The unseasonable chill sweeping Florida has left homeowners facing a bizarre weather phenomenon – a rain of frozen iguanas falling from the treetops. With temperatures hovering around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s simply too cold for the iguanas to move.
The scene at my backyard swimming pool this 40-degree South Florida morning: A frozen iguana. pic.twitter.com/SufdQI0QBx
— Frank Cerabino (@FranklyFlorida) January 4, 2018
After journalist Frank Cerabino tweeted a photo of a chilled iguana lying next to his pool, people have been sharing their own snaps of stunned lizards lying in yards, beside parking lots, and next to roads. According to Kristen Sommers, head of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s non-native fish and wildlife program, the warm-blooded animals start to have difficulty moving at around 50 degrees.
“They’ll fall out of trees,” Emily Maple, the Palm Beach County Zoo’s reptile keeper, told reporters. “They’ll end up in areas where your cars are, parking lots, areas where they’re cold stunned.” But reptile lovers, take heart: these frozen iguanas aren’t dead. It’s an adaptive mechanism that allows the iguanas to survive extreme cold. “If it’s just for a day or two they’ll just get to where they’re completely frozen in time,” Maple continued. They’re still able to breathe. They’re still able to do bodily functions, just very slow.”
Last week, NPR aired a segment on what you should do if you come across an icy iguana. While good Samaritans might want to take the chilled lizards inside, zookeeper Ron Macgill advises against it. “Incapacitated as you think [they are], they can give you a serious bite,” Macgill said on the segment. “They can give you a serious scratch, a serious whip with their tail.”
Other reptiles are also feeling the chill. Sea turtles caught in the cold snap have been found floating near the shore, and the wildlife commission has been mounting a rescue effort for the animals, bringing them inside to float in warm kiddie pools. But because green iguanas are considered an invasive species in Florida, the commission has not coordinated a rescue effort for them.
Indeed, many see it as an opportunity to catch the lizards, which are responsible for undermining infrastructure with their burrows and causing salmonella with their droppings. “If they recover, they recover. If they do not, they do not,” Macgill said, at the end of his NPR segment. “The bottom line is they don’t belong in this environment. They’re doing damage to this environment. And maybe that’s Mother Nature’s way of helping defend those populations to help the environment recover.”
But for those saddened by the fate of the frozen iguanas, most wildlife experts don’t believe that the cold snap will last long enough to pose a serious threat to the iguana population. “This provides an opportunity to capture some, but I’m not sure it’s going to be cold enough for long enough to make enough of a difference,” Sommers told reporters. “They’re going to warm back up and move around again unless they’re euthanized.”
The @pbpost had a piece today about cold-shocked iguanas falling from trees. Laughed it off until I was walking back to my @pbcsd office this afternoon! Watch out! 🦎 from above! #iguana #cold #floridawinter pic.twitter.com/iRVgTjNxlb
— Bryan Craig Sandala (@BCSandalaSDPBC) January 4, 2018
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