The green iguanas had been the warning sign. It should have been clear from the start when colonies of reptiles appeared in Floridian towns that it wasn't the oranges that had drawn them to the state, it was that famous Floridian swampy heat. They had taken over the roads, the roofs, the recreational facilities. Large lizards basking themselves in the intense Floridian summer, absorbing the ultraviolet radiation without a trace of fear in their beady, coal eyes. The locals called them a nuisance. “Those goddamn iguanas,” the locals would mutter to themselves, trying in vain to get them to leave town, but tourists flocked to see them, a few trying to take the iguanas back to their own state. Local ordinances had been passed to leave the iguanas alone, as like all Floridian wildlife, they were possessed of a cantankerous nature and the instinctive drive to cause chaos. Instead, in typical Floridian stubbornness, we forcibly dealt with the problem: relocating the lizards into the grave or into our stomachs. Adaptability was a key tenet of being able to survive in Florida, and I've been told iguana meat tastes pretty good with the right marinades and spices.
When you think of Florida, you imagine sunny beaches, large palm trees, delicious oranges, and seniors almost running you over in their golf carts. What you don't imagine are iguanas croaking at each other all hours of the day, and I imagine that's why the official policy for the treatment of iguanas changed from semi-peaceful coexistence to Manifest Destiny; each Floridian had now become a settler, powered by so-called divine right and providence to expand their reach throughout our fair state and stamp out the lizards once and for all.
What they did not expect were the alligators.
No one is really quite sure where the gators came from; certainly, there were plenty in the Everglades, but if one were to draw a circle of the alligators' breeding grounds and the iguanas' habitation location, there wouldn't be a single portion that intersected. Despite this, residents began reporting that their traps had been broken into, the bars torn apart by something with stronger jaws than a simple iguana. Had a rogue band of animal rights activists made their way into the towns and freed all the creatures with bolt cutters? Government officials had been dispatched to the towns, but there was no evidence of human tampering.
The first human sighting of an alligator came from a town in South Florida: the man at the time said he had thought it was a movie prop, as the creature had a large, yellow mane like that of a lion. “I have lived in Florida all my life, and I ain't never seen a gator like that. Ain't natural.” The man was quoted as saying. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission had been contacted, and agents had been sent out to intercept the creature. By all accounts, it was a natural, Florida-born gator that possessed a thick, bushy mane of hair. It was sunning itself in the middle of street, the wind gently blowing the mane that encircled its thick, leathery head. Several people were taking selfies (at a distance) with the creature. A requirement to live in Florida was the willingness to walk up to Death like an old friend and invite them to the cookout, so the agents knew it was only a matter of time before a Florida Resident attempted to ride the creature, which meant it was time to relocate it.
Alligators were already difficult creatures to relocate, possessing the amount of Floridian stubbornness equal to that of at least three grown men, and whatever had happened to this creature only made it stronger, resulting in most of the town having to help wrangle, bind, and place the gator into the back of the FWC truck.
Tests were run on the creature and an official report was released to the FWC website on a web page hidden under several subpages; there was no official press conference given. The report read as follows:
Alligator mississippiensis has experienced a genetic mutation due to an increase of ultraviolet radiation caused in part by Florida's close location to the Equator, and the effects of global warming. This represents a divergence in the Alligator genus, and it is recommended that this creature be reclassified to Alligator pseudoleonis, in reference to the yellowish mane and thicker skin. In all other aspects, the alligator has remained the same and possesses the same behaviors, dietary needs, and biological instincts as other alligators in its original classification. Analysis of the fibers of the mane reveal high concentrations of ultraviolet radiation, which is then broken down into energy that is absorbed by the alligator's cells. Despite the high levels of radiation, there are no signs of cancerous growth within the alligator's body, and it remains as high-spirited as it was before it was placed into the FWC truck. Recommendation: tag Alligator pseudoleonis with an electronic chip and release back into the wild, checking on its progress on a rolling three-month basis.
No other Alligator pseudoleonis were found in the towns overrun with iguanas, but the locals did notice that the iguanas seemed to be leaving on their own. Bored Florida residents followed the iguanas on their journey, uploading the “Iguana Migration” to social media websites. Conspiracy theories abounded on the meaning of the reptile's journey, ranging from the standard Southern proclamation of the End of Days to the more esoteric theory that a Tamer of Reptiles was calling to them on his flute, a modern-day version of the Pied Piper.
Before long, all the iguanas had left the towns and life returned back to its usual level of weirdness for Floridians. Scientists sent to check on the one Alligator pseudoleonis they had located had only spotted the creature once, and the video sent back to their superiors included their brief findings.
Subject has doubled in size. There is now a pride of alligators.
Basil Wright is a Black and Indigenous queer writer that lives in Florida with their sibling. They love to give alligators tummy rubs and developed a lifelong love of snakes after being hugged by a python at a Florida zoo as a child. Twitter: @kobanya_kana; website: towerofbasil.wordpress.com.