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What To Do If You Come Across A Frozen Iguana


On this program yesterday, I mentioned reports that the cold temperatures in Florida this week have caused frozen iguanas to fall out of trees. Several listeners on Twitter reacted to my lighthearted tone. One tweeted, iguanas freezing and falling out of trees is tragic and not funny. Another said, you anthropocentric bleep. To find out what's really going on with these reptiles, we called up Ron Magill at Zoo Miami.

RON MAGILL: I personally saw one big one fall on my own and found several on the ground.


Magill says the East Coast winter storm yesterday did have a brutal effect on iguanas.

MAGILL: It's an ongoing issue, and it's probably going to happen again tonight because the forecast is due to go down into the 40s again - 40s and high-30s.

SIEGEL: Anytime it gets that cold, he says iguanas become lifeless. But that doesn't always prove fatal.

MAGILL: Generally speaking, the larger the iguana, the more it survives without showing any type of lasting effects. The smaller ones, however - you know, when you get the 2-footers and smaller, those animals many times do not recover. And they end up dying from that type of cold.

SHAPIRO: Magill says if you meet a semi-frozen iguana, treat it as though it could be alive. He told us this crazy story about a guy in Key Biscayne who was originally from Central America.

MAGILL: And in Central America, iguana is a delicacy. It's something - they're actually farmed for food. So this gentleman just thought, wow, I just have a bunch of protein here. He's on Key Biscayne. He's sort of picking up all these iguanas that appear to be dead on the road that had fallen out of trees. They turned gray and were not moving at all and very cold to the touch.

And he put them into his vehicle. He's loading them up like he was stocking up for a big barbecue. When they went back into the vehicle, the vehicle warmed up, and those iguanas started coming back to life. And all of a sudden, they started getting up and running around in the car, and it caused an accident.

SHAPIRO: He says even touching one that seems to be frozen is not a good idea.

MAGILL: Incapacitated as you think, they can give you a serious bite. They can give you a serious scratch, a serious whip with their tail. They can present that kind of physical injury to you.

SIEGEL: And he says what's happening to iguanas in the cold may have an upside. In Florida, iguanas are an invasive pest. They compete with native species.

MAGILL: You know, I've got to be honest with you. And this is going to sound very confusing coming from a person who's dedicated himself to animals and to conservation. But the bottom line is it's kind of nature's way to take out a population. Best thing to do is just let nature run its course. If they recover, they recover. If they do not, they do not. The bottom line is they don't belong in this environment. They're doing damage to this environment. And maybe that's Mother Nature's way of helping defend those populations to help the environment recover.

SIEGEL: Ron Magill of Zoo Miami talking about iguanas falling from trees as unusually cold weather in Florida continues.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN'S "BE KIND, REWIND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.