by Chris Lechowicz, SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Manager
Approved unanimously by a Senate committee on Jan. 21, the bill is awaiting discussion in committee in the House, and second committee discussion in the Senate. The bill would add green iguanas, as well as black and white tegus, another invasive lizard, to the state’s prohibited list that bans the importation, possession, sale, and breeding of these species in Florida. Some other species already on this list are Burmese pythons, both African python species, and Nile monitors due to their threats to natural ecosystems.
Introduced into Florida in 1964, the green iguana became established as a sustainable breeding population just a few years later. The green iguana was first reported on Sanibel in 1970. These exotic lizards are native to most of Central America, over half of South America, and parts of Mexico. Wild-caught green iguanas have been imported as pets since well before that time and still are today. Currently, however, most are farmed for export.
In several of their native countries, they are prized for their meat and can be scarce as a result.
There are a few scattered Florida records from the central peninsula and the panhandle but the majority of their range in the state is right along the coasts from Lee County on the west coast and St. Lucie County on the east coast all the way through the Florida Keys to Key West.
Their range in Florida is restricted by cold weather, hence most of their range is along the coast and throughout the Keys where temperatures stay higher than in inland areas. During extended cold weather snaps in the 30s or low 40s in south Florida, green iguanas, which are an arboreal species, become unable to hold on to their perches and often fall to the ground immobilized.
They are relatively common on Sanibel, where 4,915 green iguanas have been trapped and removed since 2015, at the annual cost of about $40,000 to the city. In October 2109, Lee County approved $25,000 to trap and remove them from Captiva.
The green iguanas prefer to live, although not exclusively, in developed areas around homes and businesses where exotic vegetation such as Hibiscus, colorful exotic flowers, and vegetable gardens are plentiful. If left unchecked, they can become very dense in these areas and are considered a nuisance, especially in March here on the islands when they dig multiple large burrows in order to lay their eggs in. Damage is primarily caused when iguanas dig their burrows under a sidewalk, along sea walls or canal banks.
SCCF urges islanders to support this bill. Sign up for Action Alerts at sccf.org to know when and who to contact on this and other important issues being considered in the current legislative session.