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End of the Year Q&A

In this episode of Naturally Florida, Shannon answers a few Listener questions! She'll tackle a light-hearted Florida Christmas classic, "Why do iguanas fall out of trees when it gets cold?" as well as shed some light about "good or bad" species like queen palms and Carolina laurel cherry, and finally, wrap up with a South Florida conundrum, "What can be done about a nuisance peacock?"


Episode Transcript:

Welcome to “Naturally Florida,” a podcast about Florida's natural areas and the wild things that live here. I'm Lara Milligan.

And I’m Shannon Carnevale. 

This podcast is brought to you by UF IFAS Extension in Polk and Pinellas Counties.

Hey, everyone, it's Shannon. I'm going to be doing this episode all by myself because Lara is on leave with her newborn baby, and I am so excited for her. We had enough prerecorded content to get us through November, and, well, Lara is on leave til January. So you guys have me for the next 10 to 20 minutes, however much time this takes.

Good luck to you, the listener. Good luck to me. We can get through this, I promise. It should be a good one. So this episode, Lara and I had planned to do audience Q&A for the end of the year wrap-up. And I'm pretty excited about it because listener questions are essentially…that's our job as Extension agents.

We help the residents of our area—or in this case, in the state of Florida or anyone visiting—learn more about the natural resources and conservation here. And so if you have any questions about that—plants, wildlife, ecosystems, conservation, hunting…I don't know, whatever you can come up with—if I don't have the answer, if Lara doesn't have the answer, we know someone who does. Or we can get to that person for you. And so that's Extension “agenting” in a nutshell. 

So. Okay, well, without further ado, let's go ahead and start jumping into the questions because we have some really good ones today. The first question that we got is actually about iguanas, and it's pretty timely considering the weather forecast for next week.

But the question was quite simply, “I see on the news all the time that when it gets really cold, iguanas fall out of the trees. Why is that? What's going on there?” Excellent question. Thank you so much for submitting it. Essentially, you need to think about iguanas like any other reptile. They are cold-blooded. So they rely on the surrounding environment and weather to keep their body temperature high enough to function.

They are also a tropical species, so they are a reptile that is not accustomed to it getting, you know, below 35 degrees. And when they are up in trees, they also are susceptible to wind or, you know, the wind chill. So when it gets to below 40 degrees for any length of time, iguanas can get overly cold. Really. And what happens is they lose the ability to grip the tree that they are in. And that's why you might see them upside down on the ground, just kind of laying there, kind of frozen and cold is because they no longer could hold on to the tree that they were in. Their body got so cold. 

So is this likely to happen this coming week or any given week in the future? It depends on the weather and how long it's going to stay cold. It's not an instantaneous thing. Iguanas don't spontaneously drop out of the tree the minute it drops below 40 degrees. It takes a little bit of time for their internal body temperature to cool off. But yeah, I would say it's entirely possible in central Florida in the next week or two with these cold fronts that are coming through to see some very cold, uncomfortable iguanas.

Just a pro tip, but do not put them in your car when they are cold. As soon as they warm up, they reanimate very quickly, and they will not be thrilled about being in your backseat. Now, I have had follow-up questions to this in the past when I've had this question in person. Is this a great time to round up iguanas and get them out of our ecosystems?

Sure.  If you are trained and comfortable at humanely euthanizing an iguana, go for it. This is a wonderful time to do it. I hear they taste wonderful. I can't speak from personal experience, but I've heard that from people. And so if you're in the area that is going to experience this, if you are trained or have experience in dispatching iguanas, I would say it's a great time to round them up because they're not running away.

But I do want to say, please only use humane methods if you're going to dispatch them, which is why we do not recommend that residents do it on their own unless they've had some kind of training. You can always reach out to a wildlife trapper or find someone in your community who has these skills and ask them to help you out.

So that's a super fun Florida winter question that we got there. But let's move on to one that's a little bit less seasonal. We got a question out of Polk County and this lovely listener wanted to know if queen palms or cherry laurels—two different species—were considered bad. They had heard a lot about them and thought, “Maybe I should ask and see what the professionals think.”

