The Lovely Iguanas Falling from the Trees

      The Lovely Iguanas Falling from the Trees
By Christine Arenella

(Copyright 2022, Christine Arenella – All rights Reserved)
<Edited by Robert D. Morningstar>
Painting by Christine Arenella

Florida, because of it’s sub-tropical climate, is a paradise for wildlife watching. It’s home to a myriad of native and non-native species of mammals, reptiles and birds.

Many of the non-native, or so called “invasive” species were brought in by the exotic pet trade. These include the Green Iguana and the Burmese Python.  Iguanas are native to Central and South America, while Burmese Pythons originate from Southeast Asia.

Iguanas and Pythons were bought as pets, and what happens in most cases is that they grow larger than people expected and the owners cannot or will not care for them. At this point Iguanas are discarded  to fend for themselves, or  in the case of the Pythons dumped in places like the Florida Everglades where they have proliferated.  

Another reason for the population growth was that during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, a breeding facility was destroyed releasing countless pythons into swamps. A female Burmese Python can lay as many as 100 eggs.  They can also grow to be as long as 20 feet and weigh up to 200 pounds.  There are an estimated tens to hundreds of thousands of Pythons in Florida. However, they are also extremely difficult to find.

There is a bounty on Pythons, with prizes, to reduce their numbers. They are allowed to be killed “humanely.”  

Iguanas have also flourished, wherever they can.  They can be seen in many settings all over Florida; i.e. in trees, open fields and forests, as well as along the shore line near lakes and oceans. They are able to swim , and also to burrow deeply into the soil.

The first Iguana I ever saw was in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.  I was struck by this creature, who looked like a dinosaur, but who was a pacifist dining on flowers. I have been enchanted with Iguanas since that day.

As a resident of Florida I am always on the lookout for Iguanas wherever I go.

Photo Credit: Christine Arenella

Iguanas have long claws, which enable them to climb trees, where they are most safe.  They drape themselves over branches and move occasionally and slowly to eat nearby vegetation, namely, leaves and fruit.  

Iguanas are cold blooded animals, or ectotherms, which means they get their heat from the outside.  They need the sun to sustain their body temperature.  When temperatures reach into the 30’s, 40’s or even 50’s Iguanas become immobile and can lose their grip and fall to the ground.  They remain there in a state of suspended animation, unable to move, yet retaining all their bodily functions. Some will die from the trauma. Others are able to recover if they are lucky enough to fall in an area which has sunshine.

Some such phenomenon occurred during a recent cold snap in Florida, when Iguanas fell from the trees all over South Florida.  If you can warm a towel in the dryer and cover the Iguana, sometimes he is able to revive. It is a pitiful sight to see a helpless Iguana on his back unable to move.  During an extreme weather episode in Florida in 2010, the Iguana population was decimated. They rebounded, but many were lost recently.

Photo Credit: Christine Arenella

One of my favorite Iguanas was at Morikami Gardens.  I’ve taken many photos and videos of him. He had a lot of orange in his skin, which can happen during mating season.  I’ve been back twice hoping to see him to no avail.  I hope he survived.

Gardens – Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

Morikami’s Gardens, named Roji-en: Garden of the Drops of Dew, were designed to be a living exhibit as an extension of the museum. Its six distinct gardens are inspired by, but are not replicas of, significant gardens of Japan. Designer Hoichi Kurisu has created a unique garden conceived and constructed in the spirit of the masters.

Iguanas are also vilified, because they burrow in gardens and eat ornamental flowers. I say, plant milkweed, which they don’t like.  Homeowners are allowed to kill Iguanas on their property.  

The exotic pet trade and foolish pet owners are responsible for  the Iguanas behavior.  Iguanas didn’t ask to be brought here.  They are doing what Iguanas do in nature. The answer should not be to kill them.

Animals are not our toys or trinkets. Nor should they be mounted on our walls or worn as handbags.

Painting by Christine Arenella

Christine Arenella

New York City

May 18th, 2022