Iguana On The Deck

If you are in South Florida near fresh water, eventually you will see one of these beasts.

They don’t belong.  Green Iguanas are an invasive species here.  They’re a destructive pest that is disrupting the environment for those creatures that actually do belong here.

It doesn’t mean that they can’t be entertaining.

It probably means that the winter didn’t get cold enough to kill the things off.

I described that process as the Iguana Rain before – it gets below 45F and they’re stunned by the cold.  Their metabolism slows down and their muscles let go.  Then they will fall from the trees.

Mind you, it’s not a gentle fall, but one that most survive.

The people in Trinidad and Tobago swear by Curried Iguana Tail, and they are welcome to the creatures.

All these thoughts went through my head.  I was sitting in the window seat indoors at the Indian restaurant.  There is this little river or canal that is behind the place on Griffin road.  The small development on the other side of the little river had people to watch.  Kevin went off to answer an emergency call, and I continued dining on savory-not-spicy Indian food made for a British and American palate. 

Not A Wall Of Heat Indian food is a treat.

I speared a little dough ball that tasted richly of honey and butter.  Looking out the window I got the picture taken of this green beast going about its life.  Adolescent four foot long lizard eating bugs that were in the sun.  Harmless where it was.

I was alone at the moment.  I spotted Kevin conducting his business from the parking lot.  He was chatting with someone who had left his phone at home.  The person who was to rescue the phone left it on the roof of the car and drove off.  Too much drama for my tastes, I keep my toys intact.

While the feeding went on both inside and outside, I spotted another Iguana across the river on a tree branch.  We do live around a lot more wildlife here in the middle of the South Florida Sprawl than you might expect.  Toads, Iguanas, Boa Constrictors, and native species are all over the place.  A Road Pizza could be any of those and more.

Looking at the tree I noticed a stray parrot in the sun, squawking at the lizard.  It is better in the trees, but it too didn’t belong.  Yet another great great grandchild of a released former pet.  They get out into the wild here and once the genie is out of the bottle, it is difficult to put it back, if not impossible.

I hear the little old British Lady at the next table go on a bit longer than would be polite about not having Her Pink Packet to sweeten the rather excellent Iced Tea that I was drinking some of.  I’m sure she had her own stash in her rather large purse, but people do have their tastes, even if it was questionable.

Spearing another large bite of a fried vegetable ball, I hear the other British Woman tell the first that she was being “a bit churlish” and that she should calm down since the Iguana that she was now obsessing over was on the other side of the glass.

Greeted by my faithful sidekick, Kevin, who asks how the meal is?

Wonderful of course.  But I did miss my Mango Lassi.
Did you see the iguanas?
Yes, so did the woman behind you.  Said with an Eye Roll.
It didn’t get cold enough to get rid of them this year.
Are you getting dessert?  The Donut balls are excellent and the Mango Pudding I would love to try to make at home!

He was full, and I was over full.  That meal was responsible for a few extra groans that it would take a day and a half to get rid of.

One of the children from that table way over there had gotten out and wandered to the back deck.
Smart Iguana decided it had warmed enough and dove for the water.

We weren’t going to solve all of the invasive wildlife problems today, but we did get a rather excellent meal.

So did the iguana.

The Returning Hedges of Wilton Manors

Running around town we’ve started to notice some rather interesting things.

Way back in the day, when we were all younger and more spry, South Florida had a lot of hedges of a specific type.

You would go by a bank or a shopping center or some such and you’d look down at an impenetrable knee level green wall.  They were typically Ficus Benjamina, the Weeping Figs that people would have in a pot up North that would grow quickly in summer and mope all winter. 

They shape incredibly well and if  unmolested, they’d grow quickly.

The problem was that over the last few years they got molested.  Badly.

If you want to see the results of what happens when mankind gets things wrong with the environment, South Florida is a great place to see it.   We’ve got waves of invasive species like Curly Tail Lizards, Iguanas, Ball Pythons climbing the walls and making a mess of things by eating up the plants that belong as well as the ones in the gardens.  For an Iguana, a Hibiscus is “crack”.

Hibiscus hedges were once popular too, in fact the Fountainbleu Hotel on Miami Beach had a spectacular hedge that would have these beautiful red blooms that pop out here and there.  For a snowbird, this was mindbending.

One of the waves of invasives were these mites that attacked the Ficus and basically turned them into stick figures.  Since people planted these trees in clusters and hedges, the mites would go from one tree to the next devastating the growth.   Homes would become visible from behind walls of green that had disappeared.

