Conservation news

Florida’s iguanas falling from trees in cold snap

A green iguana. Photo by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Unusually low temperatures across the U.S. are getting to some of the animals in the south, particularly in Florida. On Thursday and Friday, social media was filled with warnings from southern Florida residents of stunned, frozen iguanas falling from trees.

Temperatures there in January typically hover between 57 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. As of Friday, temperatures were still at about 40 degrees because of a wind chill factor across much of Florida, according to the Sun Sentinel. The Weather Channel reports that it is expected to warm up again by Sunday.

The weather-related phenomena of stunned iguanas falling from trees – one of their favorite perches – sparked concern among people coming across the reptiles.

Green iguanas need to maintain a body temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. As the temperatures in southern Florida and much of the U.S. have plunged in the past week, iguanas stunned by the cold have fallen off of their perches as their bodies begin to shut down, according to multiple reports.

Some well-intentioned people have moved the iguanas into the sunlight to help warm them. People have been reminded to take care, as the animals could wake up and go into self-defense mode. Stunned iguanas can warm up and be rejuvenated if they are strong enough to withstand the temperatures.

Zoo Miami communications director Ron Magill said the iguanas lose their grip on trees as their bodies shut down from cold. The strongest, largest can survive, though.

“Even if they look dead as a doornail — they’re gray and stiff — as soon as it starts to heat up and they get hit by the sun rays, it’s this rejuvenation,” Magill said in an interview with the New York Times. “The ones that survive that cold streak are basically passing on that gene.”

There are about three dozen species of iguana, and the green iguanas (Iguana iguana) is common in the Americas, but not native to southern Florida. It can grow quite large and can reach up to about 6.5 feet long and can weigh up to 11 pounds. Iguanas have extremely sharp teeth, strong jaws, and sharp tails, which could be dangerous for anyone trying to pick them up as well as for the animal.

Sea turtles and manatees have also been showing signs of stress from Florida’s weather. Local media report manatees have been gathering in underwater canals near power plants for warmth. Sea turtles have been popping up out of the water more frequently than usual. About 100 chilly sea turtles have been rescued from Northwest Florida as of Thursday, according to Tampa Bay news station WTSP.

WTSP also reports that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has warned to be on the lookout for sea turtles floating in the water or washing up on shore in distress. They also say to be on the lookout for manatees in search of a warmer spot.

Lynne Byrd is rehabilitation and medical coordinator for Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Florida and an expert on turtles. Mote will likely be the destination for any rescued sea turtles that can’t take the cold.

“Just like people, you get hypothermic,” Byrd said in an interview with WTSP.

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