Cerabino: Iguanas warming up to milder South Florida winters


This has been a terrific year for iguanas in South Florida.

If you don’t believe me, ask Brian Wood. He runs Iguana Catchers, a South Florida business that traps the reptiles when they become nuisances.

“It’s an invasion,” Wood said. “We had a big freeze in 2010, and about 50 to 75 percent of them died off. But since we’ve had a bunch of mild winters, they’ve rebounded, and now there’s more of them than ever.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hired a trapper this year to control the iguana population in the Florida Keys.

Iguanas, an exotic species from Central America, South America and the Caribbean, eat plants important to other species, defecate in backyard swimming pools and create burrows that damage seawalls, roads and sewage lines.

They’re also showing up more often in places where they’re not welcome.

That explains the iguana-in-my-toilet-bowl stories we’ve been seeing in South Florida newspapers this year. This is a new phenomenon.

You couldn’t find a toilet-bowl-iguana story last year, and now there’s a trickle of them.

A quick perusal of the literature shows a woman who called 911 about an iguana in her West Kendall toilet bowl in May.

The following month, a man in Key Biscayne posted on Facebook his own encounter with a toilet-bowl iguana, which involved him suiting up in a bullet-proof vest, ski gloves and a gas mask before going mano a mano with the critter.

Then two months later, there was the story about a clogged toilet in a warehouse bathroom in Northwest Miami-Dade County. When the whole toilet was removed, the cause of the blockage, an iguana, was staring up at the workers from the drain pipe.

And just last month, a woman in Palmetto, Florida, posted a video of her neighbor removing an iguana from a toilet bowl with the help of gardening gloves, a net and a cooler.

I probably should have warned some of my readers at the top of this column that they might not want to read this column while sitting in a certain … ahem … location in their house. Oh, well. Too late.

Iguana professionals say the uptick in toilet-bowl iguana stories is just an indicator that more iguanas are around now.

“We killed 25,000 iguanas last year, but only about five of them came from toilets,” said Tom Portuallo, who runs Iguana Control, a pest removal company that works in five Florida counties, including Palm Beach County.

The iguanas that end up in the toilet bowls are ones that wander on rooftops, and find a vent pipe without a protective screen covering the hole.

While investigating the intriguing hole, the iguana falls down vent pipe, which provides the air flow for flush toilets. The falling iguanas either swim their way to the sewer or take the other route which causes them to surface in your toilet bowl.

“You can get a good two-footer in there,” Portuallo said, “and there you are taking care of your business and that guy is looking up at you. That can make you constipated for a while.”

Iguanas who make their way to the sewers don’t last long down there, he said. That’s because they require ultraviolet rays of the sun to survive.

George Cera, an iguana trapper in Lee County, said that green iguanas are more common in Southeast Florida while the black spinytail iguanas are expanding rapidly in Southwest Florida.

“There’s no such thing as a bad animal,” Cera said. “They’re just doing what it takes to survive.”

Besides trapping iguanas for a living, Cera is also the author of the book, “The Iguana Cookbook: Save Florida, Eat an Iguana.”

“They’re fascinating animals,” Cera said. “They just don’t belong here.”

And with temperatures gradually rising, the likelihood of Florida getting regular deep freezes to limit the yearly population gains of iguanas will be less likely.

The trapper Wood predicted that this is one invasive species that is here to stay.

“This is going to be a problem like New York has rats, we have iguanas,” he said.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

TV film crew arrested for allegedly trying to bring fake explosive to airport
TV film crew arrested for allegedly trying to bring fake explosive to airport

Television film crew members were arrested at Newark Liberty International Airport on Thursday for allegedly trying to pass a piece of luggage containing “all the makings of an improvised explosive device,” ABC News reported. The film crew members, who claimed to be working the CNBC show “Staten Island Hustle,” were detained...
There’s plenty rhyme, reason in these Deadline Limerick submissions
There’s plenty rhyme, reason in these Deadline Limerick submissions

OK, enough limericks. I need a break. I’m starting to see five-line ditties in my sleep. Several days ago, I used this column and the annual Palm Beach Poetry Festival as an excuse to challenge readers to come up with “deadline limericks” — ones that play off the news. And I wrote that in a future column I would publish some...
These big cities didn't make Amazon's HQ cut
These big cities didn't make Amazon's HQ cut

Plenty of big cities aren’t on Amazon’s long short list of 20 places it’s still considering for a second headquarters and 50,000 high-paying jobs. While the Seattle-based giant kept Atlanta in the running, here are some of the notable cities that aren’t: Phoenix San Diego Charlotte Detroit Cincinnati San Francisco...
Autopsy report: Roy Halladay had drugs in system when plane crashed
Autopsy report: Roy Halladay had drugs in system when plane crashed

An autopsy on former major-leaguer Roy Halladay showed that he had amphetamines, morphine and a sleep aid in his system when he died in a plane crash off the west coast of Florida, The Tampa Bay Times reported Friday. Halladay, 40, died Nov. 7 from blunt force trauma with drowning as a contributing factor, according to the Pinellas-Pasco Medical...
Massachusetts couple accidentally donates savings hidden in a soup can
Massachusetts couple accidentally donates savings hidden in a soup can

Amanda Mattuchio said her parents use a fake can of Campbell's Tomato Soup to hide their cash. Unfortunately, they stored it alongside real soup cans in their kitchen. “The bottom would unscrew and it had $2,500 in it and it was a combination of $100 and $50 bills,” she said. “The neighbor upstairs asked them if they had any canned...
More Stories