Danger Lurks in the Shadows

Iguana - King of His Domain at the Wakodahatchee Rookery

Iguana basks in a primitive domain:  the dappled shadows of a bird’s nesting island.

I have read that the Green Iguana (Iguana iguana Linnaeus 1758) is primarily an herbivore with a diet consisting  of various fruits, flowers, leaves, and sprouting plants. I have come to feel that this species, introduced into the very favourable environment of South Florida by the release of unwanted pets into the wild, is just something we will have to live with. They appear to be firmly established. Other than munching on delicate landscaping and such things as my favorite bougainvilleas,  I’ve read they are relatively harmless if you leave them alone. They do have sharp claws, can bite, and their droppings can carry a salmonella risk.  I can’t say that I haven’t  enjoyed seeing these prehistoric looking lizards for the sheer fascination of their colors, textures, and vicarious view into a primitive long lost world. But, I have some concerns just the same.

The big lizards are arboreal and frequent areas around water. Described sometimes as agile climbers who can fall 50 feet without being hurt and can use their hind legs to grab branches and break their fall, I like this description by field biologist, James D. Lazell, Jr better: “Iguanas display a quiet, determined aboreality. They are most awkward in trees, except when resting motionless and frequently fall down; they seem to persist in climbing, provided there are trees around, even so. An iguana climbing around in a tree looks quite as much at home there as would the average dog. Further… “Iguanas are graceful at only two times: when running, and when  swimming.”  I can say that they do seem tentative moving from branch to branch, seem most comfortable lounging in the sun, and that they are glorious at moving quickly through water with that powerful undulating tail.

I 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 Wakodahatchee Wetlands Rookery. ‘Primarily an herbivore’ does have that qualifier after all…primarily!! In Lazell’s 1973 paper, “The lizard genus Iguana in the Lesser Antilles, Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology (New York) 145, he describes the genus as omnivorous not herbivorous. He notes that he has observed wild specimens feeding on birds eggs and carrion. Others may say that the iguanas eat snails and grasshoppers only in the course of munching on plants. I do not see feeding on birds eggs as a byproduct of munching on leaves.

Last shoot when I was trying out my new lens, I saw more iguanas than ever right in the branches of pond apple trees where there are at least six Great blue heron nests, several Anhinga nests, and others…with eggs or very tender helpless nestlings.  I also saw a young bright green iguana chewing on some aquatic plants floating on the water. I see the degradation of the leafy habitat by hungry iguanas disturbing as well as the risk to eggs and nestlings and the health of the colony as a whole. On that visit and some prior visits I found on first glance that the iguanas were difficult to see. Nearly immobile as they rested on the tree limbs, the iguanas blended well into the dappled shadows and their own green and gray hues matched so perfectly their surroundings. The lizards like the branches themselves were camouflaged with the spatters of bird’s poop further disguising their presence.

While the images below convey the primitive glory of these creatures, I just would rather not see them in a bird rookery. 

Camouflaged by shadows and a coating of bird droppings an iguana lounges amid branches of a nesting colony

Iguana rests camouflaged in spatters of bird’s poop and the natural hues of its surroundings. Pretty hard to see at first.

Marine Iguana climbing from water onto boardwalk at Wakodahatchee

This colorful, and newly washed, specimen launched himself into the water, swam gracefully, and climbed up the wooden boardwalk where I leaned out for a quick capture.

Nature will always find a way to survive, but , hoping that the interesting and primitive lizards will do no harm in the rookery!!



~ by Judy on February 20, 2014.

16 Responses to “Danger Lurks in the Shadows”

  1. I hate to say it, Judy, but your first picture makes them look cute enough to like.

    • I will admit that pose it is in looks rather like a dog might stand…less lizardlike. Well, lots of people think they are cute or at least interesting as we have this feral iguana problem due to a healthy pet trade in the colorful lizards!! Pic one looks more arrogant than threatening I think.

