A species only native to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, has crawled its way into the South Florida landscape. This includes Miami Dade College North Campus, where many of the vibrant little creatures have become acquainted with students, teachers and faculty.
The green iguana, or American iguana, first made its way into the Southernmost parts of North America when exotic pet owners decided to take on a few scaly companions. This resulted in the escape and release of some of the gigantic lizards which have waddled their way into our backyards and our hearts. Many locals consider them to be interesting additions to the local environment.
“They have a positive impact on the lives of people in Florida. I think many people in Florida appreciate them. They enjoy watching them. They enjoy seeing them on riverbanks and in natural areas,” said Nick Atwood, the campaigns coordinator for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida.
With their daring personalities, these green iguanas have become somewhat of a defining feature of South Florida. But for some Floridians, it is not worth the destruction iguanas cause on their homes. A common complaint that Floridians have is that iguanas are an invasive species that pose a threat to our native wildlife.
However, that may not be true.
“Their negative impact has been exaggerated. Iguanas do have an impact on ornamental plants. But as far as their impact on the natural ecosystem or native wildlife, I think it’s a small impact,” Atwood said.
In any case though, iguanas, like all other animals in Florida, are protected under an animal cruelty law that states that it is illegal to intentionally harm them. Although there are laws against it, it may not be the humans who are the aggressors. At North Campus, you can see dozens of incredibly bold iguanas by the lake, some have even stolen food from students and visitors that come to sit and enjoy the view.
“Some of the issues we have encountered are related to students being scared of them and sometimes feeding them. As wild animals, we do not encourage anybody to feed them, more so they should live off of what is their environment naturally,” says Fermin Vazquez, the Senior Director of Campus Administration for Miami Dade College North Campus.
To combat the issue, the college has strategically placed signage around the lake to deter feeding the iguanas. The signs state, “These iguanas are wild and may bite. They eat fruit, leaves, and flowers. Please do not interfere with their natural diet.”
Their bright orange and black or green and black striped backs are a stark contrast to the color of the lake they reside next to. As visitors pass by, these curious creatures stare visitors down.
But most people find them endearing.
“They’re adorable,” said David Rojo, a Computer Science major at Miami Dade College.
Amy Calderon, a criminal justice major at MDC, jokingly added:“When they don’t bite your finger off.”
The crested creatures have also evoked some hilarious confusion.
“Once a faculty member contacted me and was extremely concerned because she thought someone had painted one of them orange. When we found him and researched the issue, it was actually because they were in mating season. They naturally change their skin color to attract a partner,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez believes the iguanas complement the campus’ educational atmosphere.
“They are a beautiful addition to the natural environment of our campus which the campus community enjoys,” Vasquez said.