthanized."

“Climate change certainly has something to do with it,” Wasilewski said. “It’s warming things up and allowing them to go further north.”

Iguanas spread in Florida as climate warms: ‘They’re a menace’© Joseph Wasilewski University of Florida biologist Joseph Wasilewski with a green iguana. "If we don’t so something soon, they could literally take over,” he said.

Florida needs to get a handle on the green iguana invasion before it gets worse, Wasilewski said. He said he saw Grand Cayman island go from having no green iguanas in 2000 to having an estimated 1.6 million in 2018. The island launched a large-scale cull last fall, and nearly 800,000 iguanas have been killed so far.

In Florida, “in the last five or 10 years, I’ve seen the population literally explode,” Wasilewski said.

Green iguanas can grow up to five feet long and weigh around 17 pounds, although local trappers say they’ve seen bigger lizards than that. They live for 10 years or more, and the females can lay six dozen eggs at a time. They dig long tunnels, up to 80 feet — sometimes under sea walls, sometimes under houses and occasionally under highway overpasses.

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They ' re not the only reptiles stunned by this week's cold snap: Sea Well-meaning residents finding stiffened iguanas are advised to leave them alone, as they may feel threatened and bite once they warm Green iguanas are an invasive species in Florida known for eating through landscaping and

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is on a rescue mission to save hundreds of sea turtles as temperatures dropped below 50 degrees. Iguanas are also unable to "chill out" in this weather. They ' re falling out of trees and sunbathing, sometimes in the middle of the road, to warm up.

The state’s call to action has resulted in business opportunities. Blake Wilkins and Perry Colato are co-founders of Redline Iguana Removal. Wilkins, a biologist for Broward County, and Colato, a county firefighter, are childhood buddies who grew up catching the iguanas and turning them into pets.

“They were all named Iggy,” Colato recalled. “We’d catch them by hand. There weren’t that many back then. But they have no natural predators here, and there’s nothing to limit their population.”

Colato and Wilkins started their business in the fall of 2018. They charge $50 to trap one iguana or a flat rate if a homeowner has a multi-iguana problem, which is usually the case. They trapped and removed the iguanas on Lugari’s property in May.

“They’re great swimmers, they’re great climbers, they’re great diggers,” Wilkins said. “They can get on your roof, and they can dig under your house.”

Iguanas spread in Florida as climate warms: ‘They’re a menace’ Blake Wilkins and Perry Colato, the co-founders of Redline Iguana Removal, with a green iguana they trapped at a South Florida home last month. (Lori Rozsa)

The pair sets traps baited with favorite iguana foods, such as pieces of mango and melon. They said they check the traps frequently and almost always find an iguana. They kill the lizards with a rifle shot and then have them cremated.

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While the iguanas have been in Florida since the 1960s, FWC exotic species coordinator Kristin They also threatened a new billion-dollar sewage line. Iguanas also can spread salmonella by Wildlife biologist Joe Wasilewski told the newspaper that Florida wants to nip the problem in the bud

Both admit to having mixed feelings about that, but they said they’ve seen firsthand the damage iguanas can do. So has Lugari, who found the animals’ toileting habits to be particularly unpleasant.

“At first, I thought it was mud. I scrubbed the entire area and got it perfectly clean,” Lugari said. “The next morning, the splash marks were back. Then I noticed that they were parallel to the roof line. I looked up, and I saw what they were doing. They were backing themselves up to the edge of the roof, doing their business, splashing it on the tile below and then going back to sunning themselves on my roof.”

Iguanas spread in Florida as climate warms: ‘They’re a menace’© Bob Lugari A green iguana makes itself at home on the roof of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resident Bob Lugari.

The only natural population control that works with green iguanas is temperature: They don’t like the cold.

“It’s got to be below 40 degrees for four consecutive days, and that’s very rare in South Florida,” Colato said. “So it’s only gotten worse and worse.”

A cold snap two years ago in the state put iguanas into a dormant state, causing frozen iguanas to fall out of trees. They weren’t dead, just deeply chilled.

“I had a buddy pick one up and put it in the back of his car,” Colato recalled. “He was going to take it home and eat it, but it thawed out while he was driving and basically came alive. He freaked out and pulled over and opened the door, and it ran away.”

Iguanas are a food source in some Caribbean countries, where they’re called “chicken of the trees.” Colato said a friend from Trinidad and Tobago cooked one in a curry. (“It was very good, actually,” he said.) But most Floridians don’t view them as entrees.

It’s legal to kill green iguanas in Florida

It’s legal to kill green iguanas in Florida The invasive species has been making itself at home in Florida for many years, to the great consternation of gardeners and the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Florida residents have been stunned to find iguanas falling out of trees, where unusually cold temperatures are causing their bodies to shut down. The iguanas are unlikely to be dead, experts say, but merely stunned and will reanimate when they warm up.

They ' re not the only reptiles stunned by this week's cold snap: Sea turtles also stiffen up when temperatures fall. The wildlife commission's biologists have been rescuing cold-stunned sea turtles found floating listlessly on the water or near shore, but no such rescue is planned for iguanas .

Trapper Jose Gonzalez started his Palm Beach County-based company, Iguana Police, last year. Business has been brisk, he said.

“The numbers are getting higher, and the iguanas are getting bigger,” Gonzalez said. “I think they’re running out of space south of here, and these waterways in South Florida are the perfect vehicles for them to move up and down the coast.”

Like Colato and Wilkins, Gonzalez said he feels a twinge of guilt about shooting the animals.

“But they’re a nuisance. They’re really no different than a rat in that sense,” Gonzalez said. “They create damage, they spread disease, and they’re invasive.”

With so many iguanas in the firing line, captures occasionally go wrong. Removal services sometimes use air rifles in wide-open areas, such as golf courses and farms, and one trapper’s shot recently went astray in Boca Raton.

Homeowner E’Lyn Bryan said she was inside her home when she heard a pool maintenance worker screaming on her patio.

“I ran out, and his leg was bleeding,” Bryan said.

The worker told authorities that he was doing pool work when he felt his leg burning, the Boca Raton Police Department wrote in an incident report. He said he heard “a lot of popping noises before he got hurt” and “determined it was caused by a BB pellet that was being shot from an iguana hunter a couple of houses down.”

The iguana hunter apologized, and paramedics said the pool man’s injury was superficial, according to the police. The victim did not press charges.

The trapper had been hired by the homeowners association, something that infuriated Bryan.

“I want the iguana killing stopped,” Bryan said. “These creatures deserve to live. They shot one in the leg, and now it has to get around on three legs. If humans can’t cohabitate with them, there has to be a more humane way to deal with it.”

Wasilewski agrees, to a point.

“The state has to address the problem,” he said. “I’d suggest homeowners use professional removal services rather than having people go out and start shooting like it’s the wild, wild West. But if we don’t do something soon, they could literally take over.”

Lori Rozsa is a freelance reporter and frequent contributor to The Washington Post. She is a former correspondent for People magazine and a former reporter and bureau chief for the Miami Herald.

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