For Brits Iguana hunting is not something many have heard of or would ever consider doing. In the United Kingdom Iguanas are one of the most common reptiles found in households as pets however, across the pond it is a very different story. The difference one letter can make when talking about ‘pets’ Vs ‘pests’ is the equivalent of $1.8million worth of damage in one town alone. 

For myself, the biggest question when considering a new quarry is why? 

Iguanas are nonnative species in Florida. Their populations have been spiraling out of control with numbers increasing 27-fold over 5 years according to The Council of Agriculture. One female Iguana can produce over 70 eggs per year. As they are nonnative, mature Iguanas don’t have any natural predators in South Florida. Alligators may take the occasional one, but I was told by locals that this is very rare, and humans must intervene to keep numbers under control due to the vast increase in damage they are causing.

Green iguanas cause serious damage to both residential and commercial landscape. Iguanas are attracted to trees with foliage or flowers, most fruits don’t stand a chance and almost any vegetable will be consumed. A few people I spoke to told me how impossible it is to grow their own vegetables in their garden, due to the Iguanas eating everything in sight. They are mainly herbivores but have been known to eat bird eggs, however the main concern on certain species in Miami is the rapid decrease in numbers of the Miami Blue Butterfly. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the butterfly as an endangered species. The reason? The invasive Green Iguana has no predators in the Keys, its numbers are growing, and it is eating the leaves of the Nickerbean Blue plant, the same leaves where the Miami Blue lays its eggs. This is just one example of the knock-on effects Florida’s ecosystem is experiencing due to over population of Iguanas. 

Green iguanas also cause significant damage to infrastructure by digging burrows that erode and collapse sidewalks, foundations, seawalls and canal banks. The city of Miami Beach paid iguana hunters $50,000 in 2021 to help control numbers with the city expected to quadruple its budget to $200,000 to deal with the problem. The large lizards recently contributed to $1.8million of damage in West Palm Beach according to their WBP Post – “The Iguanas digging helped undermine a dam that controls water flow into the city’s reservoirs.” The South Florida Water Management District have also experienced similar problems among the multitude of manmade canals that line the Everglades and nearby areas. The females dig egg chambers that can contain up to 80ft of tunnels with multiple entrances to lay their clutches. Once the eggs have hatched the females then move on and leave the young to fend for themselves, repeating the process for her next clutch in a new area. Iguanas also leave droppings on common places such as docks, seawalls, porches, decks, pool platforms and inside swimming pools which is really dangerous as they transmit the infectious bacterium Salmonella to humans through contact with water or surfaces contaminated by their feces. 

Now we know why, the next question is how? 

As we arrived at Lake Worth in West Palm Beach to embark on our half-day of Iguana hunting. There was a lot of curiosity and excitement for how the next few hours were going to play out. We boarded Captain Carlos’s Reef to Rivers Fishing Charter which is where we would spend the next 4 hours. On arrival, we were given an in-depth safety brief on how to use our Benjamin .22 Cal Air Pistols, how it would work with backdrops while on the water and how the day was going to work in general. I knew then, this was going to be like nothing I had done before. 

Iguanas have extremely good eyesight and are tremendously good at blending into their surroundings, making them difficult to spot at the best of times, never mind when you’re on a speed boat cruising across the waters. It was therefore down to us to keep our eyes up and call out if we spotted an Iguana on the banks surrounding the water. With houses on top of a lot of the banks, we had to make sure the Iguanas were safe to shoot, we were happy with the backdrop and that the boat was in the correct place to do so before every single shot.

I stepped up to take the first Iguana of the day and while the boat came to a stop, the waves certainly did not. Iguanas have extremely tough hides and therefore, you are limited to one vulnerable spot in particular which is located at the back of their head and top of their neck where their skin is at its thinnest. The older Iguanas get, the tougher their hide becomes meaning the larger iguanas are significantly more difficult to kill than their young. Shooting them anywhere other than the back of their head would not result in a kill and the Iguana would be gone by the time you can take your second shot. Fun fact about Iguanas, if they think they are in danger, they drop their tails as a defence mechanism and bolt off. I use the words ‘Bolt off’ on purpose as Iguanas are the world’s fastest lizard and can reach speeds of up to 21mph. As the boat rocked from side to side it became obvious that it was going to be rather difficult to focus on getting the sight onto the exact vulnerable spot in question before the boat hit the next wave or the Iguana started running. Lo and behold, I squeezed the trigger for the first time and the Iguana dropped to the ground. I turned to see the smile on Sam’s face and a fist pump from our Captain who quickly added ‘It’s going to be a bloody good day if you keep shooting like that’ and with those words, all my nerves disappeared and turned into pure excitement. 

