Iguana in Florida
A man carries two cold stunned iguanas that were found near a local pond due to the extreme cold weather in Lake Worth, Florida, U.S. January 5, 2018. [ Representational Image]REUTERS/Saul Martinez

Prehistoric beasts look-alike iguanas are a major concern in South Florida. Green iguanas have become as ubiquitous as sunshine, outnumbering many native reptiles and have swarmed along cultivated urban coasts, seawalls, yards and parks leaving a lot of damage and filth. Just about every golf course, retention pond, and parks offer perfect habitat for herds of bright green iguanas.

South Florida's hot, humid summer is so conducive for these cold-blooded creatures. The invasive species damage 'landscapes, levees, seawalls, roofs, and patios' while 'contaminating swimming pools with their poop.' They have infested the area and look literally like a green plague. The prehistoric populations are responsible for internet and power outages.

Thomas Portuallo, owner of Fort Lauderdale-based Iguana Control says, "This year is the most iguanas I've seen and I've been in business for nine years."

They are creeping around Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties damaging sewer lines and power cables.

Wildlife biologist Joe Wasilewski who spends most of his time working to conserve endangered species, including iguanas says, "In their native habitat, and they're in check, their numbers are sustainable and so is everything around them. But unchecked is what's happening here in South Florida and it's been happening for years."

Extent of Damage

The green iguanas can burrow into sewer lines and under roads which then pop into toilets, shopping centers, generally getting peskier than usual.

In South Florida, green iguanas are the leading reason for power outages after squirrels.

Richard Beltran, a Florida Power and Light spokesman says about 8 percent of power outages, or 9,200 a year, are caused by animals and birds, well behind power failures caused by vegetation.

He says Florida power and light uses raptor guards and bird diverters to cover 75,000 miles of power lines, switches, and conductors at 600 substations. If any animal touches two of the three power lines attached to the pole, it will zap the line.

Richard Engeman, a biologist for the National Wildlife Center says, "There's no real way to come up with a valid estimate of the number of green iguanas in Florida. But the number would be gigantic. You could put any number of zeros behind a number, and I would believe it."

Pulling out iguanas out of toilets can be gross but believe it or not in South Florida people are experiencing an invasion by iguanas to such extent.

Grace DeVita of Hollywood says, "In one of my bathrooms, my roommate kept hearing something in his toilet and saw something poking its head out. It was very aggressive."

A Palm Beach County homeowner had complained about iguanas sunning themselves on a new 150-foot-long seawall that he had installed.

How to control their infestation?

Thomas Portuallo of Portland Iguana Control says homeowners need to inspect their yards for these green beasts burrows. They are usually found near seawalls.

He says, "Make it known that they aren't welcome on your property."

These beasts can grow up to five feet long and they are fast on land and water which makes it difficult to catch. Iguanas have no natural predators. Only if you have ten or more around the area it creates trouble because they grow exponentially. Otherwise, live and let live.

They are native to Central and South America and the Caribbean and thrive in the subtropical climate. Iguanas reach sexual maturity in 18 months, laying an average 40 eggs per clutch per year.

State Law permits to kill

Portuallo and his company follow all state laws to exterminate iguanas. They use $1000 precharged pneumatic pistols to shoot on the head of the iguana.

Portuallo says, "We don't shoot to injure, we shoot with intent to kill. My men are well-trained. We follow all laws in every municipality we work."

The Florida state law legally permits to shoot iguanas with a pellet gun, stab in the brain, and even decapitate them as long as they are not suffering. However, there are many who contest this law. University of Florida researchers say bashing them on their head is the most inhumane way to kill an iguana.

The law doesn't permit to drown, freeze, or poison iguanas and it is a crime.

"When you put out rat poison, you can't control what's going to consume it. The animals die a slow, excruciating death, which is inhumane," Portuallo says.

Since they first appeared in the 1960s, green iguanas after they escaped captivity during hurricanes and as unwanted pets released into the wild, the problem began.

"Florida's got one of the worst invasive species problems in the world. It is at the top," says Engeman, who has been studying reptiles for over 20 years.