Green iguanas a nuisance in South Florida
SUNNY ISLES BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Perched in trees and scampering down sidewalks, green iguanas have become so common across South Florida that many see them not as exotic invaders, but as reptilian squirrels.
Native to Central and South America, green iguanas that escaped or were dumped as pets have been breeding in the Miami suburbs and the Keys for at least a decade without making headlines like other voracious invasive reptiles such as Burmese pythons or black-and-white tegu lizards.
They’ve been considered mostly harmless because they eat plants instead of native animals. But their burrows undermine seawalls, sidewalks and levees, and they eat their way through valuable landscaping as well as native plants. Their droppings can be a significant cleanup problem, as well as a potential source of salmonella bacteria, which causes food poisoning.
“Calls from residents about iguanas have increased, which pushed us to address them this year,” said Sarah Funck, non-native species program coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
In the Florida Keys, iguanas ate up the host plant for the endangered Miami blue butterfly in Bahia Honda State Park. Nearly 600 iguanas have been removed from the park in the last two fiscal years, according to Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, but the quarter-sized butterflies haven’t returned.
State officials worry their digging may exacerbate long-term ecological damage if their burrows destabilize water restoration projects or flood-control structures near the Everglades. The South Florida Water Management District has reinforced some canal banks in Palm Beach County to prevent damage from burrowing iguanas, said Rory Feeney, the district’s land resources bureau chief.
Florida wants to protect its smaller native lizards and keep green iguanas from becoming as big a pest as they have become in the Caribbean. In the Cayman Islands, researchers have confirmed with DNA evidence that green iguanas have hybridized with native iguanas.
On Grand Cayman, the adult green iguana population grew from 127,660 in 2014 to more than 400,000 last year, according to Jane Haakonsson, a researcher with the terrestrial resources unit of the Cayman Islands’ environment department. An experimental hunt in July on the 22-mile-long island netted nearly 14,500 iguanas — 16 tons of carcasses — hardly enough to control them. Read More