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Florida's New Invasive Reptile Rules Have Breeders Leaving And Activists Rejoicing

Green iguana in grass.
FWC Photo by Andy Wraithmell
"Like all nonnative reptile species, green iguanas are not protected in Florida except by anti-cruelty law and can be humanely killed on private property with landowner permission. This species can be captured and humanely killed year-round and without a permit or hunting license on 25 public lands in south Florida," according to the FWC website.

Florida’s Prohibited Species List now has 16 new high-risk nonnative reptiles added. They include Argentine black and white tegus, green iguanas, Nile monitor lizards, Burmese pythons, reticulated pythons, and green anacondas.

New restrictions on the breeding, importing and ownership of invasive reptiles in Florida start Thursday. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted in February to adopt the new rules, after multiple public meetings online. The changes have supporters and detractors.

As of April 29, pet owners cannot purchase tegu lizards or green iguanas, among other nonnative reptiles newly prohibited. Those who already own them, must get them registered and microchipped.

Click here to view the new rules

So, Florida breeders have lost the in-state market, plus the ability to import the animals, and those with outdoor facilities have three months to move them inside.

Close-up of a tegu head with eye looking into the camera.
FWC Photo By Jake Travers
"Argentine black and white tegus are large lizards that can reach nearly five feet in length. They have a mottled black and white coloration that often is arranged into a banding pattern across the back and tail," according to the FWC website.

"That's going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Jesse Hardin, a Punta Gorda tegu breeder and seller. "It's not something we're against working with, but we want reasonable regulation we can work with for the future, not for a couple years."

All tegu and green iguana breeding in Florida must cease by 2024, so Hardin is planning to leave the state soon to maintain his current business. He had moved here from Arizona in 2017 specifically to breed tegus.

According to the FWC, the value of the tegu industry across the state in 2019 was about $500,000, and green iguanas was around $120,000.

“It puts breeders out. It puts pet stores out from selling the animals. It's going to impact our meat markets, our feeder markets, because we have people that their entire business is built on breeding what we call feeders- rodents, insects- just a bunch of different items that we use to feed our animals,” said Hardin.

He said the state wildlife agency went from hardly regulating this industry to shutting it down altogether.

Kate MacFall, Florida State Director for the Humane Society of the U.S., is for the state changes and against the invasive reptile industry. She said she hears the breeders’ concerns.

"But our native wildlife and the environment is too precious. The risk is too great. This is the only one we've got, and we need to take care of it," she said.

When established in the wild, tegus are known to eat the hatchlings of threatened gopher tortoises and least terns. And green iguanas have preyed on the endangered Miami blue butterfly.

MacFall calls this ruling "terrific," but wants the FWC to go a step further by banning people from trapping tegus in Florida and selling them to buyers in other states.

She’d also like state wildlife officials to adopt a list of accepted nonnative reptiles, rather than continue with a prohibited list.

Burmese Python coiled in the grass
FWC photo by Liz Barraco
"Burmese pythons are not native to Florida and are considered an invasive species due to their impacts to native wildlife," according to the FWC website. "Burmese pythons will be added to Florida’s Prohibited species list."

“I think that would be a real positive step forward to make the enforcement significantly easier,” said MacFall.

The FWC will host five "tag your reptile events" between May and June across the state.

"We really want people to take advantage of it, and get it done for free and safely. It's gonna be veterinarians doing it," said Carli Segelson, a spokesperson with the FWC.

Microchipping events will take place in Tampa, Brevard, Fort Walton Beach, West Palm Beach, and Gainesville. Staff will also be onsite to help with the application process.

Pet owners will have 90 days from April 29 to comply with the new rules.

My main role for WUSF is to report on climate change and the environment, while taking part in NPR’s High-Impact Climate Change Team. I’m also a participant of the Florida Climate Change Reporting Network.