A strange phenomenon has begun to occur in Florida when the temperatures are unseasonably cold in the winter: falling iguanas. As temperatures drop into the 30s, iguanas have been falling out of their trees in a frozen torpor. Many Floridians have been stunned to see the number of these reptiles lying on the ground, seemingly dead. They are not dead – just frozen.
Iguanas begin to slow down once the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit; the colder the temperature, the more sluggish the iguanas become until they freeze. Because most iguanas sleep in trees, once they freeze they fall out of them and onto the ground. In some cases, that means they fall on people's cars, driveways, backyards and swimming pools.
The iguanas will remain in this frozen state for a short while. "If it's just for a day or two, they'll just get to where they're completely frozen in time," said Emily Maple, a Palm Beach County Zoo reptile keeper. "They're still able to breathe. They're still able to do bodily functions just very slow."
“When the temperature goes down, they literally shut down, and they can no longer hold on to the trees,” explained Ron Magill, communications director for Zoo Miami. “Which is why you get this phenomenon in South Florida that it’s raining iguanas.”
Residents can speed up the thawing process by moving frozen iguanas into warmer, sunny spots. “Even if they look dead as a doornail – they’re gray and stiff – as soon as it starts to heat up and they get hit by the sun rays, it’s this rejuvenation,” Magill said. “The ones that survive that cold streak are basically passing on that gene.”
The cold temperatures make the iguanas' bodies think its time to prepare for a long winter. The temporary state of hibernation should give way to a healthy, normal iguana once the reptile gets the chance to warm up. Some iguanas might not survive the shock, and this is nature's way of winnowing out its population and support a hardier iguana more inured to frigid temperatures.
Until then, Floridians should keep an eye out when they are walking under trees just in case an iguana falls. Watch the video below for more information on falling iguanas.