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Iguana Invasion

Exotic Pets Gone Wild in Florida

and what to do about them

Squirrel Monkey
Squirrel Monkey

Blog (2009)

July 3, 2009: Loose pythons a growing danger*

Ecologists at the Savannah River Ecology Lab in South Carolina are studying Burmese Pythons captured in Everglades National Park. In collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, and the University of Florida, the scientists have created a giant snake pit in which to study the giant snakes.

In late June, seven of the huge feral exotics were transferred into an enclosed area of trees and brush surrounded by 400 feet of reinforced fencing. The pythons were each implanted with a microdata recorder that will monitor internal temperatures on an hourly basis. Radio transmitters were also surgically installed in case the snakes find a way to get loose again. The researchers hope to discover whether the species can survive in the cooler temperatures north of South Florida, where they are known to be breeding.

Burmese Pythons are native to Southeast Asia. These massive reptiles thrive in areas where the climate is similar to that of most of the southeastern states. State officials and environmentalists want to find out whether pythons on the loose could pose problems for Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Tennessee, and other states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a ban on the future import and interstate sales of Burmese Pythons. The federal government is undecided as to whether it would be appropriate to label the giant snake an “injurious species.” Since 1980, at least a dozen people in the U.S. have been killed by pet pythons.

On July 1, a 2 year old was strangled in her crib by an escaped pet python. The snake belonged to her mother’s boyfriend, who did not have a permit for the reptile. The tragedy occurred in a small town northwest of Orlando, Florida.

*Alysia Patterson, “Burmese pythons slithering their way north?” Associated Press, June 24, 2009; Mike Schneider, “Pet python strangles child, officials say,” Associated Press, July 1, 2009

July 1, 2009: South Florida iguanas a political issue*

Palm Beach County hosted a symposium this year in order to address growing public concern with the exploding feral Green Iguana population. Since the county was unsuccessful in last year’s attempt to convince the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to add the Green Iguana to its list of “reptiles of concern,” cities around the county are wondering how to bring the iguana problem under control.

The mayor of Boca Raton, for example, has publicized her desire to rid her city of the nuisance exotic species because of the mounting level of resident complaints. In Manalapan, bounty hunters trapping feral iguanas for city pay turned out to be too expensive for the city budget. City officials decided to leave lizard pest removal in the hands of individual residents. However, South Florida city and county officials have expressed concern about the dangers associated with some methods chosen by residents to get rid of problem iguanas.

Shooting firearms is against the law in cities and suburban areas. Shooting iguanas with air guns, arrows, pellets and beebees can also be considered inhumane. Unless you are a crackerjack shot (and most city dwellers are not), you may only injure your target, which then escapes into the neighborhood. Wounded iguanas with infected injuries can suffer for weeks and, if they turn vicious while protecting themselves, they may prove dangerous to your neighbors.

Other methods of dispatching unwanted lizards include freezing, drowning, poisoning, drugging, and the gangsterishly violent smash-and-decapitate. None of these methods are safe for residents who do not have a wildlife trappers license. None of these methods solve the underlying problem of a non-native animal species that is reproducing wildly in an environment offering year round food in a hospitable climate. All of these methods offer only temporary relief until more iguanas replace the ones that have been killed.

Green Iguanas are not known for their intellectual brilliancy. Hit one over the head a few times to get rid of it, and you may be surprised to see it in your yard the very next day, munching casually in your garden or lazing around on your pool deck.

Some of the islands off Florida’s coasts have been reporting progress with wide scale trapping and removal of large exotic lizards. This process is more difficult in a city or suburb on the mainland with unlimited escape routes. At $20 per head, countywide trapping of feral iguanas would be an expensive proposition. Unless the political landscape changes along with our flora and fauna, the iguana population in South Florida will continue to grow and residents will be left to their own inhumane and ineffective devices.

