The Green, Green Iguanas of Home

I have sometimes come upon the Iguana, the big lizard, as they were sunning themselves upon a flat stone in a river-bed. They are not pretty in shape, but nothing can be imagined more beautiful than their colouring. They shine like a heap of precious stones or like a pane cut out of an old church window. When, as you approach, they swish away, there is a flash of azure, green and purple over the stones, the color seems to be standing behind them in the air, like a comet’s luminous tail.
Once I shot an Iguana. I thought that I should be able to make some pretty things from his skin. A strange thing happened then, that I have never afterwards forgotten. As I went up to him, where he was lying dead upon his stone, and actually while I was walking the few steps, he faded and grew pale, all colour died out of him as in one long sigh, and by the time that I touched him he was grey and dull like a lump of concrete. It was the live impetuous blood pulsating within the animal, which had radiated out all that glow and splendor. Now that the flame was put out, and the soul had flown, the Iguana was as dead as a sandbag.  …………………………..Karen Blixen, Out of Africa 1937

I remember the first time I saw one of the  gigantic lizards in my back yard and ran for my camera. Trailing after,  its dorsal crest of totally prehistoric spines and impossibly green body centered squarely in my view finder, I was simply not quick enough.  It ran with great alacrity towards our dock, turned its yellow eye back at me briefly and threw itself into the canal. An emerald in the sun splashing down beneath the dock.  Dismayed at first that I’d run him off to his own demise, I later learned they are comfortable in the water.

That was my first encounter,  now several  years ago, with the scaly creatures whose company I am now quite accustomed. Being an inherently dinosaur loving sort, I look upon them as an exotic and interesting addition to my world. Yet this is not necessarily a good thing.  Invasive species which arrive due to no fault other than ‘life will find a way’  are one thing. Living things are often along for the ride on plants or ships no  matter how careful  you  are.   But, species which make popular pets and are released haphazardly or allowed to escape into a very friendly environment, can wreak havoc on native populations.

The green iguana or Iguana iguana is not native to Florida and has steadily been introduced due to the pet trade. They are native to Latin America , parts of Mexico, and areas of Central and South America.  As early as 1996 escaped iguanas were reported at Key Biscayne, Hialeah, Coral Gables, and near Miami International Airport. Populations are seen now as far north as Palm Beach County on the East and Lee County on the Gulf coast. I’ve personally visited sites in Everglades National Park where I’ve seen iguanas in abundance.  Even in Wakodahatchee Wetlands, one of my favourite places to watch birds in Delray, Palm Beach County, I’ve seen them in the trees.  Primarily herbivorous,  many consider them a nuisance species having a fondness for tropical garden and landscape foliage. But, there is also concern over potential disturbance to bird’s nests where they may destroy eggs and nestlings. In the territory of Guam, the bird population has been decimated by the inadvertent invasion of the brown tree snake which feasts on birds eggs. When I see an iguana in nesting colony like Wakodahatchee,  it does make me nervous.   Invasive species are so dangerous as often they have no or few natural enemies in a very supportive environment. But, you can hardly blame the iguanas!

Temperature seems to be one of the limiting factors on the northward spread of the creatures. The only time they seemed to go away for awhile was after Florida had a freeze in 2008. They were no longer in the yard nor did I observe then lining the fences under bridges or basking on seawalls for awhile.  Green iguanas are exothermic and need warm temperatures and activities like basking in the sun to maintain themselves. They forage during the day and sleep at night when lower temperatures reduce appetite and function. During the cold snap feral iguanas were reported to have dropped from trees during the cold nights. The unusual cold triggered a dormancy state  in which the lizards lost their grips on the tree branches and fell from their arboreal abodes in such numbers to earn the local media description as a “frozen iguana shower.” When the sun came up not all woke up and resumed normal activities!

Unless Florida freezes over anytime soon, the Green Iguanas are apparently here to stay. Maybe we could make a deal….they are welcome to  my bougainvillas if they leave the bird’s nests alone.  Or perhaps there will be justice as the environment asserts itself.  Green iguanas are not totally without predators, herons in fact prey on baby iguanas.

The specimen subject of my portrait today was sunning in my new mown and nearly equally green lawn. Once again, I ran for the camera. The large head scales,  membrane covered tympanum, horns, thick dorsal spines and wary golden eyes are fascinating textures!   Not all the green iguanas have the two horns above the snout, but it is not an uncommon species variation. In one last rebellious jerk of its head, flashing of its dewlap, once again, sunlit, jeweled green splashing down into the canal from the dock.

Perhaps something so reminiscent of prehistory will survive long after man.  I don’t suppose I mind.

~ by Judy on September 9, 2012.

12 Responses to “The Green, Green Iguanas of Home”

  1. These are stunning photographs, Judy. Completely worthy of submitting to nature magazines and/or reptile guides. 😀

    • Iguanas are cool looking and the colors are electric? I need to chase one down again so I can get a portrait with the moulting skin gone. I want to reach out and peel it off like skin after a sunburn!! Ouu! 🙂

  2. WOW! Those are some truly beautiful images!! I’ve tried to chase down iguanas in the wild, with repeatedly *failed* attempts. These are gorgeous captures. Truly. I do love these guys — perhaps a bit more if I didn’t see them hiding in the rookeries trying to eat the native bird eggs!!

    I keep looking at these image…. Just lovely!!

    • Thanks so much!! The big lizards are truly interesting much color and detail. I haven’t seen the orangey or rust colored ones around my yard..but I have seen larger ones with more gray with a slate blue tinge…looking more skeletal or boney around the face. There’s a certain continuum in having such ancient creatures, phylogenetically speaking, around in the modern world.

  3. Wonderful photos – like it

  4. There’s so much to photograph in an iguana, as your pictures show. Too bad, as you pointed out, that these lizards aren’t native to the United States.

    Steve Schwartzman

  5. I heard the stories of the falling iguanas from some friends in Florida during that freeze. In fact, my friend in Lauderhill saw one in the process of losing its grip, but she was frozen in place waiting to see what happened, and didn’t even run for her camera.

    We have our own invasives, both plant and animal. The most cheerful are the monk parakeets, who showed up a decade or more down at a generating plant, and now are firmly established. They build their enormous nests in the largest supports for the power transmission lines. The power company does remove them, but only once a year, after the nesting season.

    No iguanas here, but plenty of geckos and anoles. This year, a new species (?) has appeared – a chameleon-like thing that’s almost black. It has the most remarkable ability to change pattern as well as color. I’ve nearly stepped on some that have taken on the appearance of rough, rock-encrusted concrete!

    • I did not actually witness the frozen iguana shower but did wonder where they all went for awhile until I realized the freeze had affected the population so much. However, the prehistoric creatures have bounced back to prowl once more our civilized landscapes!! Much as I oppose the practice of releasing creatures into any environment which are not native to it, and I do. It is still hard not to find the larger lizards terribly interesting. But then that’s what started the whole thing. People want to own interesting things.

  6. I discovered your blog via the reblog on Serenity Spell. You have a great site with marvelous photos!


    • I do thank you and visited your macro domain for awhile!! You have such interesting techniques and a lot to learn from!! The fly portraits are just wonderful!

      Your kind words here are appreciated!!

  7. […] bring this matter of the big lizards up again (see previous post) because I feel somewhat alarmed by the iguanas now lounging around the branches at the […]

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