A Control Program Backfires
Please see Part I of this article for background information. With introduced green iguanas (Iguana iguana) driving endangered burrowing owls from their nests and raccoons (Procyon lotor) devouring sea turtle eggs, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection initiated control measures. At a preserve in Dania Beach, an intensive trapping and collection campaign greatly reduced the numbers of both species, but an unexpected consequence of these efforts soon became apparent.Within a year of the raccoon numbers being brought under control, iguana populations skyrocketed. In one area of the park, researchers counted 626 iguanas per square kilometer (0.4 square miles)…an unprecedented density for any lizard species!
It seemed that raccoon predation had been a very effective control on iguana numbers. Although hawks, gray foxes, night herons, alligators and other animals prey upon iguanas, only raccoons take eggs, hatchlings and sub-adults in significant numbers.
Iguanas…Here to Stay?
Young iguanas are now especially common at the site, pointing towards an even greater population increase in the future. Hand-collection, although possible, is a daunting task, so biologists are looking into alternate control measures. Meanwhile, spurred by ample food and little competition, lizards as young as 2 years of age are laying eggs.
In Belize, black rats effectively control one green iguana population by taking nearly every egg laid. However, Florida’s parks already have enough problems without black rats…in fact, their notorious cousin, the Norway rat, is already a resident of many!
It was my good fortune to work with green iguanas in a natural, if somewhat unusual (i.e. treeless) habitat. Please see my article, The Green Iguana on the Venezuelan Llanos for the story.
To learn more about the challenges and rewards of keeping these impressive lizards, please check out our care guide, Green Iguanas.