Iguanas are really cute cool pets when they are small hatchlings, but what do you do with them when they GROW-UP? And they will grow! Including its tail, an adult Iguana can grow to 6 feet long. Then they are not so cute. Iguanas have a strong bite which includes serrated triangular teeth that are designed to shear plant material but also do a good job of cutting through human and animal flesh. Iguanas are not aggressive lizards, they will run when approached by humans or pets, but if cornered or captured they will bite, they will scratch with their long, extremely sharp claws and they will deliver a painful slap with their long, muscularly-powerful tails.
The Common Green Iguana occurs throughout Central and South America, from Sinaloa and Veracruz, Mexico, south to the Tropic of Capricorn in Paraguay and southeast Brazil. Iguanas are not native to Florida. Obviously they did not fly or walk here and even though they can swim, they did not swim here. Populations of feral Iguanas living in Florida were imported as pets which have escaped or been released and have become established in South Florida.
Although called Green Iguanas, adults become a grayish-brown color with age. Young Iguanas may be green with brown bands. The color of an Iguana may vary based upon its mood, temperature, health, or social status. Iguanas are able to alter their skin color for thermo-regulation. In the morning, while the Iguana’s body temperature is low, the skin color will be darker, helping the lizard to absorb heat from sunlight. As the sunlight warms them up Iguanas become paler helping to reflect the sun rays and minimize heat absorption.
Other distinguishing features of Common Green Iguana include a dewlap under the throat, a dorsal crest made up of dermal spines that run from the mid neck to the tail base, and a long tapering banded tail. The dewlap is more developed in adult males than females. Extensions of the hyoid bones stiffen and support the leading edge of this skin structure which is used in territorial defense or when the animal is frightened. This flap of skin also regulates heat absorption and dissipation when it is extended.
The Iguanas’ eyes are protected by an immovable eyelid and closable lower eyelid. Behind the eyes on the skull Iguanas’ have a third eye known are a parietal eye. This sense organ, although not a true “eye,” helps the Iguana to detect shadows of predators which may be lurking above them.
IGUANA FAST FACTS
- Iguanas can live for more than 20 years in captivity. Wild iguanas live only about 8 years.
- The large circular scale on the Iguana’s face below its ear hole or tympanum is known as the subtympanic plate. Some biologists speculate that it is used as a ‘bluff’ eye to ward off predators. When the iguana gets into protective mode and extends its dewlap, the cheek scales becomes more prominent and can possibly look like a large eye to a predator.
- When frightened, an Iguana will freeze, run or hide. If caught, they will twist and rotate like a snake or alligator and whip their tails in an effort to strike their attacker.
- Iguanas can swim. If frightened near water they will dive in and swim away to escape.
- Like the little Anole lizard, Iguanas can autotomatize, or drop of part of their tail. This gives them a chance to escape while their predator is attracted by the discarded tail piece temporarily squiggling around on its own. A new tail will sprout from the autotomatized spot and regrow with in a year, though not to the same length it was before.
- It is illegal to release Iguanas in Florida. Escaped or released pets remain a primary source of introduced species in Florida, although it is illegal to introduce nonnative species into the state..
- Iguanas are considered exotic unprotected wildlife, so they can be captured and removed from private property without special permits. However, anticruelty laws apply; only live traps and snares are legal in Florida. While it may be effective, you cannot shoot Iguanas.
- June 29, 2020 Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that adds two reptiles to the list of species banned from sale, import, breeding and ownership in Florida — the green iguana and the tegu.
- Don’t be surprised if you see Iguanas falling from the trees when Winter lows drop into the 30s and 40s. The low temperatures stun the invasive reptiles, but the iguanas won’t necessarily die. Many will wake up as temperatures rise in the afternoon.
- Know as “Caribbean Chicken”, adult iguana meat and the eggs are eaten and considered a delicacy throughout their native range. Don’t give me that look, you’ve tried Gator Tail and liked it, haven’t you?
- Iguana stew is rumored to be a cure for impotence.
- Their feces are plentiful, odiferous, and carry salmonella.
- Iguanas dig burrows which undermine sidewalks, seawalls, and foundations.
Iguanas eat plants, all sorts of plants. The only plants Iguanas are know not to like to eat are milkweed, rosemary, oleander, croton and citrus.
Do not feed Iguanas! This will not only attract more of their ilk, and fruit rats.
Green Iguanas reach sexual maturity between three and four years of age. Iguanas breed in the dry season, ensuring that young hatch in the wet season when food is more readily available.
Iguana females can lay 20-70 eggs at a time. Females deposit eggs approximately 65 days after mating, usually over the course of three days, into nests excavated to a depth of about 1 to 3 feet into the soil. Incubation takes 90 to 120 days. Young Iguanas are independent from the time of hatching
Cats, dogs, raccoons, fish crows, vultures, feral pigs, snakes, hawks, owls, and egrets might diet on the eggs or young hatchlings. Alligators my possibly eat Iguanas if they catch them in the water.
Iguana Stew Recipe
If you cannot capture an Iguana for dinner from your yard, you can substitute fresh tuna or chicken for Iguana meat.
Note: As this recipe cooks, you might have to adjust the consistency with more water or coconut milk.
- 2 pounds iguana meat, or substitute fresh tuna or chicken, in large chunks
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1/2 cup Peanut Oil
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 3 tomatoes, chopped
- 3 bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- 1 sprig parsley
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 3 stalks celery, cut into ½ inch pieces
- 2 habanero chilies or jalapeños (add more according to your taste), seeds and stems removed then chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 squares from a bar of Ghirardelli Chocolate Intense Dark Bar
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 ounce Patrón Añejo Tequila
In a bowl, toss the meat with the lime juice. Cover and while the meat is marinating, combine all the remaining ingredients, except the Patrón, in a large pot or stock pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook over low heat for 45 minutes.
Lightly flour the meat and fry in olive oil until golden brown. Add the fried, marinated meat to the stock pot, adjust the consistency if necessary, cover and cook over low heat for the following times: iguana, 1 hour; tuna, 20 minutes; chicken, 40 minutes. Just before serving, add the shot of Patrón Añejo and stir well. Serve over Mexican or Spanish rice, Couscous or egg noodles
Serves 4 to 6 — Recipe FloridaGardener.com Test Kitchen
SOURCES: UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN MUSEUM OF ZOOLOGY ANIMAL DIVERSITY WEB; UFIFAS EXTENISON ARTICLE “DEALING WITH IGUANAS IN THE SOUTH FLORIDA LANDSCAPE