So I'm going to go through the good, bad and the ugly for both of these species because, like anything in natural resources, the answer is kind of, “Well, it depends." So with queen palms, the good is they are beautiful. They are a very stately palm tree. They are the quintessential palm tree swaying in the breeze. It makes you feel like you are in the Florida that you dreamed of.

They're quite beautiful. However, with all that beauty, like with people, beauty comes at a price. They are very high maintenance to maintain. And according to our horticulture agent here in the office, they can also be really challenging to properly fertilize and give the nutrients they need to grow at their best. 

So palm trees have a unique nutrient need where they need a lot of micronutrients. And when palm trees are in landscapes, they tend to have an overabundance of nitrogen. And when they have too much nitrogen, they don't have the micronutrients to support the growth. And this can cause all sorts of issues with how that palm tree is growing. 

Additionally, they can be very difficult to prune when they get to their mature height. They are a very tall palm tree. They get really tall. They’re hard and expensive to maintain when they are that size. And if you don't like having palm little fruits or berries or “drupes” all over your car and sidewalk and yard, you are not going to love this palm tree. They are very prolific feeders. They make a huge mess with their fruits, which can then become a a rodent attractant or other small mammal attractant, which a lot of people don't love. And also those fruits can cause upset belly or significant gastrointestinal distress to pets if they eat those seeds. So it's not a great situation. 

And then we get to the ugly. So queen palms are not a native species, which is okay. We have lots of non-native species that are all right, as Lara and I have described many times. However, the queen palm is considered a “caution species” by the UF/IFAS Assessment of Invasive Species. And this is for the entire state—south, central and north. We believe that through research, this plant, this palm tree, has the potential to become an invasive species issue in the state of Florida. 

The Florida Invasive Species Council agrees. They have listed the queen palm as a “category two invasive species.” And occasionally this palm tree can be found in natural areas that it's highly unlikely it was planted in the past. That is likely one of the reasons that the IFAS assessment is wording it as a caution species. Now, because it's a caution, I can't say that we don't recommend it, but we do recommend that you take care to collect the seed if you are going to have it. 

So the second species that she was asking about was a laurel cherry or a cherry laurel, also more commonly known as the Carolina laurel cherry, if you're from central or north Florida. And this species is, in my personal opinion, wonderful. But it can cause a lot of weedy problems in the homeowner landscaped yards. And the reason for that is it is a very good grower. It does excellent at its job. It grows really well. It can become overgrown in disturbed soils and disturbed habitat, or, like I mentioned before, in residential yards.

So the good news is it is native. It is important to our local wildlife. It is a wonderful tree with beautiful white flower clusters and dark glossy leaves. The leaves are kind of like a little fun trick you can play with kids. If you crush the leaves up and smell them, they smell like maraschino cherries. And that is a lot of fun. Kids love to look at that. 

However, the ugly…We already talked about the bad—it can be overgrown. The ugly is that those seeds that it produces can be extremely toxic to both pets and children, just like many other plants in the laurel family. So if you have this plant in your yard, I would strongly recommend removing it if you are concerned that your children or your pets may eat the seeds that come off of it. To do that, it's going to require quite a bit of digging, or a combination of physical removal and chemical removal. So by doing that, you can then take care of any regrowth that may happen. Wow! Okay, that was a lot!

So let's move on to our next question. This one also involves a hotly debated subject like iguanas. This question was “What do I do about a feral peafowl?” Now, if you're unfamiliar with peafowl, you're probably more familiar with what we call the males of that species, the peacock. And so we have peahens and peacocks for females and males.

But together they are known as peafowl, which is important to know if you're going to be scouring through your city's municipal ordinances to see if you're allowed to remove them. And so that question came in because there is a person who is dealing with a feral peafowl who is destroying their roof and landscaping, becoming a menace to their ornamental fishpond, and also leaving droppings everywhere and waking everyone up at 3 o’clock in the morning. Sounds like quite the experience.

And for the most part, peafowl are not protected by the state of Florida. So the good news is they can do something about it. However, it really depends on where you live. A lot of our municipalities, and especially in south Florida, have specific ordinances that prohibit people from removing, harming, trapping or otherwise getting rid of peacocks or peafowl.

