University of Florida

The Neighborhood Gardener –
Foe: Iguanas

Iguanas were originally brought to South Florida during the '50s and '60s and sold as exotic pets. In the decades since, people have been illegally releasing these animals into the wild, dumping them after realizing they can no longer take care of these giant lizards.

The warm, tropical Florida climate has allowed these reptiles to thrive in the perfect habitat. There are now over 100,000 feral iguanas invading Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties.

There are three main types of iguanas that have established in the South Florida environment; the green iguana, the Mexican spiny-tailed iguana, and the black spiny-tailed iguana.

Large male iguanas can grow up to 6 feet long, and their massive tail makes up half their body length. Adult iguanas feed on foliage, flowers, and fruit and commonly invade South Florida gardens. They will also feed on animals such as insects, lizards and birds.

If you're having a problem with iguanas on your property, avoid planting hibiscus, orchids, impatiens, roses, greens (kale, broccoli, mustard, collards, lettuce), squashes, and melons.

Some great alternatives that are iguana-resistant include milkweed, pentas, oleanders, citrus, crotons, and other toxic plants. Protect plants by installing screen enclosures and cages if you have frequent iguana visitors.

Never feed iguanas on purpose or they will never leave. Iguana feces can also be infected with salmonella which can be hazardous to your garden.

Animal control has stopped trying to remove these reptiles; their efforts have become ineffective in controlling the growing iguana population.

Residents can remove iguanas off private property at any time by hand, live traps, or snares without a permit. Use precaution when trying to remove these animals because they will bite, scratch, and use their powerful tail to get away. Although these reptiles are not harmful to people, they will try to defend themselves if they feel threatened.

And, if you don't feel like having iguanas in your garden is a problem, remember that they are usually harmless and shy away from people (just not your flowers).

Learn more in the EDIS publication, "Dealing with Iguanas in the South Florida Landscape."

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