*John Johnson, “Palm Beach County extension sponsors iguana management symposium,” Boca Raton News, April 23, 2009

June 16, 2009: Iguana-proof plants for the Florida landscape*

South Florida homeowners are learning the hard way that they are no longer free to plant whatever they like in their yards and gardens. The widespread invasive species of iguana found in our area, the Green Iguana, is an herbivore. Every day the mounting population of iguanas must raid yards around the region in order to consume adequate calories from their plant-based diet. These large reptiles are voracious and can eat their way through a lovely garden in a flash.

Fortunately, iguanas do not eat all kinds of plants. Unfortunately, iguanas are readily adaptable and can learn to like new plants once they try them. Also, they seem to eat certain parts of plants at certain times of the year, then switch to other plant parts at other times. They may eat flowers during one season, then shoots or leaves in another season. So your bougainvillea flowers may look lovely and invulnerable all summer, only to be devoured six months later.

A recent article on KeysNet.com listed the following as plants Florida’s iguanas seem to ignore: bay cedar, blackbead, black ironwood, buttonwood, coontie, golden creeper, gumbo limbo, Jamaican caper, milkwood, pentas, porterweed, sky vine, and wild coffee. However, biologists who study iguanas in the wild say they will eat gumbo limbo, as well as the umbrella plants, fig trees, banyans, and morning glory popular here in South Florida. Crotons have been recommended as unpopular with iguanas. Yet, visitors to Village GardenWeb, a gardeners’ online forum, complain that iguanas do consume crotons. Forum visitors recommend crown of thorns, dracaenas, garlic, ginger, heliconia, jade, juniper, lantana, liriope, philodendrum, plumbago, rosemary, salvia, and a few other common plants.

For gardens, it is best to install wire mesh. As for your yard, try harassing iguanas with a garden hose until they move elsewhere. Dogs seem to help. Be careful with repellents like garlic spray as direct application onto bushes and plants may dry out or yellow flowers and leaves. Use of organic neem oil when growing plants may make the leaves and flowers undesirable eating for iguanas.

*Donna Dietrich, “Gardeners wage war against pesky iguanas,” KeysNet.com, April 24, 2009; Village GardenWeb.com/forum; Kim Gabel, “Iguana be Gonna,” Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society 118: 326-327, 2005; Melissa Kaplan, “Plants Consumed by Iguanas in the Wild,” Herp Care Collection, 2002

May 15, 2009: Nile Monitors invading Florida’s east coast*

The giant African lizard threatening southwest Florida is now showing up with increasing frequency in the southeast part of the state. Nile Monitor lizards, which can reach 6 or 7 feet in length, have been causing problems on the Homestead Air Reserve Base, where they bask in the sun on the airport runway.

The base is home to lots of wildlife in the hundreds of acres of lush woodlands and wetlands. Located between Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park, the Homestead base should be kept free (or as free as possible) of exotic animal species that may threaten Florida’s vulnerable ecosystems.

So far, a dozen of the carnivorous Monitors have been trapped. Wildlife biologists are hoping to keep the huge and hungry predator from becoming the latest unwanted exotic animal infesting our national parks.

*"Giant Lizards Pose Threat in Florida," CNN News, May 15, 2009

May 13, 2009: Garlic recipes to ward off iguanas

Some Floridians claim that garlic spray works to keep iguanas out of their yards and away from their flowering plants. Others say the iguanas do not mind the smell and taste of garlic. You can give one of these recipes a try and see if it works for you.

Garlic spray 1:
2 cups water
2 med. cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp. dish soap

Blend all ingredients in blender on high. Let sit overnight.
Strain through a coffee filter. Pour into hand-held sprayer bottle.
Apply liberally.

Garlic spray 2:
3-4 cloves garlic
2 tsp. mineral oil
1 pint water
1 tsp. liquid dish soap

Mince garlic. Add to oil and let sit for 24 hours.
Stir into water. Add soap.
Use 2 tbsp. per quart of water in a hand-held spray bottle.
Apply liberally.

April 20, 2009: Wild pig chases homeowner around yard*

A 26-year-old woman found a 170-pound wild pig in her backyard in the city of St. Petersburg. She turned and ran with the big black pig in pursuit. Before escaping inside her house to call for help, the woman received a nick from the pig’s tusks.

