The month of June heralds more than the start of hurricane season in South Florida. It’s also the beginning of high season for iguanas, a time of year when frustrated property owners look helplessly at their defoliated landscaping and the daily droppings on their patios, wondering what to do.
When Tom Portuallo started Pompano Beach-based Iguana Control 10 years ago, his clients were predominantly owners of single-family homes who were upset about iguanas destroying their yards. The balance of new business has changed in the last few years, says Portuallo, with HOAs, country clubs, resorts and even municipalities allocating significant sums in their maintenance budgets for iguana control.
“Lush landscaping is one of the most important selling features of gated communities and clubs, and an iguana infestation can eat through it all,” said Portuallo. “Controlling their numbers on the front end is much less costly in the long run and more effective than constantly replacing the landscaping on acres and acres of property.”
Well-suited to South Florida’s environment, free of natural enemies other than people and adept at swimming, climbing and digging, iguanas are a formidable challenger. Years of warmer Florida winters continue to fuel the growth in their numbers to the point that spotting a 3-to-5-foot reptile on the seawall, in the garden and even crossing the road has become a common sight, especially during the warm summer months.
Iguanas are protected only by an anti-cruelty law. Although they are classified as an invasive species, they are not included among crocodiles, deer and other animals protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s strict guidelines. They live about 10 years and are prolific, with each female laying as many as 100 eggs each year. While iguanas may be fabulous photo opportunities for tourists, they are a huge nuisance for South Florida property owners, especially those who love colorful flower gardens and golf courses.
Beyond chomping on landscaping, there is evidence of iguanas burrowing into canals and damaging flood control structures managed by the South Florida Management District. With the giant lizard population exploding exponentially year after year, from Jupiter down through the Keys, homeowner associations and municipalities are increasingly turning to pest control companies that specialize in iguana control.
At Iguana Control, the largest company in South Florida focused solely on iguana removal, business has grown year-over-year for the past decade, with an increasing percent of that growth coming from annual contracts with homeowner associations and golf communities with many acres to tend.
“Removing iguanas effectively and in compliance with animal cruelty regulations and other laws is a specialized service,” said Portuallo. “It’s not a free-for-all or open season for killing iguanas. Every method we employ illustrates our respect for the property owner and the property.”
Iguana Control has many iguana removal annual contracts in place for properties from the Treasure Coast through The Keys, employs 20 trained technicians who are certified to use all the equipment necessary to remove iguanas, is fully insured and bonded.
Portuallo’s loyalty pledge speaks volumes about his commitment to customer service: loyal customers who roll over their annual contracts pay the same amount year after year for comparable services as they did the first year.
“Iguanas are not going to disappear any time soon and a whole new industry is evolving around that reality,” said Portuallo. “I believe it is incumbent upon service providers in this business to build long-term trust around that reality by helping our customers and upholding high professional standards.”