Green iguanas have been around Florida even longer than Burmese pythons. In some ways, these invasive lizards are an even bigger headache for the state. While pythons thrive mainly in the remote Everglades, iguanas concentrate in populated areas, where their burrows undermine seawalls, sidewalks, canal banks, levees, and other vital infrastructure. They wreak havoc on lawns, gardens, golf courses, and boat docks, and their droppings can spread the Salmonella bacteria to humans. They’ve also been known to displace threatened native wildlife such as burrowing owls and gopher tortoises. Like pythons, green iguanas can be hunted year-round—and doing so is crucial to managing their population. Here’s how to start Florida iguana hunting.
Can You Hunt Iguanas in Florida?
“Even someone who’s never hunted can get in on iguana hunting,” says Michael “Trapper Mike” Kimmel, owner-operator of Martin County Trapping and Wildlife Rescue and an outfitter of guided iguana hunts along Florida’s inland canals. “I’ve even had vegans and so-called tree-huggers come out, because they know that in order to help native wildlife, this has to be done.”
More experienced hunters will find iguana hunting a fast-paced outing that tests their shooting skills. While full-grown male iguanas can be 5 feet long and weigh nearly 20 pounds, most are much smaller, and Kimmel’s preferred method for a humane kill—a shot to the brain—presents a very small target area with little room for error. The action can be fast and furious. On his best day, Kimmel’s hunters took 91 swamp lizards.
“Florida iguana hunting has become popular because it’s high action, low stakes, and just a lot of fun,” he says. “You’re out on a boat on the water in the sun, it’s always a beautiful day, and you can listen to music and talk and be loud with your buddies. Best of all, you get tons of trigger time. There’s just not many hunts where you’re going to have as good a time while helping the ecosystem and the state in such an impactful manner.”
Where to Hunt Iguanas in Florida
Invasive green iguanas easily blend in with Florida’s native foliage, but with a little practice, you can learn to spot their silhouettes in treetops. Favorite basking spots also show telltale signs of their presence. “When I scan a tree I’m looking not only for iguanas but also for places I think an iguana may like—spots where leaves are pushed down or an open spot on a branch where the sun’s hitting just right,” Kimmel notes. Canal banks, levees, ponds, and lakeshores are good areas to look for their burrows. Water provides important escape cover for the lizards, which are comfortable in both freshwater and saltwater. “They’ll often dive into a canal when approached,” Kimmel says. “They swim faster than they walk and can hold their breath for a very, very long time.”
Iguanas also favor culverts, drainage pipes, and rock piles, which makes South Florida’s extensive man-made canals primo iguana habitat. Since iguanas were first discovered in Florida in the 1960s along Miami-Dade County’s southeastern coast, the Central and South American natives have spread northward along both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
How to Legally and Safely Go Florida Iguana Hunting
As with pythons and other destructive invasive species, state regulations allow Florida iguana hunting 365 days a year on private land—with the owner’s permission—and on 25 Florida Fish and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) areas. No permit or hunting license is required, but local laws regarding firearms must be observed. Since most iguanas are found within city limits, air rifles are a popular method of take. “If you’re doing this on your own, take it seriously and make sure you have the right equipment,” Kimmel urges. “Don’t buy some cheap Walmart .177. You want at least a .22 or .25 caliber. I use a .30 caliber.” Shooting sticks are a good idea, too, and a quality scope is a must. “Your ideal kill shot is the brain, which is about the size of a dime on the bigger ones,” he says. “Shots to the lungs or heart just don’t stop them, because they’re incredibly tough.”
Kimmel is famous for using bird dogs to retrieve iguanas, and his YouTube channel features videos of his Deutsch Drahthaar, Otto, fetching up 5-foot-long lizards bristling with claws and tail spikes. Kimmel doesn’t recommend throwing an untrained dog into the field when Florida iguana hunting—a wounded iguana will lash out with its powerful tail, back claws, or vise-grip jaws at anything that tries to pick it up—but he stresses that hunters must do all they can to retrieve and humanely dispatch anything they shoot. “If people just leave them behind to rot, you’ll have homeowners complaining and eventually the state will have to shut this down, and we’ll be left with absolutely no solution to removing this destructive species from our state.”
The FWC recommends the same two-step process to dispatch iguanas used to kill pythons. First, render the lizard unconscious with a blow to the head. Next, deploy a sharp object such as a screwdriver or a knife tip to spike the cranial cavity. Then move the sharp object in circular motions to scramble the brain. Because green iguanas were added to the state’s prohibited species list in 2021, it is illegal to transport them live without a permit. That listing also bans acquiring them as pets and mandates that anyone who owned an iguana before the ban must outfit it with a transponder tag and apply for a special permit that must be renewed annually.
What To Do With Swap Monsters After the Hunt
They don’t call iguanas “the chicken of the trees” for nothing. Many consider these predominantly herbivorous lizards good table fare, though their tendency to scavenge dead animals may give some diners pause. Iguana meat is popular fried, barbecued, in stews, and as a taco filling. Kimmel says he always has people asking for the meat after he goes Florida iguana hunting. If he doesn’t plan to give away the meat or cook it himself, he feeds the carcasses to his hogs. Kimmel also skins the iguanas and turns the hides into wallets, purses, and backpacks. Particularly prized are the hides of big males, which take on a vivid orange hue when mature.