Treatment methods were fairly severe.   You would have your plants sprayed monthly to save them, but for the most part people would let the mites go at them and pull up the remnants.

Natural Selection being what it is would leave a tree here and there alone standing its ground as its neighbors disappeared.

When winter happened, the mites weakened, and if we’d get a cold snap of a night into the high 30s, many of those nasties would simply die.

Fast forward a year or two and things have stabilized.  The mites are a food source for other insects, the climate here isn’t quite perfect, so the good news is that these plants are rebounding as well as the rest of the environment.

Sometimes Mother Nature just figures things out.

Now if we could just get a good solid cold snap this winter of a couple nights a degree above freezing it would get rid of some of the rest of those creatures that don’t belong.

No, I’m not talking about snowbirds, but… Hmmmm….

Anybody Want A Python?

I woke this morning to the sound of parrots flying overhead.
I nearly stepped on a curly tailed lizard when I took the dog out.
I swatted a whitefly that tried to fly up my nose.

All of those are examples of exotic or invasive species.

Welcome to Florida, Land of Weird Pets.

Weird Pets always escape.  It just takes time.  There are monkeys in the Florida Keys, and Giant Snails in Miami.  It’s the second time for the Giant Snails.  The first time a kid gave two to Grandma back in the 1960s.  Grammy didn’t like the snails so she tossed them in the back yard.  They multiplied and the state of Florida decided to try to eradicate them.  It took around 10 years and many millions of dollars.

I’m actually not the right person to argue about invasives since I have an Orange Wing Amazon Parrot.  His name is Oscar and he lives in a cage that is in the back room right now.  He likes to watch the ring necks that come for their afternoon visits in he shade of the bougainvillea.

But that’s the point.  He actually lives in the back room, right now at any rate.  I may move him to the front room later.  He likes that sort of change. 

He’s not living in the Everglades with another colony of parrots.  I’m not letting him go, I’ve had him since 1986 and got him in Pennsylvania.

Pets do escape, sometimes they’re aided by an open door and a pair or three of hands. 

I’m “not allowed” to go to the dog park here.  My dog wouldn’t like it.  You see irresponsible owners take their unwanted dogs and leave them tied to a fence so some poor fool like me would show up later and make my old dog Lettie jealous.

Can’t really do that with a 17.5 foot long, 164 pound pregnant Burmese Python with 87 eggs in her.  They don’t tie to fences too well.   Someone let this snake go at one point thinking they won’t do any harm.  They’re actually pushing native species closer to extinction.  It is this threat to biodiversity that is the problem.

This one was found with feathers in its stomach that they’re looking at to see what kind of critters they’re eating.  It’s not like you can say, “Hey Mrs Snake can you just eat the invasives?”.  They don’t really know anything other than eat and sit in the sun to warm up.

I have heard rumors that this sort of exotic pet won’t be allowed to be owned in the warmer areas of the state.  North of the I-4 line perhaps.  If that sort of law were in place we wouldn’t have dozens of iguanas living on the docks around the island here and my bougainvillea would be less threatened by hungry green mouths that don’t know how to share. 

If you want to see a picture of the monster snake from Burma, have a look at this story on the BBC here.  In the meantime, I’ll have a look around the yard to see if I have to chase an iguana out of the bushes.

Why my Parrot is in his Terrible Twenties

Intelligent pets take finesse.  You’re in it for the long haul.

I’ve had my Orange Wing Amazon Parrot, Oscar since 1986.  His personality evolves continuously.  Now that he’s decided to be a part of the flock instead of keeping himself apart, he’s insisting on being heard.

That’s why his cage is on the floor at this moment.

Yelling at a Parrot doesn’t work.  He’ll learn to yell back.  Any parrot will yell louder than you will so it’s not going to help.   There’s a cockatoo that lives three blocks away and when the wind’s right I can hear him at least a block from his home.

I’ve set the cage on the floor a mere 3 feet from my knee at the moment, after telling him I was going to put him outside so “he can play with the hawks”.  Better to keep him inside where the local wildlife won’t inspect the mango sitting on the bottom of the cage.

He is why I have found an excellent pair of $3 noise cancelling headphones to listen to music while I am trying to get things done.   We learned where the parrot zone of noise is and keep the sound in the house to a minimum.   Since the dog is getting profoundly hard of hearing, she’s not adding to the drama preferring to sleep the day away.

When you have a curious feathered Einstein living with you, they demand their own attention.  My neighbor from across the street has learned to talk to the parrot quietly and make sure you remove the baseball cap.  He does this because from the moment he comes in, Oscar is making his jungle noises to get his attention.  Say hi to the bird and let him get it out of his system.

