Florida officials declare open season on iguanas as lizard population booms

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Florida state government recently declared open season on iguanas, which have invaded the state and are considered a nuisance.

>>Read more trending news

The green lizards have been spotted in Florida since the 1960s, but in recent years they've exploded in number, The Washington Post reported. The reptiles are native to Central America, parts of South America and some eastern Caribbean islands.

It's unknown exactly how big the Florida iguana population is, but state officials have said it's too big, and are encouraging residents to kill the scaled creatures.

"Homeowners do not need a permit to kill iguanas on their own property, and the FWC encourages homeowners to kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible," the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation said on its website. "Iguanas can also be killed year-round and without a permit on 22 public lands in south Florida."

Iguanas can cause "erosion, degradation of infrastructure such as water control structures, canal banks, sea walls and building foundations," state biologist Dan Quinn told the Post. The lizards also eat many ornamental plants and can carry salmonella.

Biologists consider climate change to be the culprit for making conditions just right for iguanas to thrive. Warmer temperatures are causing the lizards to go further north, University of Florida scientist Joseph Wasilewski told the Post.

While homeowners can shoot iguanas to get rid of them, Wasilewski recommends using a professional iguana removal service. Several have sprung up in recent years, including Redline Iguana Removal. Co-founders Blake Wilkins and Perry Colato charge $50 to trap one iguana or charge a flat rate if homeowners have a multi-iguana problem, they told the Post. The two set up traps with a piece of fruit, usually mango or melon, to lure in the lizards. They then kill the iguanas with a rifle shot and have them cremated.

Floridians may not view iguanas as potential meals. However, the lizards can be eaten, and in some Caribbean countries are called "chicken of the trees," the Post reported. Fort Lauderdale resident and native Trinidadian Ishmeal Asson told the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale he grew up eating iguana, and still enjoys iguana meat regularly. He and his friends hunt the animals and then have iguana cookouts.

"First, we cut off the head, then roast [the body] on the fire. You have to roast it with the skin on because it's easier to take the skin off once it's roasted," he said. "Then, we cut it up into pieces and season it with a lot of fresh produce like chives and onions. I love to season it with curry and hot pepper, too. It tastes like chicken."

Exotic Meat Markets, a California-based company that sells items like lion steak and raccoon sausage, is hoping to help control the iguana population by selling iguana meat, owner Anshu Pathak told the Sun-Sentinel.

"I am making iguana sausages, hot dogs, iguana burgers," Pathak said. "I am trying to do anything and everything to make them palatable to the public. The industry is only growing."

Those looking to hunt and prepare their own iguana meat should do so with caution. Although it is illegal to do so, some nuisance iguanas are occasionally poisoned, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

More information can be found at the University of Florida IFAS Extension's page on iguanas at The FWC south staff can also be reached for questions at 561-625-5122.