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In the last beach renourishment effort, Key Biscayne planted railroad vines, a fast-growing plant with a pretty pink flower that thrives on sandy dunes.

Iguanas gobbled them up.

“You don’t see them. They come out and they eat everything that they can. So it is an issue,” said Roland Samimy, the chief resilience and sustainability officer.

It’s an iguana invasion and the Village appears to have had enough – so much so they’re reaching out to experts on how to best curb the population of the invasive species. 

At the urging of Mayor Joe Rasco, conservation biologist Joseph Wasilewski of Natural Selections of South Florida Inc. addressed the Village Council at Tuesday’s meeting

Village Manager Steve Williamson will engage in talks with Wasilewski on the best method to attack the green monsters and report back to the Council in 60 days.

“Let’s not give people ideas to shoot iguanas out of trees – that is all I’m asking,” said Council Member Fernando Vazquez, a comment that recalled a frightening school lockdown in 2019 triggered by a man trying to eliminate the critters.

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“That’s definitely a safety issue that we want to avoid,” Rasco added.

Parks Director Todd Hofferberth said there is a mitigation program for iguanas in place. The next budget has $22,000 allocated in the next budget for a company to come out twice a week and targets public areas chosen by the Village.

The whack-a-mole approach, however, hasn’t abated the iguana explosion. “Unless we had a larger participation regionally, we’re just going to be in the mitigation role,” Hofferberth said.

They love to burrow in seawalls – and as attested by Samimy – they have a taste for native and ornamental plants. They cause as much as 8% of FPL’s power outages and have been known to collapse roadways by digging underneath the asphalt. They sun themselves on runways, delaying planes in Fort Lauderdale, Wasilewski said.

The Florida Wildlife Commission encourages residents to humanely kill the lizards on their properties before they can lay up to 60 eggs.They are reportedly tasty, dubbed “the chicken of the trees” and are regularly a protein source in some countries.

The green iguana is definitely the predominant trespasser but there are others, such as a black spiny-tailed iguana,  Almost silver in color, one has taken up residence at Crossbridge Church.

And there is another invasive lizard invasion that is on the horizon – the foot-long red-headed agama or Peter’s Rock agama. They love urban areas and rocks and some residents have already captured these striking lizards with their phone cameras.

A red-headed agama or Peter’s Rock agama on Key Biscayne, May 2023. A repitle expert told Village Council Tuesday these foot-long lizards could be the next invasive species threat to the island. (Michele Estevez via KBI)

Wasilewski said he used to work to preserve iguanas before becoming their hunter – in a humane and safe way. Wasilewski has been studying iguanas for 40 years and has worked at removing them in 18 countries. .

“I actually feel like a traitor since I learned so much about them and now I’m using that against them,” Wasilewski told the Independent. “I just want to stress that not only are they out of control here in Key Biscayne – they are out of control in many other places, countries and islands.”

Green iguanas are native to Central America, tropical parts of South American and some eastern Caribbean islands. They first appeared in the wild in South Florida in the 1960s after some exotic pets were released..

These creatures – that can grow up to five feet – love the heat and humidity. “We are ground zero right here in Key Biscayne for green iguanas,” Wasilewski said.

Other countries have found iguana removal to be an expensive proposition. The Cayman Islands spent $9 million to arm people with pellet guns to remove 1.3 million of the large lizards, Wasilewski said.

“I do know of a crocodile at Crandon Park that’s learned to feed on iguanas,” Wasilewski said.

But iguanas’ main predators aren’t man, crocs, bird of prey or even the occasional brave house cat. It’s falling temperatures. Frozen iguanas are now a fixture of any cold snap forecast in the region.

Wasilewski said he takes a systematic approach to euthanise the critters.

“My company has removed over 35,000 iguanas without any guns at all. We do it all by hand. We trap, we noose, we snare,” he said. “We’re not some cowboys out there just shooting them.”

Council Member Frank Caplan told the mayor he knows where Wasilewski can start.

“When Steve meets with Joe – the iguana Hunter specialist –  use my backyard as a living laboratory for an experiment to see how good he is.”

John Pacenti

JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.