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Green Iguana Sightings On The Rise In Tampa Bay

Young female green iguana
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
FWC officials urge homeowner to humanely kill green iguanas in an attempt to decrease population numbers.

By Erin O'Brien

Green iguanas, an invasive species, have been making increased appearances in the Tampa Bay area. Now, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking people to help them humanely decrease the number of the creatures. 

The reptiles, native to Central and South America, were introduced to Florida by animal dealers in the 1960s, and were first spotted in the wild along Miami-Dade County's southeastern coast. The iguanas have since spread to new territories using the immense man-made canals in South Florida.

Adult Green Iguana
Credit Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Adult Green Iguana

The iguanas thrive in South Florida's sub-tropical climate. They can live up to 10 years in the wild and the females can lay up to 76 eggs.

"Their numbers just increase exponentially to a point where they're dominating the formal wildlife on the landscape," said Joe Wasilewski, conservation biologist and owner of Natural Selections of South Florida.

Pinellas County had eight reports of the invasive species last year, and three this year.

In Manatee County, two sightings were reported last year and one so far this year. 

While six green iguana sightings were reported in Hillsborough County last year, none have been reported this year.

Green iguana sightings have been recorded as far north as Alachua, FWC says. These reports are usually due to escaped or released captive animals which have a low chance of reproducing, as iguanas cannot survive in colder climates.

"In 2010 there was a freeze in South Florida," said Wasilewski. "Iguanas were literally dropping out of the trees because it was in the 30s at night."

Green iguanas feed on vegetation commonly used in landscaping and have been known to severely damage properties as a result of their burrowing. 

Like other reptiles, green iguanas can transmit the infectious bacterium Salmonella to humans through contact with water or surfaces contaminated with their feces. 

According to an Executive Order that was passed in 2017, the public can remove and kill iguanas without a license or permit. 

FWC is encouraging homeowners to humanely kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible. If you see a green iguana on private property, you must obtain permission from the property owner before killing the iguana.

If you would like to report a green iguana sighting, click here.  

To view an interactive map of green iguana sightings throughout the state of Florida over the last few years, click here.

Screenshot of interactive map of sightings of green iguanas over the last few years.
Credit The University of Georgia - Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health
Screenshot of interactive map of sightings of green iguanas over the last few years.

Erin O’Brien is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for summer 2019.