While visiting the Sunshine State, don’t expect to get knocked out by a falling reptile. In South Florida, iguanas occasionally fall from trees when they become cold-stunned.
In previous years, the National Weather Service Office in Miami has issued unique weather alerts for Florida winters, warning residents about the possibility of “falling iguanas” when temperatures drop into the low 40s.
The enormous poisonous cane toads, feral primates, and the Burmese Python, similar to green iguanas, are non-native species in Florida. Iguanas are not indigenous to Florida and this occurrence is infrequent, thus my friends from the north who may perceive our peculiar state as abundant with iguanas dropping from trees should pay attention.
The population of iguanas in Florida has continued to grow, expanding as far north as St. Lucie County and along the Gulf Coast. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the first reports of these lizard-like reptiles started around the 1960s in the Miami-Dade area.
As per the FWC, escaped or liberated animals are the main cause of non-native species in Florida.
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Returning to the iguana weather advisory.
If iguanas happen to be in a tree or brush, they might hang out there during fall, like they are slumbering. Tropical reptiles are normally slow and can become cold-stunned when temperatures drop, as they are cold-blooded.
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According to Ron Magill, the Zoo Miami’s Communications Director, in order to significantly reduce an iguana’s activity, the temperatures must consistently stay below 50 degrees.
Magill stated that it is uncommon for iguanas to be immobilized for a prolonged duration when temperatures have significantly decreased, although there have been some occurrences.
After several hours, the iguanas regain consciousness but typically do not perish. This duration allows iguanas to become immobilized, as temperatures in South Florida occasionally plummet to the mid-to-low 40s for approximately 8 hours or longer.
And let’s not overlook the fact that some iguanas can reach sizes exceeding a couple of feet. It takes additional exertion to impede their mobility.
Magill explained, “The length of time it takes for an iguana to cool down depends on the size of their body mass, as larger animals can maintain heat longer.” Magill further explained, “In a similar manner, a 2-foot iguana may become stunned in a couple of hours, while a 6-foot iguana may take twice as long to react in a similar manner to cool down.”
Recent studies have also shown that some species of lizards are able to survive further north, where temperatures could be meaner and colder, which might mean that iguanas could adapt to those conditions.
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A study published in 2020 in the journal Letters Biology found that lizards in South Florida are adapting more frequently in response to extreme climate events.
Magill confirms that the occurrences of iguana-weather events are less frequent.
Magill stated that the number of iguanas being discovered in a state of “cold stunned” is decreasing every year, and we are also observing this trend. This could be attributed to their ability to adjust and seek refuge in crevices and areas near water, where the temperature tends to be higher compared to the surrounding environment during the winter season. This adaptation allows them to endure prolonged periods of cold weather.
Until the next time, here’s a forecast for January 2020 in Miami: the local population of iguanas may be stunned by temperatures dropping into the 40s.