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Iguanas are causing power outages in Florida

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And of course, it's the season when you're likely to see decorations and lights strung between lampposts and trees in some downtowns. But in South Florida, you know, could be an iguana up there. Like in Lake Worth Beach, where lizards, iguanas, are known to hang around, not just from trees, but power lines. Iguanas have caused 15 outages there this year. We just have to know more. Ben Kerr is a spokesperson for the city of Lake Worth Beach and joins us now. Thanks for being with us.

BEN KERR: Of course, Scott.

SIMON: So how do the iguanas cause a power outage?

KERR: So the main issue of the iguanas is largely their size. Iguanas now, because we haven't had a large freeze, which normally would kill them off when they're smaller, in South Florida, anyone down here can tell you that iguanas are two-plus feet. And because of that size, often what ends up happening is they'll be on one piece of equipment and then their tail or their body will reach over and touch another part of the equipment. Electricity takes the easiest route, and that route is through an iguana.

SIMON: There have been 15 power outages from iguanas this year.

KERR: Yes, sir. Now, that's actually down. So 2020, we had 28, 2021, we had 20, and then this year we've had 15 to date.

SIMON: Let me ask a question from the iguanas' point of view. They don't want to cause a power outage. When they do - how do I ask this nicely? - are they just iguana toast?

KERR: Yes, sir. So the one that caused the outage that went famous was feeding about 1,400 customers' homes. So if you hold on to an electric line that's feeding that many people, you won't know anything about it.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. Is there anything you can do to try and prevent it? I don't know - put cowlings around...

KERR: Yes. And that's how the numbers are going down. There's a huge amount of mitigation efforts that are being tried at the moment. One of the issues with iguanas over, say, a squirrel is iguanas are actually very adept climbers and simply their size again. So they're able to get past a lot of the mitigation efforts. But that is what is reducing the numbers, is our staff are making a real effort to do anything they can to stop the iguanas reaching the areas.

But at the end of day, a lot of it comes down to the, you know, the power lines and stuff running through the city are basically highways for animals like iguanas. And there's not a lot you can do when a tree reaches up there and the iguana can get onto it.

SIMON: Yeah. As I understand it, the - of course temperatures are supposed to be colder this weekend, even just perhaps a little bit above freezing.

KERR: Yes.

SIMON: That's going to cause some problems.

KERR: Yeah. So one of my favorite Christmas traditions around this time of year is to put out notices to warn residents to be careful walking under trees because the iguanas, once they get cold, can fall out of the trees. Now the issue is iguanas need about two weeks' sustained cold temperatures to actually kill them, you know, so they'll just wake back up. And some people have gotten a surprise when they've picked up an iguana for dinner and put it in their car. And then the car heats the iguana up, and a very confused iguana wakes up on the highway. So, yeah. So just getting cold enough is only part of the solution. It has to stay cold.

SIMON: Forgive me. This just passed. I can't help but notice. Did you say iguanas for dinner? Do you mean as a guest or as the entree?

KERR: They make fairly decent eating. And yeah, it's not uncommon down here for them to be eaten.

SIMON: Oh, my. Well, happy holidays to you, all of Lake Worth Beach and the iguanas, Mr. Kerr.

KERR: Thank you.

SIMON: Ben Kerr, spokesperson for the city of Lake Worth Beach, Fla. And may the power be with you, sir.

KERR: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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