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Florida’s Weather Forecast? Cold, With a Chance of Iguanas

Stunned by chilly weather, the invasive lizards were dropping out of trees in the Sunshine State

Despite how this iguana looks, it is actually note dead, just cold-stunned. It will likely thaw-out as the sun warms it back up. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
smithsonianmag.com

The weather warning came with a disclaimer.

“This isn't something we usually forecast,” the Miami National Weather Service wrote on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, “but don't be surprised if you see iguanas falling from the trees tonight.”

As temperatures in the southern part of the Sunshine State dipped between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, Florida residents encountered not slow or sleet, but frozen reptiles tumbling from trees. Cold-blooded iguanas are exothermic, meaning that they rely on environmental temperatures to maintain their own body temperature. Cold weather stuns the lizards, rendering them unable to grip the trees where they like to roost at night.

The immobile iguanas may look “dead as a doornail,” Ron Magill, a spokesperson for Zoo Miami, told Patricia Mazzei of the New York Times in 2018, but they often make it through the cold snap. “[A]s soon as it starts to heat up and they get hit by the sun rays, it’s this rejuvenation,” Magill said.

On Wednesday morning, the Miami National Weather Service informed Florida residents that the chances of “iguana ‘rain’” would drop to zero by the afternoon, as temperatures were expected to climb back up to 60 degree Fahrenheit.

Green iguanas are an invasive species in Florida, where they have been known to dig burrows that erode infrastructure, defecate in swimming pools, make appearances in toilet bowls and chomp through nickerbean, a host plant of the endangered Miami blue butterfly. It is legal to kill iguanas on private property—in fact, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission encourages it.

Being unable to move in the cold certainly made the critters easy targets. Carlos Frías of the Miami Herald reported on Wednesday that “[s]everal ads for skinned and butchered iguanas” began popping up on Facebook Market overnight. Iguana meat is safe for consumption as long as it comes from a reputable processor, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The animals are commonly hunted in Central and South America and parts of the Caribbean,” the Herald writes, and they provide a good source of protein. Iguanas also “are excellent to taste,” Frank Mazzotti, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Florida, tells the the Miami Herald.

But in spite of reptiles’ reputation as both a nuisance and a tasty meal, some Florida locals were anxious to see the critters make it through the recent burst of cold. Parker Branton, a reporter for ABC-affiliate WPLG Local 10, took to the outdoors to document the frozen iguana phenomenon. Reclining on the ground next to a frozen lizard, Branton assured viewers that while “some might think these guys are dead when they seem them laying like this,” the animals will “eventually thaw out and … be on their way.”

Sure enough, the segment showed an iguana slowly regaining movement as the sun shone overhead. “You can let children know at home,” Branton said, “these iguanas are going to be O.K.”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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