Invasion of the Iguana: Mankind Strikes Back

About ten years ago, I accepted two long-term assignments in Central America for Surfer Magazine. First stop: Nicaragua, via the airport in Liberia, Costa Rica. Now, I'd been to Costa Rica plenty of times, and was used to seeing giant iguanas scurrying around just about everywhere you look. Once over the border and into Nicaragua, I noticed that the habitat hadn't changed but the only visible iguanas were about the size of large lizards. I didn't give it much more thought until a couple nights later, when I was served a rice and vegetable soup, with firm white meat, in what I thought was a chicken broth stock. Wrong. Sopa de Iguana. It was damn good, and in the course the eight months or so that I spent in Central America, I learned to enjoy iguana grilled, sauteed and "en pinol." The tail tastes about like tender gator tail, and the legs and back strap are as tender as frog legs. About the time I returned home from my travels, the first articles about the "iguana invasion" began appearing in Florida newspapers. Iguanas are native to Central America, and in most areas in need of protection from over-harvest. But they are now a dangerous invasive species out of control here in Florida. Folks have released their pets iguanas into the South Florida environment, and they are thriving, much to the detriment of threatened birds, anoles and butterflies, not to mention the damage they're doing to our infrastructure--undermining canal banks, seawalls and even roads. So when I saw an article in the local paper about how "animal rights" activists were insisting that folks take any captured iguanas to animal shelters, I started to get an attitude. When I learned that they'd attacked folks in the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission's invasive species program, just for advising folks to euthanize iguanas by placing them in freezers, I declared war. The damn things are starting to show up on our family farm in rural, western, Palm Beach County. George Thompson, marketing director at Stoeger Industries, told me that help was on the way. The Stoeger X-10 arrived just in time to put Memorial Day dinner on the table. The single-shot Stoeger X-10 and X-20 fire a .177 caliber pellet at more than 1,200 feet per second. The X-50 achieves a velocity of 1,500 fps. Visit benelliusa.com.
The X-10 is deadly accurate out to about 40 yards, and has plenty of kill power to 25-yards for larger varmints.
From the X-5 to X-50, you can get, factory-mounted, either a 4x32mm scope or a 3-9x40mm adjustable parallax scope. Visit stoegerairguns.com.
So far, these invaders are mostly sticking to urban areas, especially along canal systems. Feral iguanas crap all over seawalls and docks, destroy tens of thousands of dollars in landscaping, and eat native species. The City of Boca Grande, for example, has spent more than $100,000 per year for four years trying to eradicate the problem. They even had to create an "iguana tax" to pay the trappers.
Iguana feces reeks, is unsightly, and hosts Salmonella bacteria. Because iguanas often prefer to defecate in or around water, it is not uncommon for an iguana to use a private pool as a defecation area, potentially leading to serious water-quality issues. Anybody want to water skiing?
Spiny Tailed iguanas (pictured) and green iguanas dominate. This one is sunning on the limb of another invasive species, the Australian pine. They eat the fruits from Brazilian pepper trees, a highly noxious invader, and spread the plant through their scat. The terrible irony in all this is that by altering the South Florida ecosystem to such extent--by replacing the sheet-flowing Everglades with canal systems and introducing so much exotic vegetation--we've made the region a paradise for things like iguanas and pythons, and increasingly a living hell for the birds and fish that belong here.
Large adults may be aggressive towards people and pets if they feel threatened.
Obviously, it is unsafe and illegal to shoot iguanas with any kind of gun in urban areas. Trapping and snaring works best. You're not allowed to transport these reptiles or any other invasive species off your property. "Iguana huggers" want you to call animal rescue so these things can be "euthanized humanely." While no one promotes animal cruelty, "cruelty" is not well defined in Florida statute. Hopefully, kill-and-grill does not constitute a crime, or I don't think there's much hope for us as a species.
It seemed like being part of a B-movie, Invasion of the Iguanas: Mankind Strikes Back. I snuck through bushes to an open field where the iguanas like to sun. I low-crawled within 25 yards of a large spiny tail, put the cross hairs on its ear hole, and squeezed. The pellet went directly through the head. I put three more in it's head just to make sure. They've got sharp teeth.
But when I approached it, the thing still had the strength to whack me across the back of the legs with its tail, and leave a mark. When I got done screaming like a little girl, I broke it's neck with a sharp hatchet.
Medium-sized lizard by local standards. The Boone & Crocket Club needs to come up with a point system for iguanas. A little friendly competition would really help with eradication efforts.
I'm wearing gloves because, like most reptiles, iguanas have gnarly bacteria on their hides.
Iguanas are a real nuisance in the Florida Keys. This one is sunning in a mangrove. This image perfectly juxtaposes what shouldn't be here against a vital native species.
This guy is in the demolition business, not the marine construction business. Destruction of infrastructure is part of the imperative to keep these invaders in check.
Cleaning an iguana isn't exactly easy. But it's not unlike skinning a deer. You have to gut it first, and remove the head and legs below the knee. Once you cut around the joints, the skin peels fairly easily. The hide is so thick you need a razor-sharp skinning knife to get started.
For two hours, I marinated the iguana in Mojo (an acidic marinade perfect for white meat and for killing bacteria), under four inches of ice. Then it was grilled to chicken-safe temperatures.
We had a little cookout on Memorial Day, and most of the guests, including my typically adventurous wife, were making faces at the very prospect of eating an iguana. Curiosity got the better of them, once the aroma of roasted iguana wafted across the yard. How was it? Well, the iguana was picked clean, but there were three venison burgers left over. The tail offered firm white meat, not nearly as chewy as gator tail. The backstraps and meat around the joints, especially the upper part of the tail, was nothing short of succulent.
A buddy of mine told me that his neighborhood had horrible iguana problem, until they hired a new lawn service that mostly employed guys from Haiti and Latin America. Hell, exotic meat markets in D.C. get $14 a pound for iguana meat, and they're importing from iguana farms in El Salvador. In all seriousness, there are folks collecting food stamps and unemployment, while iguanas chew up their yards. It's time we got over our irrational food phobias, our culinary xenophobia, and the notion that a lizard can reciprocate human affection or have any feelings whatsoever. If Iguana became a feast du jour, we'd have a delicious way to keep a very ecologically and economically expensive invader in check.

Iguana hunting. Yup, you heard right. Watch as Terry Gibson and crew go head to head with the explosive iguana population in Florida and then fry 'em up!