Beware of falling iguanas in Florida: “When the temperature drops, it rains lizards” | Science and the planet

It’s raining cats and dogs in Belgium, and cats and dogs in England. But in Florida, strange things sometimes fall from the sky, more specifically iguanas. This occurs during a special season, “Frozen Iguana Fall”, which can be translated as Frozen Iguana Fall or Frozen Iguana Autumn. In the rest of the world, this period is known simply as the fall and winter months. But what explains this interesting phenomenon?

Like almost every country in the world, the United States suffers from invasive alien species. These species in Florida include, among others, the green iguana (Iguana iguana). These large reptiles originated in Mexico, Central America, and most of South America. Ships sailing from these areas to Florida sometimes mistakenly took iguanas with them. They are also popular pets that unfortunately sometimes escape or are released.

Conditions in Florida were good enough for wildlife to settle, and animals have felt at home there since the 1960s. The absence of native predators has sharply increased the number of green iguanas, and thus their impact on native species. Reptiles are true voracious eaters that eat mainly plants and to a lesser extent eggs, insects and snails. While searching for food, they damage plants in gardens and parks. In addition, they dig tunnels that pose a danger to the infrastructure. Finally, they leave behind a lot of feces that not only causes pollution, but can also contain salmonella bacteria. So it seems that green iguanas are unstoppable vandals. However, they have a delicate weakness: as cold-blooded animals, they cannot tolerate low temperatures.

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As the weather becomes colder, iguanas have difficulty regulating their normal body functions. © Getty Images

As the weather becomes colder, iguanas have difficulty regulating their normal body functions. This makes them less active and move slower. At temperatures below about 5°C, the animals stiffen and are often unable to hold on to the branches they are resting on. The result is a shower of green iguanas tumbling from the trees onto the ground. Since the animals can reach 2 meters in length and weigh more than 5 kg, this is not only dangerous for the iguana, but also for anyone or anything under the tree.

For this reason, and because it is an interesting visual indicator of temperature, some Florida weather reports predict the possibility of frozen iguanas falling. Despite their lifeless appearance, frozen iguanas are not dead in most cases. When the sun returns, it appears to melt and begin to move backwards. It is therefore always recommended to be careful around iguanas, as they can become ferocious when they feel threatened.

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If the temperature drops below 5°C, iguanas will rain from the trees.
If the temperature drops below 5°C, iguanas will rain from the trees. © Getty Images

Although winter is a difficult time for green iguanas in Florida, their numbers and size continue to increase. Due to the scale of the problem, nature managers and residents are also allowed to kill green iguanas. Hardened animals are easier to catch and can be taken to a veterinarian or euthanized by the resident himself. Meanwhile, there are proposals to give a bounty for every animal killed and encourage the eating of exotic green iguanas. The reptiles are said to taste like chicken and are therefore also called tree chickens.

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Megan Vasquez

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