And the reason for that is they're beautiful, and people rallied to save them or some other bird species because some of our municipalities have blanket bird protections for the entire city limits. And some are very specific to peacocks. They are stunning! You can’t argue that. They're absolutely beautiful. But that is the risk that we run when we have any species that we have prohibited the removal of that species. There’s always the chance that we're going to have overabundance issues or wildlife conflicts when development continues to grow. 

So the answer to this gentleman's question was, well, if you are not in a municipality that prohibits it, strongly recommend you call a wildlife trapper. It is illegal in the state of Florida to capture and resell peafowl without a permit from Florida Fish and Wildlife, generally speaking. But anyone who is not otherwise prohibited can hire a trapper to remove that animal. 

If the peafowl belongs to someone…Let’s say it's wearing a tag or a small collar or something (Don’t laugh at the collar thing. I have seen some crazy things in south Florida.) Peafowl or peacocks, they are stunning to look at, but they are considered livestock. They are fowl. And so because of that, because they are non-native, they're considered agricultural livestock. They must be kept properly in an enclosure that prohibits their wild roaming in an area. Generally that enclosure has to meet certain specifications for the humane housing of that animal. It must be cleaned to a certain degree. It must not be smelly.

It must not be a nuisance, in other words. And so if you know that the peacock belongs to someone and they are not enclosing it, your first call is going to be to Code Enforcement. And the reason for that is maybe the wildlife conflict you're dealing with is actually just a code enforcement issue. But if it's a feral peacock, if nobody owns it, then you're looking at a wildlife trapper.

But what happens if you live in one of the municipalities that I mentioned, where you… Maybe you're in south Florida or, you know, there are cities in my county where you cannot remove birds.You can't trap them, you can't kill them, you can't otherwise harm them in any way. How do you handle it? Well, there are some popular techniques that you can do.

Essentially, what you're going to be looking at is hazing that bird. You want to encourage it to move on to somebody else's yard. And there are a variety of ways you can do this. Some of the more popular ones are with motion-activated sprinklers. Another way you can do it is by using silhouettes of predators or installing bird spikes on the top of your roof where they like to stand and call out for mates.

If you're not familiar with bird spikes, you've probably seen them at your local grocery store or Home Depot or Lowe's or any other box store that has a sign out front because a lot of storefronts use them to keep small birds from nesting on their signs. So bird spikes can help, but it won't get rid of the problem entirely. You're just encouraging your yard to be less desirable than your neighbor's yard, and that won't help a whole lot when it comes to how loud they can be at all hours of the night. 

If you are in one of the municipalities that prohibits you from hiring a trapper to get rid of the peacock, I would encourage you reach out to your local city officials and see if they have any recommendations or recourse if there's an individual peacock which has become a nuisance. “Nuisance” in Florida Fish and Wildlife terms generally means something that's causing harm or damage to people or property or is otherwise annoying. And so that term may hold water with your local municipality, and you can seek an exception to the rule. This is especially helpful if there's one particular peacock that's a problem. But in south Florida, if you're in there, you know, there are very large flocks of peacocks and getting rid of one is probably not going to solve the problem. 

And it looks like we're about out of time. I'm not going to hold on to you all your attention for the full 20 when it's just me here rambling to the computer screen. But I hope you've learned something today. And if nothing else, just know that there are no questions too off-the-wall or odd to ask your local extension agent, especially when it comes to Lara and I. Please feel free to shoot us an email, ask more questions. You can use the link in our show notes so that you can send us a question that way, and we'll hold on to them for a future Q&A episode.

And, you know, with that, I just want to thank you all very much from the bottom of our hearts for listening to our podcast, finding it interesting, filling out our survey, contacting us on social media. It really has been heartwarming to see how much our information is helping people and all of the good it's doing in the world as well. So thank you once again. Whatever holiday it is that you celebrate this winter time, I hope it is a fabulous and relaxing holiday with family and friends. With that, I'll sign off now and we look forward to seeing you in the New year. Thank you again. Bye bye. 
Thanks for listening to “Naturally Florida,” a podcast about Florida's natural areas and the wild things that live here. Stay updated on new episodes by subscribing on your favorite podcast platform. If you enjoyed today's episode, consider sharing it with a friend. “Naturally Florida” is produced by your hosts Shannon Carnevale

and Lara Milligan.

If you have questions or suggestions, submit them online at This podcast is brought to you by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, an equal opportunity institution. Thank you for listening.

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