Thursday, April 22, 2021

Invasive iguana presentation

Tom Portuallo of Iguana Control is and expert on the green iguana. PHOTO BY NATALIE STROM/COASTAL BREEZE NEWS

Tom Portuallo of Iguana Control is and expert on the green iguana. PHOTO BY NATALIE STROM/COASTAL BREEZE NEWS

By Natalie Strom

On July 18, the City of Marco Island hosted an iguana control workshop to inform residents of the increasing issue of the invasive green iguana population. Tom Portuallo of Iguana Control, a company contracted by the city for just that, delivered an interesting and informative presentation, discussing the hazards of the green iguana as well as ways to control the ever-increasing population of the species.

“We bought iguanas as pets by the thousands in the seventies,” explained Portuallo. As the once-small household pets grew larger, many were released into the wild as their owners didn’t know what to do with them. Green iguanas can grow up to five feet in length and are identified by the spines on the back of their neck and tail and the dewlap on the front of their neck. Originating from Central and South America, the green iguana thrives in temperatures between 75 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes South Florida a perfect breeding environment for the species which has no natural predators in these parts. Thus, causing an increasing population that many communities are having a difficult time regulating.

“Marco Island was just infested with green iguanas a few years ago, but we had that cold winter a few years ago that really knocked the numbers down,” stated Portuallo. The cold snaps experienced in 2009 and 2010 were instrumental in controlling iguana populations, but with warmer winters in the past two years, Marco is beginning to see a resurgence in

Green iguanas are identified by their spiny back and dewlap. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Green iguanas are identified by their spiny back and dewlap. SUBMITTED PHOTO

the population. By contracting with Iguana Control, the city has developed a proactive plan to keep the iguana population in check to avoid their devastating impacts to property and the environment.

One of the greatest nuisances caused by the green iguana is damage to landscaping. Herbivores by natural design, the iguana feasts on flowering plants and bushes. While this may devastate one’s property, it also has larger implications. As Portuallo explained, “In Monroe County, they have a particular butterfly called the Miami Blue Butterfly. At one time it was found in great numbers.” The host plant for the Miami Blue Butterfly is the nickerbean plant, a favorite for the green iguana. “The iguana comes along and consumes the larvae along with the plant to the point where the Miami Blue Butterfly is almost extinct.

“Here on Marco Island, the issue is the burrowing owl, that lays her eggs in the ground. The iguana, in looking for a home for her eggs, she’ll go in and destroy the (owl) eggs just by moving around. The more numbers there are, the more this destruction will occur.”

Green iguanas burrow into the ground not only to nest, but also as a means of transportation. They are capable of developing underground networks similar to what you may see in an ant farm. Portuallo explained how burrowing can also destroy property. “Usually, we look for holes along the seawall. If you are on a canal, by instinct, what the iguana will do is get as



close to the water as possible. She will dig down along the seawall and put her eggs there, but what happens is if she digs low enough, as the tide comes up, erosion will cause the sides to fall in, causing erosion and damage to the seawall.” Iguanas have been known to dig all the way under seawalls, causing mass destruction and a costly fix.

As a result of their love for the sun and sand, iguanas are often found sunbathing along seawalls and pool decks. This can also be problematic due to bacteria present in their droppings. It is not only unsightly but can end up in pool systems, causing sickness, especially in children and pets.

Portuallo explained that multiple sightings of iguanas on one’s property most likely means that their nest is close by. If sighted, property owners may call Nancy Richie, the City of Marco’s Environmental Specialist to pre-qualify for iguana removal by Iguana Control. “For trapping to work, we need to see frequency and habitual behavior,” added Portuallo. This means that the iguana must be present often and be seen in the same area. Under these circumstances, Iguana Control will come out to evaluate a property.

Iguana Control uses traps, seawall barriers, mesh barriers for burrows and tree protection to remove iguanas and discourage them from returning.

Call Nancy Richie at (239) 389-5003 or email at nrichie@cityofmarcoisland. com to report green iguana sightings. To learn more about Iguana Control, visit

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