Maintaining the iguana population within limitations, George Cera ‘the iguana guy’ continues to monitor invasive islanders

August 28, 2020
By Olivia Cameron

BY OLIVIA CAMERON- What’s with all the iguanas? It’s a phrase you’ve likely heard recently, or maybe even uttered yourself. It’s true, our island iguana population is prolific, and in the hottest months of the year they are most commonly seen around town. 
Iguana trapper George Cera has been monitoring the iguana population in Boca Grande since February of 2006, but he states that there are limits to his work. With questions regarding a possible iguana population influx, he is well aware of the environmental concern.
“Maintaining the iguana population has been as it usually is, but I do not have access to controlling them within private property,” Cera said. “The control of the population is headed in the right direction, but we will never get rid of the iguanas.”
The amount of private property on the island where Cera has no access, combined with the fact that spiny-tailed iguanas are prolific breeders and have no natural predators once they reach a certain size, creates an equation that is balanced in the iguanas’ favor. 
Cera clarified that his work remains within specific boundaries. Without him having access to state or private property, the iguanas will always find a loophole. The only way he is able to eradicate iguanas from private property is to have a form signed by the property owner, typically available at the Boca Grande Community Center, in the Lee County Parks & Rec office. 
“During different times of the year you may notice them more, but all we can do is stay on top of their reproduction rate,” Cera explained.
When Cera was contacted by Lee County 14 years prior to look into the issue, he noticed that the island wildlife growth was stunted. He determined that the black spiny-tailed iguana was to blame. Its invasive habits and ability to adapt to so many situations posed a problem for our community’s wildlife, as the omnivorous reptiles prey upon not only decorative flora, they also eat small gopher tortoises, small birds and the eggs of multiple species. They will even eat each other, if given a chance. 
“They are a threat to anything they can fit into their mouths,” Cera said.
The shape of their teeth is a main indicator of the damage they do.
“Their front teeth are alligator-like, meant for grabbing their prey. The back teeth are designed for slicing,” said Cera. 
When Cera first started, he claims to have tracked down more than 500 iguanas in one day, and says he eradicated more than 16,000 of the creatures in his first two years on the job. Now he tends to see about 30 lizards throughout a day’s work. He utilizes a variety of techniques to control the black spiny-tailed iguana population, such as shooting, snaring and using live traps.
Cera has learned a lot about our iguanas since he started his job many years ago. The techniques he uses affect how the population of the iguanas will level out through the year.
“I use their behaviors against them to control the population,” Cera said. “There’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ animal, these iguanas just don’t have to fit into the puzzle here.”
The back spiny-tailed iguana reproduces once a year, with a nest of eggs ranging from twelve to thirty. However, it does not mean all will hatch. Breeding season for these reptiles occurs between April and May, which means we are caught in the middle of their hatching.
Cera stated he focuses on the general population, but some islanders hire private workers to eradicate the iguanas from their property. Cera has come to terms with tracking down the invasive species in order to protect the ecosystem at risk. He compares his job to local mosquito control, where the problem can be reduced but not eliminated. 
The biggest difference between his job and a mosquito control job, though, is that the folks at mosquito control don’t discharge guns in their line of service. The most valuable lesson he has learned over the years is that you can never be too cautious. He will not take a shot if the entire perimeter of the area is not clear, and on a small island with a heavy population most of the year, that makes his job difficult. 
“With the work that I do, the safety of the locals is my priority,” he said.