Green Iguana

July 25, 2012

A wild female green iguana

Iguana iguana

Native range Central and South America and parts of the Caribbean
Invasive range Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Florida, Texas, and Hawaii
Habitat Arboreal, often found near water.
Impacts Green iguanas compete with native lizards on islands in the Caribbean. They prey on the vulnerable Florida burrowing owl, and could affect tree snails with limited distributions. They are a potential hazard on airport runways in Puerto Rico.
Description With short legs and a long body that can reach up to 6 feet, iguanas are covered in short leathery scales. The tapered tail can be used as a weapon and for balance when climbing trees. Primarily herbivorous, an iguana’s spines are effective in defending against predation.

 

These days, a cold snap in Miami means a night when it rains iguanas. Down from sea grapes and buttonwood trees large, green, tree-dwelling invaders fall––because they’re native to warmer, more equatorial Central and South America. And there the lizards lie until the sun warms them up enough to move. It’s called “brumation,” the reptilian form of mammalian hibernation.

Blame the iguana invasion on the pet trade. The cute little salad-eaters with docile personalities make an easy sell. But then they grow up––to 6 feet long. They escape. Or they’re let loose by owners who can’t cope. They graze at the salad bar of the suburbs: shrubs, trees, orchids, figs, mangos, berries, tomatoes. They poop in or around water; a backyard swimming pool is perfect. They run into other iguanas in town. They breed. Their nest-burrowing digs up yards and undermines sidewalks, sea walls, and building foundations. They lay eggs––well, like reptiles, often in great numbers.

The Miami blue butterfly

That the green iguana is a herbivore is bad news for the endangered Miami Blue struggling to recolonize the Florida Keys: invading iguanas, having developed a taste for the nickerbean leaves where the blues lay their eggs, threaten to drive the butterfly into extinction.

If there is good news, it comes from Docteur André Nègre, author of The French West-Indies Through Their Cookery. Iguanas “feed themselves only on young vegetal shoots and on hibiscus flowers: no edible animal can boast of such a delicate food; man himself, if compared to this animal, eats filthy food, comparatively speaking.” R.P. Labat, in his Nouveaux Voyages aux Isles d’Amérique, 1722, reported that “The lizard’s flesh has the same whiteness, tenderness, exquisite taste and delicacy as the chicken’s.”* In Florida, the domestic dog, the burrowing owl, and the raccoon concur as to its tastiness. It seems that only Anthony Bourdain disagrees.

What’s more, by papal decree long ago, the cold-blooded iguana, fond of warm coastal waters, can be eaten on Friday and during Lent.

They are probably too well established in Florida to be eradicated, but they can be controlled and excluded on a local scale. Read more about one man’s efforts to rid Florida of the related spiny-tailed black iguana and Ctenosaur tacos at the South Beach Bar and Grille here.

University of Florida Extension’s profile of the iguana.

 

*As it turns out, iguanas may be healthier than chicken, too. They contain 24% protein compared to 18% in chicken.

Recipes

To prepare an iguana for cooking
Iguanas can be cleaned and skinned like a chicken, using the same best practices, since iguanas do carry salmonella.

Remove the head, organs, and entrails.

If you don’t want to skin it, dip it in hot water, then scrape the scales off, as you do with fish.

Parboil in salted water for 20 to 30 minutes before roasting or stewing.

Rafael, of Pomuch, Mexico, explains how here.

Iguana Pozole

Pozole is a traditional hominy stew of Mexico.

Adapted from Gabriel Martinez Campos in Wikibooks.

2 medium iguanas
5 cups of freshly bleached hominy
10 cloves of garlic
1 onion
1 slice of cabbage, diced
bay leaf
Mexican oregano
salt and pepper

Butcher skin and cut the iguana in pieces. Wash, salt and blanch for 15 to 20 minutes.

Simmer the corn, garlic, onion, a bay leaf, and salt to taste.

At 10 minutes add the meat. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes.

Serve with sliced cabbage, onion slices, cilantro, oregano, and pepper to taste.

Night of the Iguana

One fellow’s take on preparing iguana: if it tastes just like chicken, why not wings?

    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    Nonofyourbussiness October 13, 2015 at 9:59 am

    It would be great if you could provide a map of where iguanas are invasive.

    Reply

    JoeRoman December 11, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    We don’t have a map on hand, but green iguanas have become established in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Florida, Texas, and Hawaii. They are also present on several islands in the Caribbean, including Martinique, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos.

    Reply

    Cancel reply

    Leave a Comment

    Land

    Wild_boar

    Wild Pig

    Did the domestic ancestors of today’s feral pigs streak off De Soto’s ship into the Florida scrub of their own accord in 1539? Or did they have to be urged to go find something to eat? All you need to…


      EAT ME!
      6a00d83451b96069e2017d3d0b7851970c-400wi

      Garden Snail

      Deliberately or accidentally, by the movement of plants and by hobbyists who collect snails, humans have spread the garden snail to temperate and subtropical zones around the world.


        EAT ME!
        nopales con huevo

        Prickly Pear

        Fall is here, and the “cactus fig” is in season. Time to plate-up another widespread invader.


          EAT ME!
          Screen Shot 2012-11-18 at 8.02.21 AM

          Sow Thistle

          It’s spring and time to weed. Sow thistle is a delicious invader found throughout the continent.


