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ALLIGATOR!!

Sources: Alligators and Crocodiles by John and Deborah Behler, Florida; Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Bruce Shwedick, Director of Reptile Discovery Programs, Crocodile Conservation Services:

P.O.Box 3176, Plant City, FL 33563, (813) 836-0256, Shwedick@aol.com

For more information on alligators, please visit http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/alligator/facts/

SAFETY TIPS

If you encounter an alligator that is posing a threat, please call FWC at 1-866-FWC-GATOR (1-866-392-4286.) or your state’s Fish and Wildlife Office. Normally if they are left alone, they will move on their own. *Any alligator over four feet is automatically euthanized in Florida. Regulations are different in states throughout their range.

KNOW YOUR ALLIGATOR BEHAVIOR

~They are most active from dusk to dawn.

~Mating Season is from late May to early June, right as they’re coming out of hibernation. They are more aggressive at this time, and males are more likely to be on the move to a new home.

~Nesting season is mid June. Females are very protective of their eggs and will defend them aggressively.

~Incubation time for alligator eggs is usually around 65 days. Around late August or September. She carries her young to the water and continues to protect them.

~In times of drought there are more interactions between alligators and us because as the levels of lakes goes down, there is less room for alligators and many get tired of the old blowhards and mom’s new boyfriend and they

set off on their own. They may find a nice studio place, a/k/a your pool. Others look forward to the parties that lake living provides. However, while they’re out looking, they may be walking down your road, sunning in your front yard - basically they’re winging it. Just leave them be unless they are posing a danger.

~Yes, they really are capable of staying in the same position for hours at a time without blinking an eye or movement from breathing. If you think he’s dead, still don’t go near him.

MORE THAN THE BASICS…

Every summer emphasis is put on not leaving small children alone around pools. In that same respect, don't let small children walk by water by themselves - or at all. A child (or pet) is close to the size of some of the animals they hunt.

There are signs usually posted when there are medium to large alligators that could pose a threat. However, if there is no sign does not mean that there aren’t alligators. They occupy most bodies of water that they can live in. Do not swim in these areas or ignore posted signs. Actually, I just don’t swim in lakes. Alligators, even large ones, hang out in the shallow areas near the water’s edge waiting for a meal. Be aware when you are walking around the banks of a body of water too. They lurk and they are watching.

Don't bother or throw objects at them. State law prohibits killing, harassing, injuring or possession of alligators without a permit.

NEVER FEED ALLIGATORS!! They have a natural fear of humans. Feeding alligators takes away that fear and they might become more aggressive and more likely to attack humans. If you see an alligator that is swimming straight at you, leave as quickly as you can. Most likely they have interacted with humans and may be looking for you to feed them.

If you see people feeding alligators, please inform them of the law and what the possible consequences are when they feed alligators. It's important to educate people about these dangers.

If they still continue, consider reporting them to FWC or to the police. What they are doing could result in the injury or death of another person down the line.

Don't dispose of fish scraps in the water. Please use garbage cans at the boat ramps or fish camps. It is indirectly feeding them and though it may not be intentional, the effect as feeding them outright can happen.

Do not walk your pets, or allow them to play, swim or drink near the water's edge. Dogs closely resemble an alligator's natural prey.

Never remove an alligator from its natural environment or accept one as a pet. Even small gators can pack a wallop of a bite. You're taking a chance of severe injury and it is illegal.

Take pictures and watch them only from a distance. If you want to see these magnificent animals up close, visit one of our many State Parks. Bring a flashlight for view of their eye shine in the early evening. And of course there are many zoos, animal parks, farms and tourist destinations that will allow you to become really close to them. In fact, St. Augustine Alligator Farm offers the “Extreme Alligator Package,” where anyone 18 years old and older can jump down in the alligator area and have their pictures taken with one of the large bulls. I have done this twice, and it is amazing to kneel beside one of these magnificent animals, in a controlled environment.

If you are bitten, SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION. Even a small one could cause a big infection. Their mouths may contain bacteria and bites may result in infection.

ALLIGATOR FACTS

Between 1948-2017, there have only been 24 unprovoked attacks resulting in death, and currently, there is an estimated 1.3 million alligators in the state.

Even though Florida's population has exploded expansively, the rate of alligator attacks remain the same. That means that either most alligators are retaining their natural fear of humans and/or humans are leaving them be and respecting them.

If left alone, most alligators will move away on their own. Being chased, having things thrown at them or being cornered will make them defensive (not aggressive.) When confronted, their "Flight or Fight" response will be to "Flight"...get out of there A.S.A.P. If they can't, they will protect themselves. Just like any other animal would, only these are huge predators instead of say a cat or dog.

The largest alligator ever found was in the 19th century and it was 19 feet long. Usually males get no longer than 14 feet, and females 9-10 feet. They can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, though the weight of the average adult alligator is much less.

Juveniles are generally black with yellowish cross bands that fade away as they grow larger. When basking on land, adults appear a uniform dark grey or black

These apex predators go through an elaborate and romantic courtship display. They communicate with each other with head slaps against the water, loud growls and roars, referred to as bellows. They also produce sounds below our hearing. The only way we can tell if they are making theses sounds is to see the water around them vibrate, called the “water dance.” During courtship, there is a lot of delicate contact as well.

When ready to lay their eggs, females build a mound by digging a hole in the vegetation. They lay their eggs inside the hole and then covers them up. During incubation the vegetation decomposes, maintaining heat and moisture inside the nest. The female stays on or near the nest to protect it and she will do so aggressively.

When they hatch, the babies make a chirping sound. Mom hears them and digs them out, carrying them gently in her powerful jaws to the water. She will even help her young break out of shells. The clutch may winter with her, and she may watch over them, again, aggressively. When frightened or being threatened, the young will chirp in alarm, in hopes that Mom or another female may come to their aid in a full out attack charge.