Once the Iguana had been dispatched the next job was to retrieve the reptile. This was done by pulling the boat up to the banking and jumping off the boat to retrieve the Iguanas by hand. The first couple of times we did this, I won’t lie… it was terrifying. Aside from their teeth and extremely sharp claws, they have very powerful tails that can be very sharp and when whipped against your skin can cause serious damage. Iguanas like other animals still have nerves twitching once they have been dispatched and if you don’t pick it up in the right place, it can be super dangerous. For me it wasn’t the Iguana we were retrieving that was my concern it was the others that were hiding amongst the long grass that would surprise you out of nowhere. So hard to find with a gun in hand, yet so many to jump out when you’re least expecting them to.

Throughout the next four hours, we shot an extremely varied bag of Iguanas, the unique thing about Iguana hunting is that you can really push yourself depending on how hard you want the shooting to be. With Iguanas as small as 12 inches and as large as 6 feet in the bag at the end, it’s safe to say we pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones. The smaller Iguanas were so hard to spot and had such a small vulnerable area to shoot and the larger Iguanas when you could find one, were a lot savvier and had much tougher hides to penetrate. We were extremely fortunate to bag ourselves a 6-foot alpha with his tail still attached, it’s very rare to get a larger iguana who hasn’t lost a fight and or its tail in the process.

We know why and how we shoot Iguanas, so what happens next? 

Three words, field to fork. Iguanas are delicious, they taste exactly like chicken and have earned the official nickname of “chicken of the trees” however, I would say Iguana has a little bit more texture. Iguanas must be treated with the same food safety standards as Chicken as similarly, they carry Salmonella. That being said, if you do all the correct preparation, Iguanas have very nutritious meat due to being low in fat and high in protein and you can make some fantastic dishes. Iguana meat is relatively lean and contains more protein than chicken and the exact same as pheasant. Dissimilar to Pheasant it’s a relatively mild meat and therefore takes on the flavor of anything added with it. There are so many fantastic recipes when you look online on what you can do with Iguana and how to prepare them.  That was how we navigated our way around our Iguanas, there were some fantastic YouTube videos on how to prepare and cook them, although our first attempt didn’t look Michelin star by any stretch of your imagination, the results were extremely delicious. We prepped our Iguanas and placed the meat and cartilage in boiling water for an hour and a half with some onions. Once removed from the pot, we shredded the meat off with a fork and added it to our tacos with pepper, cheese, cooked onions, lettuce, garlic mayo and sweet chilli sauce. 9/10 would definitely cook again, so easy to make and super tasty, if you get the opportunity, I would highly recommend trying Iguana meat. 

Would I do it again?

Absolutely! I love experiencing new things and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. When I was heading out to America for my road trip, I knew I wanted to do something that we couldn’t do here in the UK. When speaking to the ladies from Her Wilderness (an American version of The Country Girls UK) Captain Carlos came highly recommended and when we finally knew our dates for dropping off the camper to head up the East Coast, I knew we had to get it booked in. Iguana hunting wasn’t something that had ever crossed my mind, to be truthful I had no idea how big of an issue Iguanas were until we got to Florida and were bombarded by the reptiles daily. In a few of the campsites we stayed at, we were having issues with them digging at our electric boxes and messing with the piping and we weren’t staying in locations longer than two nights. I think like anything, when you can physically see the damage the pests are doing, it makes so much more sense and gives you a much better understanding of what needs to be done to help control numbers. Like pigeons and rabbits here in the UK, when numbers get out of control, humans need to intervene, it’s no different out in Florida. 

Written by Tania Coxon, Founder of The Country Girls UK