Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Iguanas in the Gardens

Having worked at the Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, OH, I am very familiar with the cute but extremely destructive and over-populated white-tailed deer that call the arboretum their home.  The plant collections serve as a veritable feast of tasty greens and perfect antler-scratchers for these creatures, and the grounds crew has to be sure to fence off any plant material that they want to survive and maintain full foliage.  Apparently, iguanas are the white-tailed deer of the Keys.  When I first heard that iguanas are a problem because they eat the leaves and flowers of many of the plants, an image of a little chameleon or GEICO gecko slowly and harmlessly nibbling a few bites off of a leaf came to mind...boy was I mistaken.  I didn't really think much of it until I saw our groundskeeper, Veronika, running through the grounds with a giant net fit to capture a small human.  I asked what she was doing and she yelled back, "iguana!"  I had no idea how mammoth these creatures can become over the course of many years; they can grow to over five feet long and can use their tails as an effective weapon!  These giant reptiles are an incredibly invasive and destructive (especially to botanical collections) non-native pest species here in the Keys, and they sure are quick, too.  This one evaded capture and relocation for the time being, but we'll be watching for another opportunity to go toe-to-toe with this formidable foe.

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

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