The hurricane season won't start until June, but Florida's residents face a new devastating threat. Iguanas and giant snakes. Fortunately, the answer can be delivered in 30 minutes or less.
I was sipping thoughtfully at a cup of coffee this morning and trying to figure out how I felt, emotionally, about the anchovy-on-cracker I had just eaten when suddenly it came to me: the power to save Florida rests squarely in the hands of Round Table Pizza.
The hurricane season won't start officially start until June, giving Florida residents a brief breather to look around at the only things that have been prospering between metrological beatings: reptiles.
Of course Florida is known for growing enormous, self-satisfied reptiles, but most people think that means alligators and lounge lizards. And while you wouldn't want to wake up and look out into the back yard to find either of those in your swimming pool, surprisingly, they're not the current problem.
Giant snakes... and iguanas.
Both non-native species, both released as pets who grew too troublesome to maintain in captivity, both species have hit the sand, looked around at the new world, and have declared it paradise. And just as when Europeans first came to North America, the pythons and iguanas have gone about snapping up prime real estate, killing off the natives either directly or by disease, and messing up the local ecosystems. And on the resort island of Gasparilla, they're even building burrows in the sand dunes -- heedless of the fact that they're bringing about their own doom by weakening the dunes that protect them from the hurricanes. (Do we know any other species that build homes heedless of the natural disaster looming, oh, say, a levee break away? I used to think that the ability to build fire was what made humans superior to animals, but after living in the Valley for 15 years, I now realize that flood insurance is the only thing that sets us apart.)
Last year in the Everglades, the Park service captured and removed 95 pythons, not including the one that made news for exploding when it ate an alligator -- who had tried to eat its way out of the python. Neither animal survived, but Florida residents were grateful for the evidence that they are not being sissies for getting a little squeamish about the burgeoning giant snake population in the area. These aren't just escaped pets -- they're escaped pets large enough to eat the things big enough to eat people. And even worse, unlike alligators, pythons have a well-documented (if poorly understood) fondness for showing up in people's toilets.
The iguanas pose a slightly different threat (but still, according to the AP, have a fondness for showing up in toilets). They've combined the worst traits of feral cats, roof rats and ground squirrels all in one, infuriating residents of Boca Grande by nesting in attics, devouring endangered native species, weakening protective dunes, and pooping all through their flower gardens. Residents have resorted to trapping, using pellet guns to chase them off, and using rod and reel to indulge in dry land "sport fishing." (Apparently fishing for them works very well, which I think would make a better show than half of what's currently on ESPN2.) But I have a different idea.
Anchovies are gross. I'm not saying I don't like eating them. But their taste falls in that gray area between fascination and disgust, and fresh from the tin they have a spiny, formless, blob-like appearance that makes them look like the result of some nightmarish sneeze. And yet we still occasionally over-fish them to near catastrophic levels.
If Round Table were to offer a "Florida Meat Lovers Special," topped with python, iguana and pepperoni, it would solve all sorts of problems: protecting native species, rebuilding hurricane-ravaged economies, and offering Catholics like me another "non-red meat" alternative for Fridays during Lent. (Wait. Fish are okay, chickens and mammals aren't... where do reptiles fall in that spectrum?)
Tuna is "chicken of the sea," iguanas are "chicken of the trees," there's no reason pythons couldn't be marketed as "chicken of the Keys." Do you know how many pizzas worth of toppings you could get out of one healthy, fifteen-foot python? And the little ones are already conveniently pepperoni shaped. And while iguanas aren't packaged so neatly, females lay up to 75 eggs a year, making them a good sausage source to my way of thinking.
My advice to Round Table and Florida both: ditch the lame puppets (no, I'm not talking about Zeb) and just go with: "Save Florida - eat a pizza." I'd help out.
Comments and reptile recipes to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.