Iguanas falling from the sky might seem like an irrational fear in a country where these animals aren’t native, but for the residents of Florida "iguana fall" has become a seasonal phenomenon as reliable as snow and rain. As an invasive species, green iguanas have taken up firm residence in the US state and while their numbers continue to thrive, they’re still vulnerable to the temperature changes of their newfound home.
Like all cold-blooded reptiles, iguanas are fond of warmth, so the Florida winter does a number on them, causing their blood to stop moving around their body properly, becoming immobile, and falling from any trees they happen to be in. Bad news for the reptile, sure, but what on Earth do you do if you find your car covered in comatose reptiles?
Residents of Florida are growing accustomed to iguana fall, but, as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) are all too aware, not everybody knows what to do with a frozen iguana.
“Don’t bring wild green iguanas into your home or your car,” states the FFWCC. Yes, spare a thought for the many, misguided good Samaritans who sought to lend a helping hand to a chilly iguana by first transporting them in their car. The unfortunate side effect of combining a lethargic reptile with a contained, warm space is chaos.
“They can recover quickly in warm temps and use their long tails and sharp teeth and claws when defensive,” the FFWCC added. Yikes.
The same advice goes for bringing iguanas into your home. While you may be cold, and they may be cold, just like mountain lions, you don’t want to let them inside. It’s also a bad idea in general to move the frozen iguana from its crash site as they are invasive species, and therefore doing so is both illegal and bad for native wildlife.
What do I do with a frozen iguana?
Now we’ve checked off what not to do, on to what to do: iguanas’ invasive status in Florida means homeowners are permitted to kill any found on their land humanely, and if you can’t it’s best to bag them up or pop them in a cat carrier so you can hand them over to a local wildlife center or veterinarian.
Alternatively, you can simply leave them be to fare the harsh winter. Euthanizing animals or letting “nature take its course” is a bitter pill to swallow for lovers of wildlife, but the harsh reality is that these animals have a catastrophic influence on local ecosystems. While it’s humans’ fault that they made their way to Florida, iguana fall is a seasonal reminder that these animals don’t belong here.
Whatever actions you take, it’s important to be wary of even the most popsicled of iguanas as they can deliver a nasty bite or scratch if it turns out they’re not so asleep after all.
Some people even eat iguanas, earning them the nickname “chicken of the trees”. However, if you decide to go the invasivore route it’s not advisable to load up with multiple iguanas at once, as demonstrated in this story told by Ron Magill of Zoo Miami to NPR.
“This gentleman just thought, wow, I just have a bunch of protein here… He's sort of picking up all these iguanas that appear to be dead on the road that had fallen out of trees… And he put them into his vehicle. He's loading them up like he was stocking up for a big barbecue,” Magill said.
“When they went back into the vehicle, the vehicle warmed up, and those iguanas started coming back to life. And all of a sudden, they started getting up and running around in the car, and it caused an accident.”