Why Scientists Are Hunting Down Iguanas in Florida

Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

In South Florida, iguanas had better watch their backs. That's because scientists are on an unusual hunt to kill them, with the help of captive bolt guns and a $63,000 research grant, according to the Sun Sentinel.

It's not as cruel as it might seem at first glance. The green iguana, native to Central and South America, is an invasive species in Florida. The large lizards—which can grow up to 6 feet long—first made it to Florida in the 1960s, and as their population has exploded, they have expanded farther north. The reptiles damage roads, sidewalks, sea walls, and flood-control canals with their burrows; chomp their way through landscaping; spread Salmonella, largely by pooping in people's backyard pools; and compete with the endangered Miami blue butterfly for precious food resources.

The population boom has caused an uptick in complaints from residents, Florida Fish and Wildlife's Sarah Funck told the Sun Sentinel in 2017, pushing the state to find new strategies to deal with the reptiles. One approach? Hire scientists to hunt them down and kill them.

As part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife research project, 15 University of Florida biologists have been tasked with executing as many iguanas as possible in Broward County (home to Fort Lauderdale and parts of the Miami metropolitan area), setting out in teams of two at night. Armed with flashlights and captive bolt guns—which are often used on animals in slaughterhouses and are considered a humane way of killing an animal instantly and painlessly—the researchers attempt to sneak up on sleeping lizards and shoot them before they can scurry away. They also sometimes dispatch the iguanas by smashing their heads against a hard surface, including the side of a truck or a boat.

They've exterminated 249 lizards so far. They take the dead animals back to the lab to be weighed and measured for their dataset, then deposit the carcasses in a landfill. The iguana killing spree is expected to last into May.

While they have tried trapping the iguanas in county parks, they haven't succeeded in capturing any with that method.

As part of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's iguana-eradicating efforts, the agency has also been hosting public workshops on how to deter and trap iguanas and has hired a dedicated trapper to control populations on public lands in the Florida Keys. 

[h/t Sun Sentinel]

A Dracula Ant's Jaws Snap at 200 Mph—Making It the Fastest Animal Appendage on the Planet

Ant Lab, YouTube
Ant Lab, YouTube

As if Florida’s “skull-collecting” ants weren’t terrifying enough, we’re now going to be having nightmares about Dracula ants. A new study in the journal Royal Society Open Science reveals that a species of Dracula ant (Mystrium camillae), which is found in Australia and Southeast Asia, can snap its jaws shut at speeds of 90 meters per second—or the rough equivalent of 200 mph. This makes their jaws the fastest part of any animal on the planet, researchers said in a statement.

These findings come from a team of three researchers that includes Adrian Smith, who has also studied the gruesome ways that the skull-collecting ants (Formica archboldi) dismember trap-jaw ants, which were previously considered to be the fastest ants on record. But with jaw speeds of just over 100 miles per hour, they’re no match for this Dracula ant. (Fun fact: The Dracula ant subfamily is named after their habit of drinking the blood of their young through a process called "nondestructive cannibalism." Yikes.)

Senior author Andrew Suarez, of the University of Illinois, said the anatomy of this Dracula ant’s jaw is unusual. Instead of closing their jaws from an open position, which is what trap-jaw ants do, they use a spring-loading technique. The ants “press the tips of their mandibles together to build potential energy that is released when one mandible slides across the other, similar to a human finger snap,” researchers write.

They use this maneuver to smack other arthropods or push them away. Once they’re stunned, they can be dragged back to the Dracula ant’s nest, where the unlucky victims will be fed to Dracula ant larvae, Suarez said.

Researchers used X-ray imaging to observe the ants’ anatomy in three dimensions. High-speed cameras were also used to record their jaws snapping at remarkable speeds, which measure 5000 times faster than the blink of a human eye. Check out the ants in slow-motion in the video below.

Plano, Texas Is Now Home to a Dog-Friendly Movie Theater

K9 Cinemas
K9 Cinemas

For dog owners in Plano, Texas, movie night with Fido no longer just means cuddling on the couch and browsing Netflix. The newly opened K9 Cinemas invites moviegoers—both human and canine—to watch classic films on the big screen.

The theater operates as a pop-up (or perhaps pup-up?) in a private event space near Custer Road and 15th Street in Plano. On the weekends, patrons can pay $5 for dogs, $9 for kids, and $12.50 for adults to see popular movies in the 50-seat space. Snacks—both the pet and people kind—are available for $2 apiece. Dogs are limited to two per person, and just 25 human seats are sold per showing to leave room for the furry guests.

Pet owners are asked follow a few rules in order to take advantage of what the theater has to offer. Dogs must be up-to-date on all their shots, and owners can submit veterinary records online or bring a hard copy to the theater to verify their pooch's health status. Once inside, owners are responsible for taking their dog out for potty breaks and cleaning up after any accidents that happen (thankfully the floors are concrete and easy to wipe down).

K9 Cinemas is currently showing Elf (2003) and Home Alone (1990) for the holiday season. Dog and movie enthusiasts can buy tickets online now, or wait until January when the theater upgrades from padded chairs to couches for optimized puppy snuggle time.

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