If you think it's cold in New York, well, at least you don't have frozen iguanas falling onto you. That may seem like something out of a strange Central American idiom, but it's actually a real thing in Florida right now. The cold weather in Florida is literally freezing iguanas while they sleep in trees, causing them to fall to the ground and seriously surprise anyone who happens to be walking by. Don't worry, though, it's likely they're not actually dying; they're just exhibiting what happens when a cold-blooded creature is put in a cold snap.
Iguanas, as you might have guessed, aren't exactly built for cold weather. Their natural habitat stretches from the Amazon rainforest all the way up to central Mexico, and in Florida they're an invasive species that was originally brought in as pets. As Florida usually stays above about 40 degrees, the iguanas can usually live there quite happily. The same weather pattern (read: absurd cold front) that has the rest of the East Coast cowering under the covers, though, has also led to lower temperatures in Florida. When the temperature started dipping below 40 degrees, the iguanas physically couldn't deal — and their bodies have essentially been going into a state of forced hibernation. As cold-blooded animals, they rely on the outside temperature and the heat from the sun for warmth, and right now, they're just not getting enough of it in Florida.
However, officials warn residents that this may not last for long, so they're better advised to just leave the frozen iguanas alone. "Don't assume that they're dead," said Kristen Sommers of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Once they warm back up and start moving, she explained, then a person within their range could be at risk of a nasty bite.
Invasive species that they are, iguanas are largely without predators in Florida, so they've been multiplying at high rates and causing damage to both infrastructure and landscaping. This cold snap, however, likely won't be long enough to put a significant dent in their population — which did happen in 2010, the Palm Beach Post reports, although their numbers quickly bounced back.
Ron Magill of Zoo Miami told the New York Times that cold snaps like this could even push the iguana population to evolve toward being able to stand colder temperatures. "Even if they look dead as a doornail — they’re gray and stiff — as soon as it starts to heat up and they get hit by the sun rays, it’s this rejuvenation," he said. "The ones that survive that cold streak are basically passing on that gene."
Iguanas aren't the only cold-blooded animals suffering through the cold, so they're not the only ones freezing up, either. Conservation crews have already rescued dozens of stunned sea turtles off Texas' gulf coast, and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy has been working with local authorities to help stunned sharks in the waters off Massachusetts.
In some parts of the continent, though, the cold is too strong even for better suited animals to comfortably weather it. The Calgary Zoo moved their king penguins inside on Sunday when temps dipped to minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit — and king penguins literally come from the islands surrounding Antarctica. A moose also got caught in a snowdrift in Newfoundland, before a group of snowmobilers luckily spotted him and got him out. Don't try that rescue at home, though — moose are some of the most dangerous animals roaming Canada.
Frozen, stunned iguanas won't be quite as dangerous as a bull moose stuck in the snow, but if you happen to see one, you're still best off either just leaving it alone or moving it to a sunnier area and then keeping your distance. If they start turning darker colors, though, then you might have a bit more removal work on your hands.
“He’ll either get enough sun where he’ll revive himself and get himself up the tree," Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino told the New York Times about an iguana that had fallen in his yard, "or he’ll continue to freeze and turn dark brown — almost black — and I’ll know he’s dead."