It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Is that an iguana falling out of a tree?
The forecast for parts of Florida looks colder in the coming days, with Sunday morning temperatures expected to range from 32 degrees or lower in interior parts of South Florida. Near the coast, temperatures are forecast in the mid-upper 30s.
Brian Shields, meteorologist at WFTV in Orlando, warned that iguanas can slow down and become immobile when temperatures drop below 40 degrees. By slowing down, animals can fall from the trees onto the ground.
This isn’t the first time reptiles have gotten too cold and fallen from trees in the forecast. In 2020, the National Weather Service in Miami issued an unofficial warning to residents to watch for “falling iguanas” during a cold snap.
But why do Florida green iguanas have such a dramatic reaction to the cold? Sarah Funck, non-native fish and wildlife program coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told USA TODAY that iguanas aren’t native to Florida, so they can’t tolerate cooler temperatures.
“Depending on the temperature and how long cold temperatures are maintained, iguanas can be stunned by the cold or even killed. When we hit near-freezing or freezing temperatures, iguanas can sometimes fall out of trees and stay stiff on the ground,” Funck said, explaining that the animals’ muscle control can shut down at these lower temperatures.
As temperatures warm, the creatures “usually recover pretty quickly,” Funck said.
She also explained that other reptiles native to Florida have adapted to the state’s climate and can tolerate colder temperatures better.
Green iguanas are native to South America, Central America, and the Caribbean, and they came to Florida through the pet trade. They were first reported in the state in the 1960s, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
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Funck also pointed out that well-meaning people should not try to bring cold-stunned iguanas into their homes or vehicles.
“Iguanas are wild animals, and once they recover and warm up, they can act defensively. Iguanas have sharp teeth, claws, and a long tail that they can use for protection when they are acting defensively, which can potentially pose a security risk,” she said.
But the potential safety risk hasn’t stopped meteorologists and others from sharing encounters with fallen iguanas and discussing the strange phenomenon on social media.