Florida Bans Iguanas, 15 Total Invasive Species: What to Know

by Jon D. B.

Florida is moving swiftly to prevent any more dangerous invasive species from taking hold, and Outsider is breaking down everything you need to know after unprecedented wildlife legislation.

During the final days of February 2021, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission took its largest step ever towards righting the state’s horrendous invasive species issues. With a unanimous vote 7-0, the organization banned the breeding, possession, and all importation of 16 species known to pose significant threats to Florida’s ecology.

Species within the banning include iguanas and several python breeds, with the latter snakes having an immensely detrimental impact on Florida’s wilds over the last decades. The most prevalent (and contested) species are as follows:

  • Green iguanas
  • Indian pythons
  • Burmese pythons
  • North African pythons
  • Southern African pythons
  • Amethystine pythons
  • Scrub pythons
  • Green anacondas
  • Nile monitor lizards
  • Argentine black and white tegus

Under the new legislation, the breeding of animals on this list for any commercial sale may continue until June of 2024. After that, the practice will be forbidden and under strict reinforcement.

Current green iguana owners – a popular pet in the state – can keep their reptiles in the meantime. They will not, however, be able to replace the pet with a new iguana if it dies at any time moving forward. The same stands for tegu owners, with both now requiring a no-cost permit and compliance with new state regulations.

While heavily contested by Florida breeders, which make up a multi-million dollar industry in the state, the legislation should be a welcomed one for Florida tax payers and wildlife conservationists. The state spends roughly $8 million dollars every single year to combat the effect of invasive species.

Pythons & Iguanas Invading Wilds & Homes: Florida’s Ever-Present Invasive Species Problem

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“The vote by the commission came after hours of online public hearing, in which reptile breeders, sellers and pet owners voiced opposition to the ban,” cites The Hill‘s Changing America.

For many wildlife conservationists, the question isn’t why Florida is making these efforts – but why it took so long. Non-native reptiles have been wreaking havoc on the state’s diverse ecosystems for a full generation. The impact has been so great that it stretches into residential and urban areas, too.

Iguanas, for instance, have become such a prevalent presence in Florida sewers that they’re impacting sewage systems. And as if out of a horror film, the species is well-documented emerging from homeowner’s toilets and into their houses. And this pales in comparison to the state’s python problem.

The snakes were first discovered breeding in Florida’s wilds nearly two decades ago. Since then, scientists estimate numbers could be 100,000 to 300,000 wild pythons in the Everglades.

As a result, Florida state has a bounty program for the species – and it’s a proven hit. More than 5,000 Burmese pythons have been removed from the wild since the bounties began in 2017.

“This action is a result of the invasive species that continue to get into the wild”

Support for the legislation, however, is far from unanimous with Floridians.

“Banning these animals is punishing those same people that are out there, putting hours of work removing these invasive species,” Daniel Perez tells Florida’s WWSB. Perez is a reptile keeper and educator in his home state, and staunchly opposes the ruling.

“I’m very sensitive to the people in the pet trade and enthusiasts,” retorts Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioner Robert Spottswood. “But this action is a result of the invasive species that continue to get into the wild.”

For a first-hand glimpse into Florida’s invasive species problem, this python hunter’s recent, record-breaking bounty readily shows what’s at stake.