Let’s be transparent. The fact that I find these little creatures to be endearing goes completely against my claim to be a Florida conservation enthusiast. They are invasive, spread like wildfire and create more issues than you might imagine. For example, reptile feces carries bacteria, which can cause disease, they devour sea turtle eggs and nesting shorebird eggs, not to mention that their burrows undermine dune systems, which are vital to protecting people and property from storm surges. Yet, when I see one of these little guys and really look at one, none of those negative things come to my mind. I find that I always have to remind myself of their mischievous ways and push out thoughts of how cute I find them to be. Perhaps it’s the fact that my son and I have counted how many we have seen on our visits to an island they inhabit since he was able to understand the concept of counting and could identify an iguana. Maybe it’s the fact that I just like amphibians. I did have a pet Fire-Bellied Toad when I was little and still always try to catch the rogue lizard stuck in the house to save him. Whatever the case may, I wish I could help these little guys out. I hate the fact that their removal ultimately means a mass murdering and I wish I could assist in the capturing and releasing in some way. However, any ideas pertaining to that are completely unrealistic and include thoughts of me shouting through a megaphone on the top of a lighthouse… “Come on Amigos…hop in! It’s back to Mexico we go!” – Ridiculous and unhelpful, I know.
Lets talk about how they got here. Which I can’t do without pointing out that this is ANOTHER example of humans creating their own issues. According to FWC, the Black Spinytail Iguana started showing up, or at the very least were first documented round 1978. Other sources state as early as 1970 and others as late as 1980. One thing everyone can agree on is that they came via Mexico with intentions of being pets. People brought them back with the hope that they could be tamed and trained like a Green Iguana, only to learn that they are not nearly the same. Eventually, they were released and rapidly multiplied. When a female lays close to 200 eggs 3-4 times a year and there are no natural predators here to hurt them, a takeover can happen fast. Which is exactly what has happened in the areas they are located within the US. Despite trapping and mass killings, numbers decrease only to quickly rise again. They simply can’t be kept down. And, as frustrating as that might be from a conservation standpoint, I still find that I am a bit drawn to the irony of it all.
Look at it this way. I’m not sure if you have been to Boca Grande, but I’ll just say that if I happen to fall into a large sum of money tomorrow, I will be speeding down the highway making my way there, forever. So, lets say someone kidnapped me from my “home” in Mexico and took me there. Soon after, I was freed on this gorgeous island and I realized that there were no natural predators or diseases that could hurt me. Are you following me on this…
Which brings me to the internal struggle I feel for these creatures. When you love nature, you love all of nature. At times though, one species dominates others creating issues within the natural balance and even threatening or endangering other species. They become “bullies” - a role they didn’t chose, rather a position that we (humans) have placed them in. I have experienced this with nesting shorebird predation due to crows and we see this in the Everglades with Burmese Pythons. The list goes on and on. There are so many examples of issues we face in our environment today, due to poor, fickle choices that were made yesterday. Invasive species found within wildlife (as well as plant-life) create a huge hurdle in conservation, not only for our state but globally. Not to mention, an absurd amount of money and hours are spent all across the nation to try to eradicate things that don’t belong here, like the Black Spinytail Iguana.
In the end, I’m certain we will eventually figure out a way to take them out. After all, we always find a way to accomplish what we want (even if that means creating a different set of issues that will surface down the road). Sadly, for the sake of restoration and ecosystem balance, WE DON'T HAVE A CHOICE. That part is always hard for me. I struggle with innocent creatures becoming villains due to our actions. I don’t think it’s right that OUR consequences are masked and then the burden is bared by something that didn’t create the issue in the first place. Or, how people are not able to see the selfishness and sadness in all of that and can simply shift the blame to the creature, rather than acknowledge our role in that. More than anything, I don’t understand why we can’t learn from our mistakes and continue to do it over, and over again.
So, yes. I feel bad for these little guys and hope that their eventual end is one that is painless and swift. Yes, a part of me will always “root” for them to be removed without losing their lives due to our poor judgment. Mostly, I hope that they will be seen not just as the nuisance that they have become but also as the innocent and beautiful creatures that they ALSO are.