There are several things that should be on everyone’s outdoor Florida “Do Not Do” list.
• Don’t throw rocks at beehives even if you are not the person standing closest to it.
• Locate the alligators on the lake and make sure you don’t fall when you water ski.
• Don’t antagonize a wild pig in a dwarf cypress forest.
• And least importantly – don’t linger under a tree full of iguanas during a cold snap.
Every winter, locals and tourists are stunned when the temperatures in south Florida dip lower than the average temperature of any given movie theater. More startling are the lizards plummeting from trees in demonstration of Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation.
The precipitation of reptiles is only partially explained by the unseen force of gravity. Torpor explains the rest. Of the 16 species of Iguanids found in Florida, only three are native including the Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis), the Florida Scrub Lizard (Sceloporus woodi), and the Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus). The rest have all been introduced over a relatively short period of time and have not adapted well to sustained cold events. Many of them experience torpor – a lowering of the body temperature and reduction of metabolism. Green Iguanas (Iguana iguana) tend to put on the most spectacular display, reducing themselves to iguanacicles before inadvertently succumbing to the perils of gravity and plunging ground ward. Green Iguanas can grow well over five feet in length and in certain heavily invaded areas, on cold days the ground has been well decorated with comatose lizards. Occasionally they are capable of rousing themselves when it warms, much to the surprise of curious scavengers including humans who retrieve the “dead” lizards from some odd reason.
While several of the invasive lizard species pose little threat to the ecosystem, Green Iguanas are an exceptional nuisance, especially along the coast where they burrow in the fragile dunes and cause beach erosion. The recent cold snap may eliminate many of the non-natives, but those that survive may pass along cold-tolerant genes. A year from now when cold arctic air descends upon our tropical climate, there is no doubt the show will repeat itself and incredulous reports will claim record colds and raining lizards.
After all – for every reaction there is an equal and opposite over-reaction.