Raining reptiles: What makes these iguanas fall out of trees?

Raining reptiles: What makes these iguanas fall out of trees?
Iguana falling from tree Florida
·3 min read
Iguana falling from tree Florida

An iguana falls from a tree in South Florida as an unseasonable cold snap enveloped the Sunshine State in January 2020. (WPLG / ABC Newsone)

Every few years, a unique weather predicament strikes the tropical climate of South Florida. While nowhere near as destructive as a landfalling hurricane can be, the phenomenon of cold-stunned iguanas falling from trees is an attention-grabber every year it occurs.

The animals are not native to Florida, and the cold-blooded reptiles struggle to maintain their core body temperature when outside air temperatures drop. The cooldown results in the iguanas becoming stiff, immobile and, thus, much more likely to fall out of trees at night, where they usually sleep and when the temperature tends to reach its lowest point.

Iguanas are considered an invasive species in the Sunshine State and certainly feel invasive when they fall out of trees incapacitated. When fully grown, iguanas can be up to five feet long and weigh up to 25 pounds.

Such large lizards falling from trees can injure unaware humans who don't normally don't anticipate raining reptiles. These scaly projectiles can also do some serious damage to Florida's sidewalks.

Frank Guzman, a bureau chief for a local TV station, caught video of an iguana that had fallen unconscious on the sidewalk emerging from its cold-induced stupor on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (Frank Guzman / WSVN-TV)

When temperatures drop into the low 40s or below, the reptiles slow down drastically and, eventually, become immobile. Despite the fall to the ground, they often survive and land on their backs with their spiny feet in the air, creating a spooky scene for residents who venture outside in the morning.

In a scene fit for a horror movie, the zombied iguanas remain motionless until the temperatures climb and they awaken from the frozen slumber.

When they do wake up, the reptiles are so shocked to find themselves on the ground that they usually spring to life and quickly scamper away.

The falling iguanas have become such an eye-catching incident in recent years that meteorologists from the National Weather Service office in Miami have issued unofficial "falling iguana" alerts.

Robert Molleda, a warning coordination meteorologist with the NWS in Miami, told AccuWeather that the uniqueness of the falling iguanas to the Floridian region helps make the delivery of weather advisories more fun and effective for the team's audience.

"Despite the fact that it wasn't an official warning, the fact that it's such a unique aspect of the cold temperatures certainly made it take a life of its own on social media," he said.

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