Bounty May Be Put out for Invasive Iguanas in Florida's Miami Beach

A cash bounty may be given for killing iguanas in Miami Beach, due to the overwhelming numbers of the reptiles.

The iguanas, which are invasive to Miami Beach, have been rapidly expanding in population and causing damage, leading officials to suggest payments for hunters who kill the creatures.

"Something more needs to be done," Barbara Benis, a resident who had to rebuild her sea wall after iguanas destroyed it, told Miami's Local 10 News.

green iguana
A stock image of a green iguana. Miami Beach officials have suggested a bounty for killing the reptiles, which are invasive in Florida. iStock / Getty Images Plus

Green iguanas are invasive in Miami, having originally come from South and Central America. It is thought that the populations in Florida arrived via boats carrying shipments of fruit, with the pet trade then causing a population boom.

The iguanas, which can grow up to 5 feet long, are considered invasive due to their impacts on local flora and fauna, as well as property.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC), iguanas damage residential and commercial landscape vegetation, eating fruit and vegetables, including native endangered plant butterfly sage (Cordia globosa), and nickernut/nickerbean, which is a main food of the endangered Miami blue butterfly.

The iguanas also dig burrows that erode and collapse sidewalks, foundations, sea walls and canal banks. They may leave numerous droppings on porches and swimming pools, which may transmit salmonella bacteria to humans.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told 10 News that the $50,000 budget for tackling iguanas has been raised to $200,000 this year. In a city council meeting on September 14 about how to best deal with the invasion, it was suggested that a bounty for each dead iguana could incentivize locals to get involved.

"I don't know - dead or alive. But if we pay per iguana, we're going to get more iguanas," Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez told 10 News. "People are going to go out and hunt them for money. I think that's a better use of our money."

According to the FWC, green iguanas are protected only by anti-cruelty laws in Florida, meaning that they can legally be humanely killed on private property year-round with landowner permission.

While this approach may indeed give incentive to kill the iguanas, it could also lead locals down a well-trodden path known as the "cobra effect," or perverse incentive.

This is named after a disastrous campaign by the British colonial government in India, where they offered a bounty for dead cobras in an attempt to minimize the local venomous cobra populations.

However, rather than killing and getting paid for cobras they happened to come across, locals realized they could make a lot more money if they bred cobras and killed them.

At the end of the campaign, once the officials realized what was going on and the locals released their now-worthless cobras, there were more of the reptiles in the area than there had been at the start.

Regardless of whether a bounty ends up being put into effect in Florida, the FWC suggests methods to protect property from the iguanas, including removing plants that act as attractants, filling in holes to discourage burrowing, hanging wind chimes or other items that make intermittent noises that will deter them, and spraying the animals with water.