  2. I have an ambivalent response to the matter of ‘introduced’ wildlife which depends on whether I look at the agency (the supposedly homo ‘sapiens’) or the agent. While, by now, we ought to know better, the poor old lizard, who is scowled at, didn’t ask to be released there. It’s only trying to survive. Yet when its survival threatens that of the native wildlife, I cannot say, ‘Ah, what a sweet thing.’ (We have a problem in our town cemetery with people feeding the ‘introduced’ grey squirrels – ah, aren’t they sweet – while they happily destroy the trees and out-compete the local life.) Incidentally, in that last photo you’ve caught the lizard with a decidedly cheeky and deceitful look.

    • It is true, you cannot blame an animal for being itself!! Nor can you stop species migration. After all, we have cattle egrets because they followed the livestock trade from old world to new. However, as pet owners, we should all be respectful of the environment and the welfare of native species by returning unwanted pets to the pet stores..or something. Just crazy not to know better. Other than that, I find iguanas quite interesting to look at.

  3. NIce! especially the first one
    Kind regards

  4. Love, love, love the iguana photo! Glad you’re back out there enjoying yourself. Feel lucky to see all your beautiful photos!
    — Suzanne

    • Oh so great to hear from you!! Glad you enjoyed the colorful lizard!! I do feel lucky to be back out again…more than that..wanting to be out again!!

  5. Cool iguana! Love these guys!

    • Being exothermic these guys don’t make it to even central Florida…low cold tolerance..even fatal! So guess not iguanas in your Carolina marsh!! Just bigger lizards like the gator!

  6. It was about three years ago I first learned of their propensity to fall out of Florida trees when the weather gets too cold. A friend had them dropping onto her patio, and people just walking down the street were getting bonked on the head by falling iguanas.

    The good news is that, just as with the armadillo, climate may keep them contained in places like South Florida. That’s the bad news, too. An increasing population in a confined area may lead them to change their dietary habits, just to survive – precisely your concern.

    But they are interesting creatures. In that top photo, why are the front legs different colors? Do they change color, like a chameleon?

    • These large iguanas do not change color to match the environment, not chameleons at all. However, they are color changelings in certain aspects. When young they are brighter green with dark striping and they blend in nicely with the green leaves. Older iguanas become more uniform in color, often a gray green. Besides age, iguanas change color due to such things as temperature, mood or mating season. Iguanas become darker when cold in order to absorb more heat and lighter mid-day to reflect the sunlight.

      Iguanas breeding season seems to overlap heavily that of the birds really, from November until March or April depending on location. Like the birds, hormones during mating season cause color changes. They take on an orange color which can spread out over the body especially on the legs, spikes and that floppy dewlap they love to show off. Males have much more intensity in the orange colorations but female iguanas will display orange too.

      So this one looks kind of male to me I’d say, probably in breeding mode. If you look closely at the photo (easier for me to see full sized on my computer) one leg is clean and brightly orange, but the other is splashed with whitish, gray bird poop. You can see streaks and the orange beneath showing through. His leg and back are quite coated. If an iguana lays in one spot, like they do, for a long time in the branches of a heronry, it is inevitable that they will catch some excremental splashing. You know that herons are pretty productive in that arena!! 🙂 There are nests in the top branches above this iguana. You see the branches are pretty splashed too. Bird nesting colonies are not always the prettiest of places, though the birds themselves are glorious.

  7. They really are gorgeous, fascinating critters… But you’re right. It’s sad to see these non-native guys stalking the indigenous birds here. Do you think there are more, this year?

    WONDERFUL photos, too! I bet your new lens can really get in there!

    • Yes, I definitely have seen more iguanas in the colonies this year than last. Last was actually the first time I really noticed any. Though I am sure a few were around. I think they are fascinating too…just maybe in a different spot for sake of the nesting site.

      The new lens is a 300mm fixed focal lens so it isn’t that I couldn’t get in with the 70-300mm zoom, its just I was aiming for some better quality at 300mm. So, I have a learning curve..a fun one though…but I still like the zoom but once committed to the fixed focal for the day, I end up missing the flexibility to pull back I had with the zoom. Sometimes you just have to decide what you are going to do if you don’t want to carry two cameras or change lenses in the field. Big Sigh!!

      Glad you liked the iguana pics!!

  8. I loved the colour and stoicism of that first photo. Well done.

    • Thanks Lyle for stopping by for such a nice comment. He does look a bit aloof and above it all..at least until he starts negotiating the branches which move around under his weight and affect balance.

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