Exploring the Resilience of the Spiny-Tailed Iguana

Exploring the Resilience of the Spiny-Tailed Iguana

The Prehistoric Wonder that Captured my Heart

I was just 7 years old when my life was turned upside down. One night, my father roused my sister and me from our sleep, hurriedly loading us into the back of his blue Ford convertible. Before we knew it, we were driving away from our home in Ohio, heading towards a destination that would change the course of my childhood – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

As I later learned, this was before Puerto Vallarta had become famous for the filming of “The Night of the Iguana” starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. But for me, the lush jungle surrounding the Mexican paradise and its majestic iguanas are what I remember most about the village we lived in by the sea.

The giant lizards captivated me, sunbathing along the tops of the chest-high stone walls that bordered our home. Coming from the snowy Ohio Valley, these two-foot-long prehistoric reptiles fascinated me to no end. I would sit for hours on the sandy ground of our courtyard, watching their every move, enthralled by their prehistoric grace.

A Cocoon of Wonder in a Time of Upheaval

Looking back now, I realize that these exotic surroundings and the freedom I had as a child to explore them were more than just a distraction from the sudden breakup of my family. They were a cocoon of wonder that helped me cope with the loss of my mother. The iguanas were like companions to me during that turbulent time.

So, it’s no surprise that when I stumbled upon two iguanas on my spring break in Florida this year, I felt a familiar rush of awe. They appeared at a cozy beach enclave outside Fort Lauderdale, where a good friend of mine had invited me to join her. After a walk on the beach on a cloudless day, we headed to the pool to swim a few laps.

A Startling Encounter with an Invasive Species

All of a sudden, peeking out of one of the swaying palm trees, I saw a giant iguana. His leathery skin was a stunning blend of brown, tan, and orange, with a spiny crest like a crown running down his neck and back. A second iguana, bright green, peeked out of the palm fronds as well. It was a male and a female, darting down and around the palm tree playfully, pausing to look at us and letting us come close enough to snap pictures.

The showy male puffed out the big pouch under his neck, putting on quite a show. That’s when an older man, who seemed to be escaping the New England winters to vacation here, lumbered down the path towards us. He carried what looked like a huge black firearm with a scope, and I soon learned it was a high-powered air rifle.

“You’re not going to shoot them, are you?” I asked, a sense of dread creeping in.

“They’re an invasive species and eat all the flowers,” he replied, glancing at me as though I was some naive tree hugger.

A Heartbreaking Conclusion

I understood that invasive species need to be managed, much like wild boar in Texas and pythons in the Florida Everglades. But I was unprepared to see the kind of regal iguanas I’d loved as a child shot while I sunbathed by the pool. I begged the man to reconsider, but he was already loading his weapon.

“Please,” I said, “could you wait until we leave?”

He took a seat by the pool, yards from us, looking put-out. His shiny black air rifle rested across his knees. Convincing the president of the condo association not to kill these invasive lizards on the property felt about as likely as 7-year-old me stopping my father from leaving my mother behind in Granville, Ohio.

My friends and I scrambled to throw our goggles and towels into our beach bags and head down the path to the beach. Halfway to the sand, I heard a shot. Within minutes of my marveling at their long, striped tails, the iguanas were dropping from the trees. I couldn’t bear to look, but my friend saw the man walking, rifle in one hand and a long pool leaf net in the other, sagging with a majestic dead iguana. He tossed it in the nearby industrial trash bin as though it were an old pair of tennis shoes.

Finding Hope in the Face of Despair

For the short time I was in paradise, I had escaped my doomscrolling about dying Palestinian children and Israeli hostages suffering in Hamas tunnels. I had turned off the news about Putin’s threats of nuclear war and Trump’s latest felony charges. I didn’t focus on the ways the most threatening invasive species – humans – throw plastic trash in the ocean, suffocating marine life and polluting the air we breathe with fossil fuels.

The next morning, I sat under a tiki hut by the beach to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic. I pushed back the gloom I’d felt by reminding myself that iguanas aren’t native to Florida, and their growing numbers needed to be culled. But watching a resident shoot them was a little like having a neighbor shoot a wide-eyed doe off the back of his porch during hunting season.

I thought about the Facebook post I’d seen days before that said, “Delete any thoughts that don’t move you forward.” I was tempted at the time to write back, “Good luck with that.” Denying pain or brokenness in the world may make it disappear for a while, but the price we pay is to live in a distorted reality.

The Gift of Resilience

As the clouds turned pink over the horizon, I saw movement from the corner of my eye. Out of the brush across the lawn, a tiny baby iguana scampered towards me, its long tail curled up over its back. It came close to where I sat with my morning tea, stopped briefly, and studied me. Then it turned and dashed back to its hiding place.

That’s when it dawned on me that the mysterious gift of resilience didn’t belong just to the iguana species. We have it too, and in spades. We don’t need to delete our sadness or thoughts about the brutality of life in order to rise above despair. We have the power to hold onto more than one truth at a time.

When parents divorce, a terrible diagnosis is delivered, or life feels unmanageable, there is always a path out of the darkness. We just have to look for it. Hope counters despair when we experience the goodness of life, whether it’s in the love of family and friends, faith in a higher power, or in my case, something as simple as a spectacular sunrise and a curious baby iguana.

The resilience of the spiny-tailed iguana, echoed in my own journey, serves as a powerful reminder that even in the face of adversity, the human spirit has an unbreakable capacity to adapt, thrive, and find joy in the most unexpected places. As I reflect on my childhood in Puerto Vallarta and my recent encounter in Florida, I’m reminded to always keep my eyes open for those moments of wonder, for they have the power to transform even the darkest of times.

So, the next time you come across one of these prehistoric wonders, take a moment to marvel at its strength and resilience. And who knows, you might just find that the gift of resilience is closer than you think. After all, as Golden Exotic Pets knows, the natural world has much to teach us about the power of adaptability and hope.

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