Florida Researchers Are Bashing In the Skulls of Iguanas

Iguanas are considered an invasive species in Florida. KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Researchers in Broward County, Florida have turned to a particularly gruesome method to curtail South Florida's iguana population: bashing in the skulls of the reptiles.

A team from the University of Florida (UF) is hunting the animals as part of a three-month project commissioned by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) in order to determine the best way to remove them.

To kill the animals, the researchers have been using a bolt gun—similar to the one used in the livestock industry—in addition to the far cruder method of smashing the animals' heads against solid objects.

"Most of what we're doing is blunt force trauma," Jenny Ketterlin, a wildlife biologist with UF told Broward County daily the Sun Sentinel. "Hitting their head very hard against a solid object."

Ketterlin said this method destroys the brain quickly and is actually the most humane way to kill the iguanas. While it may seem brutal, the technique does not violate any of the state's anti-cruelty laws, she added. In total, the team has killed 249 of the reptiles.

However, the head-bashing method has caused controversy. Local vet Susan Kelleher said it was cruel, suggesting that sedating and then euthanizing the iguanas was a more humane method.

Carli Segelson, a spokeswoman for the FFWCC, told the Sentinel: "Iguanas are an invasive species in Florida and can be a nuisance to homeowners or impact native wildlife." She added: "Iguanas can feed on native plants and wildlife and dig into areas that may cause erosion."

Gary Fishman, a resident of Boynton Beach who was not part of the research project, said he has killed more than 100 iguanas with his pellet gun to protect his landscaping.

"The iguana does not belong here," he told the Sentinel. "They need to be annihilated. They can't be relocated. So, they must be destroyed."

However, he said that the head-bashing method may be a step too far. "The pellet gun is more humane, in my opinion," he said.

The green iguana—which can grow to over 5 feet in length—is native to Central America, tropical regions of South America and some islands in the eastern Caribbean. The species was first reported in Florida in the 1960s, with the first populations likely originating from animals that had escaped from zoos or homes, or hitched a ride on cargo ships from South America.