            EAT ME!
            800px-ChenopodiumAlbum001

            Lamb’s Quarters

            Lamb’s quarters was a popular spring tonic in the South—an early season edible green—but its leaves are good throughout the summer.       Chenopodium album Native range: Described by Linnaeus in 1753, this European native has been transferred throughout much of the world. Because its spread was rarely recorded, C. album‘s native and invasive [...]


              EAT ME!

              Sea

              Hemigrapsus_sanguineus_big

              Asian Shore Crab

              The first sighting of the Asian shore crab in the United States was at Townsend Inlet, Cape May County, New Jersey, in 1988. Though the source is unknown . . .


                EAT ME!
                Periwinkles

                Periwinkle

                The common periwinkle, which first appeared in New England in the 1860s, is now found along the coast wherever there’s hard substrate–rocks, riprap, broken concrete, or docks–from Labrador to . . .


                  EAT ME!
                  Pterois volitans

                  Lionfish

                  Some say it started in 1992 in Miami when Hurricane Andrew smashed an aquarium tank. Don’t blame the weather, others say; in the mid-nineties, disappointed yet softhearted hobbyists…


                    EAT ME!
                    chuka wakame

                    Wakame

                      Undaria pinnatifida Native range: Japan Sea Invasive range: Southern California, San Francisco Bay, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Argentina Habitat: Opportunistic seaweed, can be found on hard substrates including rocky reefs, pylons, buoys, boat hulls, and abalone and bivalve shells. Description: Golden brown seaweed, growing up to nine feet. Forms thick canopy. Reproductive sporophyll in [...]


                      EAT ME!
                      Kleiner_Taschenkrebs_(Carcinus_maenas)

                      Green Crab

                      Since the green crab was first recorded off southern Massachusetts in 1817, it has been hard to ignore. A few minutes of rock-flipping in Maine can turn up dozens of them, brandishing their claws as they retreat…


                        EAT ME!

                        Fresh

                        Armored Catfish Meatballs (1)

                        Armored Catfish

                        The armored catfish is abundant and destructive in Florida, Texas, and Mexico. Cast your nets for these flavorful natives of the Amazon. Scientific name: Two types have become established in North America: armadillo del rio, Hypostomus plecostomus, and sailfin catfishes in genus Pterygoplichthys Native range: Amazon River Basin Invasive range: Texas, Florida, and Hawaii; also [...]


                          EAT ME!
                          Picture 1

                          Common Carp

                          For a bottom-feeder, what is the good life? The common carp isn’t very demanding: any body of water that’s sluggish and murky will do. If the water is clean, and you’ve got corn for bait, try one of these recipes.


                            EAT ME!
                            IMG_W007-2

                            Watercress

                              Nasturtium officianale Native Range: Northern Africa, Europe, temperate Asia, and India Invasive Range: In USA: all lower 48 states, except North Dakota. Found in Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Also southern Canada, Sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Australasia, and parts of tropical Asia. Habitat: Common along stream margins, ditches, and other areas with [...]


                              EAT ME!
                              rusty_crayfish-large

                              Crayfish

                                There are numerous invasive crayfish. We include details for the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) and the rusty crayfish (Orenectes rusticus). The same recipes can be used for both species–and many other invasive crayfish. Red Swamp Crayfish Native range: Known as Louisiana crayfish, crawdad, and mudbug, Procambarus clarkii is native to the south central [...]


                                EAT ME!
                                nutria-mugshot

                                Nutria

                                Nutria, also known as coypu and river rat, is native to temperate and subtropical South America. It has been introduced to Europe, Asia, and Africa, mainly for fur farming. These voracious. . .


                                  EAT ME!

                                  Field Notes

                                  invasive-brushes

                                  The Alien Aesthetic

                                  Patterson Clark turns invasive plants into art. As a volunteer for the National Park Service, he got an idea: “One day, when I was pulling a plant, I thought, how can I change my relationship with this plant so that it’s not just eradication, taking something’s life? Since then, I’ve been harvesting invasive plants, rather [...]


                                    EAT ME!
                                    Screenshot 2017-12-15 08.38.28

                                    The Lionfish Market

                                    In a sign that the eat-the-invaders movement continues to gain steam, the University of West Florida’s College of Business is offering a course on marketing the highly invasive lionfish to consumers. Read more about it here.


                                      EAT ME!
                                      images

                                      New Species Invade Campus Dining

                                      Inspired by the work of the Eat the Invaders project, UVM Dining and the University of Vermont Real Food Working Group hosted a dinner featuring edible invasive species.


                                        EAT ME!
                                        7fe8ef238ab2d59accbebfb6e97ac751-600

                                        Invasive Herbs for Herbal Tea

                                        The ingredients for many herbal teas, including lemon balm, mint, and nettles, have become naturalized in the United States. RateTea reviews a few of them here.


                                          EAT ME!
                                          whole_fried_lionfish

                                          Can Markets Handle Invasive Species?

                                          Marketing campaigns are underway to spur demand for the flaky white fillets of lionfish. The Reef Environmental Education Foundation has published a cookbook in an attempt to get people to realize that lionfish is an option for dinner. Whole Foods has hosted “Take a Bite Out of Lionfish”: live filleting and cooking demos and lionfish [...]


                                            EAT ME!

                                            It’s the frontier. The woods are this mysterious area where things grow. You don’t have to tend to it, you don’t have to plant it, you just have to find it.

                                            Chef Matt Lightner in The New York Times

                                            Previous post:

                                            Next post: