It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s an iguana falling out of a tree?
The forecast for parts of Florida is looking colder in the coming days, with temperatures Sunday morning expected to range from 32 degrees or below in inland portions of South Florida. Near the coast, temperatures are forecast in the mid-to-upper 30s.
Brian Shields, a meteorologist at WFTV in Orlando, warned that iguanas can slow down and become immobile when temperatures drop below 40 degrees. As they slow down, the animals can fall from trees onto the ground.
This isn’t the first time that the reptiles getting too chilly and tumbling down from trees has been in the forecast. In 2020, the National Weather Service in Miami issued an unofficial warning to residents to look out for “falling iguanas” during a cold snap.
But why do green iguanas in Florida have such a dramatic reaction to cold weather? Sarah Funck, nonnative fish and wildlife program coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, explained to USA TODAY that iguanas are not native to Florida, so they are unable to tolerate cooler temperatures.
“Depending on temperature and the amount of time cold temperatures are sustained, iguanas can be cold-stunned or even killed. When we reach near-freezing or freezing temperatures, iguanas can sometimes fall from trees and lie stiff on the ground,” Funck said, explaining that the animals’ muscle control can shut down in those lower temperatures.
As temperatures warm up, the creatures usually “recover fairly quickly,” Funck said.
She also explained that other reptiles native to Florida have adapted to the state’s weather and can better tolerate colder temperatures.
Green iguanas are native to South America, Central America and the Caribbean, and they arrived in Florida through the pet trade. They were first reported in the state in the 1960s, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Funck also emphasized that well-meaning individuals should not try to bring the cold-stunned iguanas into their homes or vehicles.
“Iguanas are wild animals, and once they recover and warm up, they could act defensively. Iguanas have sharp teeth, claws and a long tail that they may use to protect themselves when acting defensively which can potentially be a safety risk,” she said.
But the potential safety risk hasn’t stopped meteorologists and others from sharing run-ins with fallen iguanas and discussing the strange phenomenon on social media.
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