Like having a toddler isn’t it?  Why is the sky blue has a special quirky poignancy to it because you can understand it.  Brakk, squawk, squeek, whistle does not have the same weight.

So now that he’s on the floor I’ve just opened the door to the cage so he can walk around.

Being a social creature he’s trying to make friends with Lettie, my dog.   She’s not fond of that.  In fact the latest trick that the parrot has taught the dog was the Go Into The Bedroom trick.

Here’s how it goes.

I open the cage door, and Oscar comes out.  Walking down to the floor he looks for the scraps that the dog left from that dog biscuit that I gave her about an hour ago. 

Not understanding the theory behind Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie, Oscar stealthily approaches.   By Stealthily, I mean, saying Hello and “Urp” and other jungle noises.   I guess that’s Orange Wing Amazon for “Hey let’s play”.

Lettie is still asleep since she can’t hear this.

Oscar walks over to Lettie and tries to preen her.   Now, I know that it’s meant as a gesture of friendship.  I’ve stood next to his cage and he’ll walk over and preen my hair, even going so far as to gently grasp my earlobe.

But to a 12 year old, mostly deaf, Mc Nab Dog who is fearful of other’s shadows as well as the shadow’s owners, this is a call to action.

Lettie understands that one is not to eat the parrot.  He’s a tough old bird and wouldn’t taste well anyway.  She takes the high road.

Standing up, she barks at the errant reprobate of a bird four times, then trots out of the room.   It’s always four times, maybe that means something in Dog, I don’t know.

Being curious, Oscar has done his deed after moving the dog so that he can pick up the dog mat and check it’s texture, then move onto the sea grass basket and try to see if he can get in a few chews before I tell him to go home.

No, Oscar, the dog’s mat hasn’t changed and I still don’t want you chewing on the furniture. Now, you’ve had your fun and “Go Home!”.

Having said all that I watch as the mostly green bird waddles his way back into the cage.   I lock him up and take the time for a nice block of piece and quiet.

Should last five minutes.

Scorpions in the Garden?

I remember when I first visited Florida on my own, I was warned to shake out my shoes in the morning. 

You were told that they were rare but sometimes you can find a Scorpion in the house just like in that old article from the TV station.

I only ever saw a few of them, mostly on the first visit to Key West, and then they were dying as they floated into the skimmer of the swimming pool. 

Yes, Florida, a place named after Flowers by the Spanish has strange wildlife.  

We have flocks of Parrots that people have had escape.  I walk outside with the dog and can expect to hear noisy groups of Cherry Headed Amazons fly by.  I can whistle and call to Cockateils and they will call back.

Curly Tailed Lizards were here, and like the Iguanas, were frozen out of the trees on the last cold snap.  But they’re back, and in my back yard as well.   They have an attitude too.  The little Geckos and Cuban Brown Anoles that entertain me with their dewlap that is a red and brown checkered flag will scatter if you get too close.  No teeth either so if they’re threatened the worst you can get is a good, sound, gumming.

The Everglades have escaped Ball Pythons that are threatening native species because they are so prolific and aggressive.  Luckily they aren’t in my yard, the Black Racers are though so I have to watch for those when I attack the brush with the weedeaters.

The Black Racers are very timid and will race away if they spot you so they’re harmless unless cornered.  They are native, just like the Scorpions.

I had thought that we didn’t have Scorpions here in Wilton Manors, but apparently it’s only because I’m not looking for them.  I have spotted exactly one since I have moved here.  That was one day, one Scorpion, and it lived in the gap under the sidewalk near the shopping center.

Yes, they’re here even if I’m not able to find them, and I don’t particularly want to find them.  A lobster is one thing, they can pinch but won’t sting.  A Scorpion will sting with the power of five bees, and I’m terrified of bees.  The rest of the critters, I’m fine with, but a beehive will send me running.

Never did like bees.  Nasty little…

I’m not completely sure why all the sudden Scorpions are being mentioned by people I know.  Maybe it’s just the circle of friends I have.  I’ve been hearing folks tell me to watch for them and are wringing hands about maybe possibly getting stung.  Personally, I haven’t seen one in over 3 years so I’m more amused than concerned.  But next time as I am outside enjoying the Florida Sun, and the Florida Florid Plants, I’ve got to look to make sure I’m not stepping on a Scorpion.  I hear they can get aggressive too. 

Just as long as they leave the dog alone.  They’re welcome to those nasty looking toads that will poison things too… they come out when the rains hit but luckily they just stand there looking stupid.   You usually see those pounded into leather on the pavement by a passing Toyota.