Saturday, April 7, 2007

Please Harass the Iguanas

#241 on my list of things I want to do has been completed! How many times have you seen the sign "Don't Harass the Wildlife"? What a drag. I know, I know. I'm a wildlife biologist and I should respect the wildlife, but just once I'd love to do something malicious and rotten and have the permission to do it.

Wish granted. The people of Boca Grande hate the invasive Iguanas and they give permission to harass them! How exciting! And if verbal permission was not enough they've granted it in writing! In a brochure! Wohoo! It would seem that back in the 80's some unthinking pet owner decided to release a few on the west coast island of Boca Grande in Florida and over the last 25+ years, the population of Black Spiny Tail Iguanas (Ctenosaura similis) has grown to a reported 12,000+. They naturally range from Mexico to Columbia and the sub-tropical environment here suites them well. They feed on bird eggs, destroy the dunes by burrowing and get into people's homes (and cars). They're destructive little monsters....and they're spreading. They've naturally made it to the mainland and have been transported to other local islands.

So the Lee County Public Resources Division puts out a brochure that spells out the problem and offers a few solutions, including my favorite, #9 - "Harass iguanas at every opportunity". It's a fantastic solution and fun for the kids. By Lee County and Webster's Dictionary's standard, this is what I'm permitted to do -
  • (1) : to annoy persistently

  • (2) : to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct
The first one MaLe and I spotted was perched at the peak of a hollowed out Sable Palm (middle of the picture below). My first chance to harass! I shook that tree like a hurricane, sending my reptilian foe scrambling down towards safety and spooking a bird from the cavity. Not to worry - it was a European Starling and I could very well have the right to harass them as well.

The next one we spotted in a more posh section of town was resting quietly in the shade of an exotic Banyan Tree - no doubt planted by the property owner. We rolled up on the invasive iguanid and shouted some unpleasant verbosity at the perplexed perp, who bobbed his head in what I can only assume was terror before he/she went back to napping.

The final harassment of the day was a two-fer. Spotting a 4-foot long lizard basking in an undeveloped lot, I parked the car and began walking closer to take a picture. Wishing to avoid the paparazzi, the illegal lizard scrambled away and feeling I had not had the opportunity to give appropriate "hostile conduct" to the foul beast, I gave chase, spurring a second iguana to flee in fear as well. I hastened my pursuit, but pulled up short with a tweaked hammy. I'll accept this incident as sufficient harassment - and never chase lizards without stretching first again.

There was a local that was quoted regarding the problem saying "Iguanas are not human. They do not deserve humane treatment," resident Richard Zellner wrote. "As far as I am concerned, they can be burned, shot and mutilated."

I did in fact chase iguanas today. To make a point. They are invasive and are causing problems (actually because it was fun, but kids, don't harass wildlife). But they are still animals. They have done nothing wrong other than being born on an island their parents were not native to. I'm all for removing invasives. Including these lizards, but we must find a proper way to do it and as humanely as possible. Being human is not a requisite for being treated humanely.

No iguanas were injured during the course of our afternoon on Boca Grande. But a few were mildly harassed. This post is dedicated to Carol H. who is welcome to take a few Iguana's south with her when she moves her and her family to Costa Rica this summer. They travel well. (The iguanas, not her family...well maybe the family travels well. How would I know?)

For those of you in "the know" and have Irony Detectors buzzing and flashing, I will get to the story of the non-invasive Green Tree Iguana that someone I know may have accidentally "lost" on Boca Grande years ago.....but not today.


  1. you are welcome to come to Boca Grande for one, but you have to shoot it, burn it and mutilate it - or at least that's what the islanders ask....

  2. I am "in the know." and I know!

    I think all of your stories have some sort of underlying political commentary. Iguanas=Illegal aliens. Send 'em home!

  3. Linda & DennisApril 8, 2007 at 11:30 AM


  4. I think if I marry an iguana then it can stay here legally. They get a Green Iguana Card.