Pinellas County Animal Control found the pig in another yard nearby. After chasing a fire and rescue officer over a six-foot fence, the pig was captured and euthanized. Pigs are invasive around the state.

*Samara Sodos, "200-pound wild pig chases woman in St. Pete backyard," News Channel 8, April 20, 2009

April 5, 2009: Purple Swamphens killed but not controlled*

In 2006, game wardens were told by state wildlife officials to kill all the invasive Purple Swamphens in the marshlands of Palm Beach and neighboring counties. Over the next few years, almost 3200 of these brightly colored water birds were shot down. But not in time.

The Purple Swamphen population has spread, nesting and breeding successfully around the state. The Florida game wardens have been called off, their attempt at invasive species eradication deemed a failure. Thousands of Purple Swamphens can be heard cheering from their adopted homes in Florida wetlands.

These chicken-like birds can be found all over the world, but they first appeared in North America in Pembroke Pines, Florida, in the 1990s. Scientists believe they escaped from a pet owner’s backyard. Wildlife biologists fear the carnivorous birds will negatively impact native wildlife because they eat frogs, lizards, bird eggs and hatchlings. Purple Swamphens compete with Florida’s native animals for food and territory.

* "Invasive swamphens evade Florida experts," United Press International, April 5, 2009

March 7, 2009: Muscovy Ducks shot with hunting arrows in gated community*

The Humane Society of the United States has offered a reward of $2500 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for attacking Muscovy Ducks in Miramar. One duck was shot twice with 2-foot long hunting arrows and lived for days, struggling with the mortal wounds. The second duck was shot through the chest and did not die immediately, but had to be euthanized.

This is animal cruelty, an illegal act. Police are investigating the crime.

Muscovy Ducks are not popular in Florida because they poop everywhere and hang around homes, pools and docks, seeking handouts. People who feed the ducklings train these exotic ducks to pester humans, who may eventually turn against them.

* "The HSUS Offers Reward in Miramar, Fla. Muscovy Duck Shootings," humanesociety.org, March 6, 2009; United Press International, "2 ducks shot with arrows in So. Florida," March 7, 2009

February 18, 2009: Stopping Burmese Pythons invading the Keys*

In April 2007, residents of the Keys realized there were non-native snakes in their midst. Scientists believe the Burmese Pythons are swimming more than 6 miles from Everglades National Park to relocate on some of the Florida islands. A training program has been launched by the Nature Conservancy to teach residents how to help stop the invasion.

A "python patrol" has been established so that wildlife experts are available to come quickly to capture the snakes, while residents have been instructed how to call the python hotline and report sightings. The huge snakes like to bask in the sun on the side of asphalt roads, so people with jobs that take them out and about on the islands have learned how to spot loose Burmese Pythons and call in the trappers.

The Nature Conservancy is backing legislation which would ban the Burmese Python from sale by the pet trade. The giant snake may disperse to locations farther north and some biologists believe these adaptable snakes could survive in the wild in other southern states.

*Jill Austin, "Stopping a Burmese Python invasion," Nature Conservancy Online, February 18, 2009

January 15, 2009: Rhesus Monkey terrorizes Tampa area*

An adult Rhesus Monkey escaped from his owner and ran around the streets of Clearwater, frightening residents and exciting the news media. Attempts to capture the full-grown monkey with a bucket truck failed, as did the use of tranquilizer darts. On the loose, monkeys are nearly impossible to capture.

State wildlife officials reassured Florida residents that the pet monkey is not considered dangerous. However, reports that he tossed his poop at bystanders bothered some people living in the Tampa Bay area. Also, Rhesus Monkeys can carry serious diseases and transmit them to humans by biting them.

* "Feces-throwing monkey on the loose in Tampa Bay," Associated Press, January 15, 2009

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New book:

Iguana Invasion! Exotic Pets Gone Wild in Florida

by Virginia Aronson and Allyn Szejko

Available at your local bookseller, Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and Pineapple Press.

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