Curator’s Clipings Horticultural Tips

Avoiding the Curse of the Iguana

Iguanas, for all their exotic beauty and emblematic association with the tropics, lead to nightmares for many Puerto Vallarta gardeners. These sizable herbivores can chew through more foliage in a night tan an army of leaf cutter ants in a week.

They often especially target climbing vines—passion fruit is known to be amongst their favorites—but they’ll munch on just about any plant that isn’t completely covered in spines. So unless you’re willing to limit your horticultural pursuits to the diversity of a strict cactus garden, some iguana control strategies are worth taking into account. Additionally, iguana waste can transmit salmonella, posing a health concern especially to those with pools or other water features in or near their gardens.

The few remaining natural predators of iguanas in the City of Puerto Vallarta and its suburbs have allowed this agile reptile to thrive in quite unnaturally high numbers. Perhaps the local gardeners who complain least about iguanas are those with packs of energetic dogs on active patrol. Terriers are specifically notorious for their iguana vigilance. Just their simple presence is generally enough to keep iguanas at bay or at least from descending too close to ground level. The personalities and relative sizes of the dog(s) and iguana(s) will likely determine who ends up chasing whom.

If you find yourself contemplating taking iguana control maters into your own hands, one simple trick to keep in mind for translocating lizards is the “noose technique,” a term that sounds more menacing as it is. The “noose” is any simple cinching loop tied to the end of a length of transparent fishing line and extended with anything handy from a fishing pole, if you have one, to a broomstick outfitted with an eye hook if you need to get more creative. (An abundance of YouTube videos can be found on this topic if you search for the key words “lizard” and “noose.”)

Lizards usually don’t appear aware of a loop of fishing line until it is tugged snuggly around their necks.
Only the gentlest pressure is needed to harmlessly lift the lizard up and place it into an awaiting receptacle, such as a large bucket prepared with air holes and a lid or screen to keep the catch inside until a suitable release area if found. (Maybe the garden of a friend who hasn’t yet returned your favorite tupperware!) It’s worth keeping in mind that exceptionally large iguanas have measured in at over 2 meters (6 feet) in length and near 10 kilograms (20 pounds) in weight. Keep this in mind when determining the suitable “pound test” fishing line you use, the pole you select, and the physical ability of the handler. A section of pool cleaning pole may be necessary to provide sufficient support while remaining light enough to handle.

Do you have your own iguana control ideas or stories that you would like to share? Please post these on the Facebook page, “Vallarta Garden Club”. Not only does sharing your gardening experiences allow others to avoid repeating what you may have learned the hard way—it can often make for some very entertaining reading!

Author’s notes: I recommend investigating local laws regarding handling of native fauna before applying the technique described above. Lizards are sentient beings and deserve to be treated humanely. I have the fortune of pursuing my horticultural ambitions at the Vallarta Botanical Garden, an area surrounded by native forest where the presence of wild cats, including ocelots, keep iguana populations in check.