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Last Update 08/29/12
Florida Garden Critters

 The common green Iguana
 Iguana iguana

A juvenile common green Iguana. Click Image to Enlarge.
A juvenile common green Iguana. Photographed in Mounts Botanical Garden by Lake Orth. Click Image to Enlarge.

Leapin' Lizards!

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.

Identification

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.

Adult Common Green Iguana. This guy is about 3.5" long including the tail.

Adult Common Green Iguana. This guy is about 3.5" long including the tail. Photographed in Mounts Botanical Garden by Lake Orth. Click Image to Enlarge.

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 sub-tympanic plate.
  • 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.
  • Supposedly it is illegal to release Iguanas in Florida, but I was unable to find the text of the code often cited elsewhere to verify that.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Food Habits

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.

Reproduction

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.

 

Predators

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.

  1. 2 pounds iguana meat, or substitute fresh tuna or chicken, in large chunks

  2. Juice of 1 lime

  3. 1/2 cup Peanut Oil

  4. 3 cups water

  5. 1 cup coconut milk

  6. 3 tomatoes, chopped

  7. 3 bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces

  8. 2 bay leaves

  9. ½ teaspoon oregano

  10. 1 sprig parsley

  11. 1 sprig thyme

  12. 1 sprig rosemary

  13. 3 stalks celery, cut into ½ inch pieces

  14. 2 habanero chilies or jalapeños (add more according to your taste), seeds and stems removed then chopped

  15. 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  16. 2 squares from a bar of CACAO RESERVE BY HERSHEY'S 65% Cacao Premium Dark with Nibs

  17. 3 cloves garlic, chopped

  18. 1 onion, chopped

  19. Salt and pepper to taste

  20. 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 Extension article "Dealing with Iguanas in the South Florida Landscape"

 

 

 
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