Protecting Landscapes From Destructive Iguanas

Imagine $4000 worth of landscape plants being eaten on one week! It's like deer that can burrow and climb!

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Invasive iguanas are becoming more widespread in southern Florida and Texas and are also located in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. As an invasive species, they not only compromise natural ecosystems, but their potential to wreak havoc on lawn and landscapes is truly significant.

Invasive & Destructive

Invasive iguanas—of which there are three including the green iguana, black spiny tail iguana, and Mexican spiny tail iguana—were introduced to the area during the pet trade in the early 1960’s. Originally from central and south America, they found our environment to be conducive to their survival and with no real natural predators except alligators, owls, snakes, and raccoons. They not only survived, but thrived. Iguanas have become one of Florida’s most predominant pests, causing extensive damage to homes, businesses, and the local ecosystem. This invasive species has quickly given the termite a good run for its money as top pest.

For instance, it made national news when iguanas in West Palm Beach actually caused a dam collapse by digging burrows (more on this below) underneath the structure. It reportedly cost $1.8 million in repairs. On other properties, retaining walls have collapsed and pathways have been destroyed. On Florida golf courses, iguanas pose one of the greatest problems because of the damage to turf and landscaping.

Iguana Behavior

A male and femaile iguana. Photo: Human Iguana Control

These reptiles display a remarkable capacity for replication, especially noted during their mating season, which typically spans from October through December. However, it is not unusual for iguanas to mate and survive all year round. If the conditions are right, they will survive and thrive.

A female iguana will typically deposit a remarkable 20 to 70 eggs in burrows they excavate, which can span up to 70 feet in length! This in itself, is a major problem for the landscaping industry. The burrows erode the terrain, and can not only compromise the landscape plants and design, but the structural integrity of walls, paving, and even a home.

Once the eggs hatch, they will look for sustenance. As herbivores, they will devour the local flora and fauna expeditiously. They have a voracious appetite for plants and vegetation, especially the exquisite orchids and tropical plants beloved by professional landscaping companies.

As a result, it’s important to consider what plants to use when designing and planting a new landscape for your clients if they are in an area with iguanas. Like a Biblical plague, iguanas can destroy a landscape in just a few days. Marcos Fernandez, a property manager in Star Island Miami Beach FL, said, “We installed $4,000 worth of SunPatiens®, in one week they were gone.”

Plants To Deter Iguanas

Clearly, choosing plants not on their menu or ones that repel iguanas will help to prevent infestations and associated costs. We have compiled a list of plants you could use in your landscape projects. They include:

iguana
Ixora. Photo: AdobeStock/TarcisioSchnaider
Nerium oleander. Photo: AdobeStock/pisotckii
  • Oleander
  • Silver Buttonwood
  • Ixora
  • Lilyturf
  • Chenille
  • Codiaeum variegatum
  • Cordyline
  • Society Garlic
  • Crown of thorns
  • Citrus
  • Spicy pepper plants
  • Agave
  • Lemon Grass
  • Fakahatchee Grass
  • Purple Queen
  • Queen Emma

Other Strategies

There are several other methods to deter iguanas from a property. Iguanas have sharp claws, making them excellent climbers, which poses another problem: they can get onto roofs and potentially into a home. They will defecate from high in trees and cause a mess—and health concern—below in the landscape. Employing simple strategies can save you expense, time and trouble in the long run.

iguanaClear tree wrap. One method to deter iguanas from climbing your trees or onto your roof is by installing a tree wrap. A special clear tree wrap with a slippery surface should be used so that iguanas can’t grip and climb. And clear wraps are less of an eyesore compared to galvanized sheets. This wrap can also be used around vegetable gardens and fences. To note: don’t use chicken wire. It actually helps iguanas climb more easily into any tree or any structure.

Landscape modification. Cutting back any overgrown brush surrounding your property is another method to deter iguanas from climbing. Also, by cutting back overgrown trees or brush, it makes it less appealing to iguanas and makes it harder for them to hide. Iguanas like to find safe areas to camouflage and hide from predators.

Iguana deterrent sprays. Some sprays work better than others, and some don’t work at all. You can even make your own iguana deterrent sprays out of oil, herbs, and spices. The issue with sprays is you must constantly reapply them because the product washes off when there is inclement weather.

Work with professionals. Many South Floridians have tired of iguanas and attempted to remove them. This is not recommended since there are many potential dangers. Additionally, there are laws and regulations on iguana removal and how they should be dealt with. Removing iguanas takes skill, time, and patience, not to mention a deep knowledge of iguana behavior.

Iguana control specialists use many methods to remove iguanas from a property including trapping, pole snare, hand capture, night removal, and even shooting iguanas with an approved pellet gun, which is permitted by law for professional use. It’s important to follow all rules and regulations implemented by The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation (FWC) to ensure humane removal and destruction of iguanas.

Iguanas are a growing concern for lawn and landscape professionals in certain areas. The potential to cause millions of dollars worth of damage is real, and the consequences to your landscape business could be devastating. Be aware of the potential problems that can ensue and what you can do to negate an infestation. Beyond that, ensure you work with knowledgeable iguana removal specialists to safeguard your business and your clients.

Ronquillo is the founder and operator of Humane Iguana Control, serving South Florida. Recognized as one of the top experts in iguana control and behavior in South Florida, he has been featured in national and local news such as USA Today, Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times, and MSNBC. Ronquillo is a native of South Florida and has a passion to protect the local environment and the ecosystem. For more information, visit humaneiguanacontrol.com. 

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