When Winter Hits Florida, Iguanas Fall From Trees — And Maybe Onto The Grill

Saul Martinez, Bloomberg via Getty Images

A man holds a cold-stunned iguana outside an apartment complex in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Wednesday. "This isn't something we usually forecast, but don't be surprised if you see iguanas falling from the trees tonight as lows drop into the 30s and 40s," the National Weather Service said Tuesday.

Forecasters in southern Florida had warned a sharp cold snap could bring a high chance of falling iguanas – and that’s just what happened: The National Weather Service’s office in Miami says immobilized iguanas began falling from the trees after temperatures plunged into the 30s and 40s early Wednesday.

“Verified the iguana warning and the wind chill advisory! Definitely not your average day in South Florida this morning,” NWS Miami said via Twitter, after meteorologist Eric Blake posted an image of an iguana splayed on the ground.

Warnings of a chance of falling reptiles were issued Tuesday afternoon, as southern Florida entered the worst of what member station WLRN predicted would be the area’s coldest weather in two years.

“This isn’t something we usually forecast, but don’t be surprised if you see Iguanas falling from the trees tonight as lows drop into the 30s and 40s,” the NWS Miami office said Tuesday afternoon.

When iguanas are stunned by the cold, they often simply stop moving in trees or fall. Reports of those unusual sights poured in Wednesday morning, as people took photos and video of iguanas lying motionless on the ground, many of them with their legs in the air.

But despite appearances that they might be dead, many popsicled iguanas will simply revive and walk off when the temperature warms up.

The last time iguanas were massively immobilized by cold air in Florida was two years ago, when a winter storm blasted through Florida. Experts say large iguanas are more likely to survive the cold — and they warn that even if the animals aren’t able to move their limbs, they can still deliver a painful bite if handled carelessly.

Iguanas have the nickname “chicken of the trees.” And there are reports in Miami that culinary-minded people began seizing the opportunity for to grab — and even sell — iguanas that fell from trees.

“Tacos, anyone?” author and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen tweeted Wednesday, citing a report in the Herald that said iguana meat was available on the Facebook Marketplace.

Hiassen added, “As Dave Barry says, you can’t make this stuff up. Please send your fried iguana recipes to him, not me.”

As Ron Magill, communications director for Zoo Miami, told NPR in 2018, one man in Key Biscayne seized on the chance to harvest some iguanas, evidently hoping to recreate a Central American meal.

Magill said:

“And in Central America, iguana is a delicacy. It’s something – they’re actually farmed for food. So this gentleman just thought, wow, I just have a bunch of protein here. He’s on Key Biscayne. He’s sort of picking up all these iguanas that appear to be dead on the road that had fallen out of trees. They turned gray and were not moving at all and very cold to the touch.

“And he put them into his vehicle. He’s loading them up like he was stocking up for a big barbecue. When they went back into the vehicle, the vehicle warmed up, and those iguanas started coming back to life. And all of a sudden, they started getting up and running around in the car, and it caused an accident.”

Florida and its iguanas are now through the worst of it, as southern Florida is now warming back up a bit. And forecasters say that while some areas along the coast could see a spot of rain, “iguana ‘rain’ chances drop to near-zero by this afternoon.”

Florida has no love for green iguanas, an invasive animal whose burrowing has been blamed for threatening infrastructure such as seawalls and sidewalks. They can also be a nuisance to homeowners, eating everything from flowers to bird eggs. In the summer of 2018, The Associated Press reported that iguanas were “infesting” South Florida.

Last summer, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued a news release that encourages people to kill iguanas, saying they don’t need a permit or license to do so on public lands.

“Green iguanas are not protected in Florida except by anti-cruelty laws and can be humanely killed on private property year-round with landowner permission,” the agency said.

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