Exotics crawl into Southwest Florida
invasion is taking place to our south. By land, sea,
air … well, maybe not air, but the shores of
Southwest Florida are being overrun by aliens.
a pretty picture. Locals are talking of using weapons
of mass destruction. Chemical warfare. Whatever it
lizard plague. It's a whole different invasive
species than what we've got with Australian pines
or Brazilian peppers. It moves, and grows, and feeds,
and - well, let's cut to the chase.
Boca Grande's nightmare
Boca Grande is
an upscale community on Gasparilla Island, at the mouth
of Boca Grande Pass in Lee County. Boca Grande is old
Florida, old-fashioned upscale. The Bush family vacations
there during the Christmas holidays - all of
the Georges and Jeb, too - plus more top-end
top-flight folks than you could imagine. Old money,
site of the "world's richest tarpon tournament," too,
since the silver kings are known to pack the pass to
the south of the island during the spring months and
attract anglers from throughout the world for the fishing
of the hugely popular gamefish.
The island has
become a haven for another visitor, too.
iguanas made an appearance on the small island several
years ago. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune,
the critters had a population of about 2,000 in 2000 - now,
they've grown in numbers to better than 10,000.
The iguanas were
apparently yet another of those critters that just
got too big to be a houseguest. They get to be better
than 2 feet long, they aren't one of the more
cuddly of critters that you would want to invite into
your bed on a cold winter night, and apparently some
were set free into the wild, probably back in the 1970s.
As with all wild
things, they did wild breeding stuff, and the population
exploded. Without any real natural predators, the supersized
lizards started taking over sand dunes, houses, seawalls
and any other place they could find.
The iguanas pretty
much eat anything they can get their mouths around.
A popular munch is gopher tortoise eggs, a species
of turtle that is far too rare in Florida to be termed
There is also
a lizard erosion problem as their burrows undermine
the sand dunes. And there is also apparently that iguana-human
Lots of folks
on Boca Grande get around via golf cart on the wide
sidewalks and slow streets in the area. Iguanas like
to sun on sunny sidewalks. Hit an iguana, or swerve
to miss a dozing iguana, and there is a high crash
Island Conservation and Improvement Association met
last week and decided that enough was enough. Based
on findings by a Florida Gulf Coast University professor,
the 100-plus members of the association endorsed a
special fee to add "iguana control" to
the association's annual fee.
Kill them, in
other words, bounty hunter.
Jerome Jackson was reported in the SH-T: "You
have to euthanize. Shooting would be the most efficient
There is a legality
issue still to be resolved regarding the iguana hunt,
but somehow, sometime soon, Mexican split-tail iguana
shoots appear destined to occur in Boca Grande.
I wonder if they
taste like chicken?
Cape Coral, too
Jump a little
north and east from Boca Grande and you're in
Cape Coral. It's one of those planned communities
with a central intelligence for infrastructure and
design that appeared on the Florida landscape in the
Cape Coral also
has a lizard problem, but one of a greater magnitude
than its island neighbor. Nile monitor lizards, to
be more precise. And they're a much bigger problem,
the St. Petersburg Times, "An adult Nile monitor
can measure 7 feet. The lizards can climb trees and
walls, dig burrows and tunnels, swim long distances,
even underwater." They too eat pretty much anything,
including oysters and turtles - not just the
eggs, but the turtles, too.
find them in their swimming pools, on their roofs,
sunning on their sea walls," according to the
Times. "Folks say the stray cat population is
declining. There are unconfirmed reports of missing
dachshunds and plundered koi ponds."
There were an
estimated 1,000 Niles around a few years ago. Grants
were put in place to start trapping and also "eradicating" the
big lizards then, and population totals are still uncertain.
Females can lay something like 70 eggs at a time and,
like the Boca Grande iguanas, there doesn't seem
to be much in the way of natural predators for these
really big critters.
You want to sic
your vicious Dobie dog on a 7-foot-long lizard that
is related to the last surviving dragon, the Komodo?
After all, "the Komodo dragon of Indonesia, which
can grow up to 10 feet long, hunts deer and has been
known to kill humans," according to the Times.
Maybe the real issue
OK, so we've
got iguanas and dragons to the south. So what, you
the reptile feeding frenzy, although voracious, seems
to be centered around eggs. Any kind of eggs. Bird,
snakes, gators, crocodiles - yeah, there are
crocs down there.
And while some
of us may sometimes think that less snakes may be a
good thing in the world, less birds? Of course, you
remember that less eggs means less critters, and a
critter that targets eggs as a main food source without
anything out there to really eat its eggs means a big
a pet you can't handle or don't want to
have for a long, long time.
And for goodness
sake, don't just let whatever undesirable thing
you have and don't want "go free" in
the wilds of Florida. It may come back to bite you.
Angler Hotel on North Bimini in the Bahamas was apparently
totally destroyed in a fire last week. The resort fire
also killed its owner, Julian Brown.
Angler was one of author Ernest Hemingway's favorite
retreats. He apparently wrote much of "To Have
and Have Not" there, and spent a lot of time
fishing the waters off the island for marlin and sailfish.
Joe Chiles pointed
out the obvious - to him, but obviously not quite
to me - in a Sandscript a few weeks ago when
I mentioned that possums are rodents. Of course, we
all know they are actually marsupials.
Jeez, I knew
that, Joe. Sorry.
Speaking of rodents,
I got into a Sherlock Holmes reading jag a week or
so ago and read Rick Boyer's wannabe Arthur Conan
Doyle story, "The Giant Rat of Sumatra." Boyer
takes Holmes and Dr. Watson on new adventures after
Doyle's death, and actually does a pretty good
job of re-creating the master's Sherlockian sleuth-dom.
Except for the
OK, maybe I'm
giving the story away, but the "giant rat" is
actually supposed to be something called a Sumatran
Tapir, Tapirus indicus. Huge, like the size
of a calf huge, with a rat face, it terrorizes the
multitudes, rips living flesh from bone … you
get the idea. Oh, the horror.
Despite the fact
that the tapir described is a vegetarian, Holmes and
his author go on to explain that the critter was mistreated
by its master and forced into unspeakable acts against
its will. Fine, I'll buy literary artifice.
But take a look
in your encyclopedia at a tapir, even a Sumatran Tapir,
and try and tell me it looks like a big rat.
kinda like the concept that a manatee looks like a