It's Iguanas-Falling-Out-of-Trees Cold in Miami

Shhh he’s sleeping.
Shhh he’s sleeping.
Photo: Wilfredo Lee (AP)

The weather forecast for South Florida is sunny with a chance of stunned iguanas. Miami faces its coldest Christmas in more than 20 years, and the National Weather Service has issued a warning that chilly temperatures could send ectotherms plummeting from trees or curling up on sidewalks and roadways.


In a year of murder hornets, caterpillars with vomit-inducing poison hair, and invasive (and also poisonous!) toads, iguanas falling from trees is actually pretty mild on the cursed-ness scale. But as someone who fears snakes and only mildly tolerates lizards, the prospect of stunned scaly reptiles raining down on my head is still a strong “nope” for me.

Iguanas are not native to Florida, having shown up and taken over South Beach and beyond after gaining a toehold in the state in the 1960s. They’ve been spotted from Gainesville to the Florida Keys. But while they’ve clearly taken a liking to the Sunshine State, they haven’t quite adapted to the infrequent cold spells that can sometimes hit.

This week’s cold snap is a point-in-case. A storm system is set to sweep across the East Coast on Christmas Eve, and cold air will rush in behind it over the Southeast. While what constitutes “cold” might sound laughable to someone from Minneapolis, the Christmas forecast is the equivalent of a deep freeze for Miami and other parts of Florida. Christmas Day will top out in the low 60s. That in and of itself won’t be an issue for the iguanas. Instead, it’s the overnight lows where the lizards could be stunned into catharsis. Temperatures will bottom out in the upper 40s in Miami with inland parts of Florida a little further north dropping all the way into the low 30s, according to the National Weather Service. That would mark the coldest Christmas since 1999.

Once temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, iguanas go into a torpor. The iguanicles aren’t in danger outside of the errant feet of passersby or the tires of cars. Though I may not be a lizard fan, I would never advocate kicking an iguana while it’s down, let alone running it over. The best thing you can do if you happen upon one is to move it out of harm’s way and let nature do its thing.

This isn’t Florida’s first stunned-iguana rodeo. In fact, it rang in the year with chilled iguanas and a similar stun-a-rama happened in January 2018. Nor are the iguanas the only animals that have been shocked by the cold. In Massachusetts, volunteers have begun their annual mission to rescue sea turtles that actually can end up dead or injured from the cold after getting trapped in the chilly water off the Cape.


Managing editor at Earther, writing about climate change, environmental justice, and, occasionally, my cat.


David E. Davis

Iguanas being invasive species too also brings to mind interesting methods to dispose of them. Like shaking them out of trees into containers to feed native alligators.