On that humid summer morning, I’ll never forget the way the sun shimmered on the green lizards inhabiting the grounds behind our condo, which sat on the edge of a golf course. Sipping my morning coffee on our second-floor lanai, I watched, fascinated, entranced, as these reptilian creatures from the lost lagoon lumbered out of the low-lying underbrush surrounding our large pond. Others crept from the leafy coolness of the banyan trees to emerge onto the grass. Within an hour there were ten of them. These were not your cute little geckos that often invited themselves into your home, hiding behind pictures or scurrying up the bedroom wall. These were giant iguanas, some as long as seven feet, and when not moving, could easily be mistaken for logs, thick in front and tapering off into a long tail. It’s only when they raise their massive heads and stand, do you fully appreciate their impressive size. To watch them, it’s clear their ancestorial roots are prehistoric. And when the sun hits them, they shine, as glittery as a well-cut diamond. Their scales alternate between a neon green and a golden hue in the sunlight, often ranging in metallic hues of gold to silver, to blues, greens and rust.
These giants are Green Iguanas, a Central American lizard that has invaded South Florida. Some, thought to originally been brought in by tourists and others, illegal “stowaways” on transport ships. Their numbers range somewhere around five to six thousand, and they are reproducing in fast numbers as they have no predators. But while ferocious in appearance, they are quite harmless, posing little danger to humans. Nor do they appear to threaten the other wildlife inhabiting the space; the snowy ibis and egrets that delicately weave around these lizards, or the herons, as tall as the iguanas are long, strolling around majestically, clearly not intimidated by their fearsome neighbors. And the iguanas, themselves, seemingly not at all flustered by the golfers that drive their carts past them all day long. And like their human counterparts, iguanas seem content to sunbathe, basking in that hot Florida sun, requiring neither sunscreen nor large straw hats.
Only when the young adult males happened to encroach into their territory, with their designs on one of the females, do the adult male iguanas show some spunk by rearing up on their front legs, whipping their spiked tails and lunging forward, fast enough to send the young’uns off in the opposite direction, not quite committed to fight for a lovely lizard lady.
I could sit on my lanai for hours and watch these formidable, yet beautiful, reptiles as they saunter from one spot to another, often lifting their heads to see what was going on; and if noting nothing newsworthy, lower them again, content to graze and sleep.
I don’t know exactly when they would retreat, disappearing into the trees or the brush. But like the golfers, they usually called it a day as soon as the sun went down, going as quietly as they appeared. And the next morning, reappearing with the sun.
Most of the resident Floridians would love to see these creatures destroyed because they are wreaking havoc on the infrastructure. They are damaging the waterways and canals by burrowing into the seawalls, as well as into the structures of homes. But I am still fascinated by their beauty and that they have managed to survive for thousands of years. Adapting to their environment and seemingly, respectful of each other’s space and in peaceful coexistence with their fellow creatures.
So, on that humid summer morning, as I sipped my coffee, a thought occurred to me. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if humans could do the same?