They're onery, exotic - and often a real pain. If you want one, know the upkeep.
© Gail Keeler, Keynoter (Marathon FL), 11/27/2002
The green iguana is a tree-dwelling lizard species native to tropical forests in Mexico and Central and South America, but it is not native to the Keys.
Why, then, are so many being seen in this string of islands? Especially when they are now considered to be pests by some residents. They sunbathe by the canals; they lounge in the trees; they love the hot and humid weather.
The population growth in these animals has occurred because people buy them for pets but later release them into the wild when they realize the iguanas require more care, time and money than can be provided. Also, some iguanas may be escapees from families.
In their natural habitat, iguanas dine almost exclusively on leaves. And due to that, Keys residents complain the iguanas are eating their vegetation, living in their trees and defecating on their property, including on their boats.
"People need to understand that having an iguana for a pet is a commitment of at least 12 years, just like a cat or a dog," said Monroe County Cooperative Extension Service Horticulture Agent Kim Gabel. "While they are cute and bright green when newborn, they will grow to 6 feet long at maturity and can weigh 15 pounds."
Problems are created when the hapless animals are turned out into the wild by people who can no longer deal with their care. Iguanas are good climbers, good jumpers and good diggers, and have no natural enemies in this area. They are accomplished swimmers and can remain submerged for long periods of time without surfacing for air.
So consider the following before getting an iguana:
If you are feeding or watering iguanas in your yard stop.
To protect a vegetable garden or other valuable shrubbery, try covering it with chicken wire sunk into the ground several inches or bird or deer netting. Release any animals that get caught in the netting. Try using a plastic flowerpot, upside down, around the trunks of small trees to keep iguanas from climbing them.
They tend to be vegetarians and some of their favorite foods include hibiscus, bougainvillea, flowers, young plants and leaves. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat many other types of vegetation. They do eat less in cool weather.
Recommended methods of capture include live traps (maximum size 36 inches) that can be borrowed from animal shelters (baited with fruit and flowers), or netting.
But Dr. Doug Mader from the Marathon Veterinary Hospital warns, "Iguanas have 100 sharp teeth and can bite through your finger. Like alligators, they bite and roll." Its best to let Animal Control deal with them when they are captured.
And dont forget iguanas are, as all animals, protected from cruelty by Florida law.
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