Cerabino: Warming up to the celebrity iguana in my backyard

The recent cold snap in South Florida has caused me to re-evaluate the relationship I have with my backyard iguana.

To some people, the bright green lizards are tropical delights, sun-worshipping creatures that add a touch of natural beauty to our landscape.

But they’re probably not people who’ve watched iguanas use their backyard swimming pools as 10,000-gallon toilets.

Over the years, I’ve had iguanas who’ve lived in the palm trees that overhang my pool. And when the sun gets warm, they descend and warm themselves on the red Chicago brick patio, and then leave a Jimmy Dean-sausage-sized memento.

If I’m lucky, they leave it on the edge of the pool deck. If I’m not lucky, I’ll find it in the water, where the slightest touch causes it to dissolve into a brown cloud, leaving me with a salmonella-tainted pool that requires yet another chlorine shocking.

So no, I’m not a fan. Which is why the sight outside my pool on Thursday morning triggered an emotional response that was closer to relief than regret.

There he was. My current iguana nemesis. Alive, but petrified like a green popsicle on the side of the pool.

Iguanas are cold blooded, and when the air gets cool enough — in this case about 40 degrees — their bodies shut down and they go stiff.

If they’re in a tree, they fall out. In the past, I’ve heard the splash in my pool and went out to find the immobilized iguana in the water.

But on this Thursday morning, I didn’t see how the iguana got to the edge of my pool. If he fell from a palm tree into the pool, he made a valiant effort to climb out, but the cold air stopped him in his tracks with his tail still in the water, and his upper torso on the edge of the pool.

He was upside down too, on his back with his front feet extended outward and his fingers separated from one another, as if he was reaching for something in the air, or signaling a touchdown on his back.

I spotted him as I glanced out the back window of my house, already dressed for the day, and ready to drive from Boca Raton to the newspaper office in West Palm Beach.

I put down my cup of tea, and stood over the petrified iguana. The lizard didn’t move a muscle. Now what?

I figured he wasn’t dead yet. It takes hours for temperature-immobilized iguanas to die. And if the temperatures warm up enough, ones that appear to be dead, simply re-animate and come back to life.

But that wouldn’t be for hours, if at all.

If I acted now, I could scoop up the stiffened iguana, put him in a trash bag and dump him in the big garbage can that was already at the swale. This was garbage collection day in my neighborhood. The truck would roll by in a few hours and my iguana problems would be gone, at least temporarily.

Sayonara salmonella.

But what if it was warm enough inside the bag and big plastic garbage can? What if the iguana regained his senses and started battling inside the can? That seemed too messy and cruel.

The other option was to make sure he wouldn’t come back to life in the can, by bashing him with a flat-head shovel before putting him in the can. I’ve done this before. Not proud of it. Such is gangsta homeowner life in the 5-6-1.

But not this morning. I didn’t have the stomach for it. So I just got the pool skimmer, and moved his whole body out of the water so he was flat on his back on the patio next to the pool. I decided to give him a fighting chance.

If he was still there when I got home at the end of the day, I would deal with him then, one way or another.

Oh, and before I moved him, I snapped a couple of photos with my camera, and posted one on my Twitter page — @FranklyFlorida (Would it kill you to follow me?)

Within a couple hours, The Associated Press had called to ask permission to use my iguana photo. In all the weather photos of the day, which included people bundling up against cold temperatures and snow storms, the picture of a petrified iguana on its back on the edge of a Florida swimming pool was quirky enough to be a sought-after image.

By the time lunch rolled around, I had already done an interview with a reporter for The New York Times, which published the online story, “Iguanas falling from trees in Florida probably aren’t dead” along with a photo of my iguana next to the pool.

Then the dam broke. It seemed as if everybody wanted my iguana photo: Newsweek. People. TMZ. The Guardian in London. Euronews in France. Telemundo in Miami. A TV station in India. Russia Today. A newspaper in Brazil. NBC’s Today Show in New York. The Washington Post.

The iguana photo generated 1.6 million impressions and more than 200 new followers on my Twitter account, many of them sympathetic souls, scolding me for not covering it with a blanket or taking the iguana in my home to warm up.

“So what happened?! Is he still frozen? Is he dead? Did he come back to life? The whole world needs to know!” Jessica Bakeman, the education reporter for WLRN in Miami, messaged me.

The iguana did come back to life. My teenage son, who was home that day, kept checking on him. As as the sun beat down on the red bricks, even though it was still cool, it was warm enough in the afternoon sun to re-animate the iguana, who made a slow walk back to the greenery at the edge of the pool.

I haven’t seen him since then. But he’s clearly too famous now to be punished for his bathroom habits. I guess he’s just another annoying celebrity I’ll have to live with.

As Jimmy Kimmel said during his monologue on Friday night — yes, my iguana made the Jimmy Kimmel Live! show — it’s just a Florida thing.

“You have to hand it to Florida,” Kimmel told his TV audience. “Even with everything going on, they find a way to out-crazy everyone every single time.”

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