La Grange father and son tag team iguanas in the Bahamas
Paolo Delfini, 16, holds an iguana with his dad, Michael Delfini of La Grange, during a research trip in April in the Bahamas. | Photo courtesy of Shedd Aquarium
Catching iguanas can be tricky
Updated: August 27, 2012 6:12AM
LA GRANGE — Ten minutes was a long time to wait for a determined iguana to unclench its jaws locked on the thumb of a La Grange man volunteering in the Bahamas.
“He just had my glove,” said Michael Delfini, an executive with the Shedd Aquarium, who tagged iguanas for a research project in April aside from his normal duties in Chicago.
“When he turned his neck around and grabbed my thumb, I could see he wasn’t going to let go,” said Delfini, who had been holding the animal so a researcher could conduct tests.
Delfini and his 16-year-old son, Paolo, were among the hearty crew who waded out to work on the remote Exuma Islands of the Bahamas during the day and returned to sleep aboard a research vessel, the Coral Reef II. The 10-day research expedition was sponsored by the Shedd in cooperation with the Bahamas National Trust, which manages the country’s national parks.
Paolo Delfini kept his thumbs clear of the iguanas, but had numerous close calls with their claws. The Lyons Township High School junior showed photos of long, painful-looking scratches, which later healed without scars.
“A lot of it was strategy,” he said of efforts to catch the lizards scurrying through thick brush and along jagged rocks. “We worked in groups so somebody would trap it, net it and grab it with big gloves. Then we would do research and release it back to the wild.”
Research included measuring an animal’s size, checking for ticks on the skin, taking blood and fecal samples and inserting something similar to a microchip. The project was aimed at comparing data from iguanas on islands frequented by tourists and animals on remote islands, as well as lizards previously captured and tagged to monitor their health.
“It was sad. The tourists would throw grapes in the sand and the iguanas would eat them covered with the sand, which tears up their insides,” Paolo Delfini said. “One of the hardest things of my life was to watch that. We weren’t allowed to say anything.”
While there are no laws against feeding iguanas with nonnative foods, Michael Delfini said the goal of the research effort is to work with tour boat operators and change visitors’ behavior.
“If they would put the grapes on a stick, it would be a little healthier,” he said. “At least they’re not eating sand.”
Paolo Delfini said iguanas fed by tourists were tame, different from the animals on remote islands.
“They would come right up to you, and that’s not a natural behavior,” he said.
Although it was sunny and hot, the volunteers had to wear long sleeves, pants and heavy boots for protection from the iguanas, jagged rocks and poisonwood, which is similar to poison ivy.
“The bottom of my dad’s boot literally fell off one day, so we had to get duct tape delivered from the boat,” Paolo Delfini remembered. “We laughed about that the whole trip.”
Michael Delfini said he and his son thoroughly enjoyed their time together and have had inquiries from other fathers and sons about the Shedd’s citizen-scientist volunteer programs.
“It was hard work 10 or 12 hours a day and a little dangerous climbing the rocks and jumping off the boat,” he said. “It was an adventure, and a great way to learn about conservation. You can watch National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, but when you live it for 10 days, you know what it’s all about.”