Alligators can move rapidly in short bursts on land. In the water, they are very strong and silent swimmers. Their legs lay flush with their bodies as they use their extremely powerful tails for propulsion and they change direction by adjusting the position of their head in the water.

Depending on the time of year, alligators can spend several hours underwater. Or they will lay quietly without moving, with only their eyes and nostrils above water. While they are staying still, they can look like logs.

The muscles used to open their mouths are weak and can be pried open easily. However when an adult alligator bites down, it's with a snap that exceeds 2000 pounds of pressure per square inch.

Mainly they use their jaws and teeth for defense, though they have powerful tails as well. A good tail whipping can easily knock you off your feet or throw you back. Because of the solid bones of their head and powerful neck muscles, alligators decided to use their heads, literally, and can inflict severe injury even when their jaws are tied shut by using their head as a club.

Gators are considered "ambush predators". They stay underwater, near the banks until they can reach their prey. Then they quickly lunge, grab their target and drag the prey underwater to drown it. If the prey is too big to eat whole, they’ll wedge it somewhere underwater until it becomes easier for them to eat.

Or, if they come across the carcass of an animal, they will take advantage.

They cannot chew their food. If they can't swallow their food whole, they will grab a chunk of flesh and rotate their bodies (the “death spiral,”) or move their heads from side to side. Thus giving them a piece they can swallow. Alligators can eat in the water or on land but it’s easier in the water.

Alligators and other crocodilians have been around since the time of the dinosaurs and haven't changed much since then. To look at them is to literally look back to a time untouched by humans. A time so far back, it’s hard to wrap your head around it.

...And yet...they are sensitive to pollution, chemicals, fertilizers, etc. Biologists were discovering that males genitals and female ovaries were smaller than usual, resulting in less successful egg clutches.

Science has been studying alligators for another reason, too. Alligators have an incredibly strong immune system. This is an adaptation that they got for survival. Alligators get into vicious fights with one another with serious injuries resulting. It isn’t unusual to see alligators with the ends of their tails or limbs missing. Yet, they live in marshes and swamps where there are a lot of decaying vegetation, animals, feces all cooking under the sun. Basically, it’s a bacteria carnival. They obviously are able to heal quickly without infection. How?

Mark Merchant, Associate Professor of Biochemistry at McNeese State University in St. Charles, LA went out into swamps and collected blood samples. The university thought it was too dangerous to open up an alligator blood bank so gators could volunteer to give blood. The planned incentive were a variety of prey animals. Protest bellows were heard from the swamps for weeks. And they sent Professor Merchant out there afterward!

Okay, seriously, what did the blood serum reveal? If this makes it through all the trials and works out, it can be used to make powerful antibacterial and antifungal compounds. It could treat antibiotic-resistant infections. They can fight microorganisms like fungi, bacteria, and viruses without prior exposure for quick healing and are adapted for quick healing. It could prevent diabetic ulcers, which is why limbs have to be amputated. And it could also be used as a protectant for severe burns, preventing infections while the burns are healing.

In fact, the blood serum killed all 16 samples exposed to it. Some of these are Candida albicans, a common yeast found in our bodies that grows out of control for immunosuppressed people like those with HIV/AIDS and transplant recipients, dysentery, E. coli, salmonella, strep and staph infections, herpes simplex virus, even a strain of HIV.

An unrelated study is looking into the stem cells in alligators for regenerating teeth in the hopes that one day humans can regenerate our teeth. If they can figure this out, we’ll have to mute the dentistry lobby. Imagine the money they would lose when we don’t need bridges, implants, dentures. But why study an alligator? They have 80 teeth, and each tooth can fall out and have a new come in 50 times per tooth.

A KEYSTONE SPECIES

Not only are alligators Florida's native apex predators, but they are a keystone species as well. A keystone species is a species that has a certain behavior that benefits other species and environments in their natural habitats. Without this behavior, the environment and the all the species in the area will be in endangered.

American Alligators have the distinguished title of "Keeper of the 'Glades".

Gators will use their powerful feet, tail and snouts to dig a hole through all the muck. These holes become small ponds that may span 20 feet or more. Called alligator holes, during the dry season or times of drought, fish, turtles and other aquatic animals make their homes there. Other birds, terrestrial animals as well as plants have a source of water.

Plus, there is a "Web of Life" that exists in these alligator holes. Periphyton (algae and other tiny organisms) grow and are eaten by aquatic insect larvae, tadpoles and small fish. These animals are eaten by larger fish, frogs. Those animals are eaten by even bigger fish, egrets and other birds, turtles, and small mammals - and even gators themselves.

Alligator eggs are also an important source of food for mammals such as raccoons. Hatchling and juvenile alligators are eaten by many birds, mammals, fish and reptiles - and other gators.

Don’t you just want to break out in Elton John’s “Circle of Life”?

Often these water holes supports a lush plant growth from the rotting plants and mud. If enough time goes by, the hole can be in the center of an island of trees.

When the rain returns and the drought is over, life that has been preserved by the gator hole becomes the beginning of repopulating the marshlands, with the alligator holes expanding with it. Rejuvenation of the marshlands occur, all because the alligator digs holes. Actually digs. Not as in “Alligators really love holes.”

Alligators are not just vicious predators that attack and must be stopped at all costs. They are a VERY important part of Florida's ecological stability.

With these safety tips, facts and plain old common sense and RESPECT, man and alligator can continue to live side by side.

When you look at an alligator - or any crocodilian - is too look at an animal from the era of the dinosaurs. They indeed walk among then, and evolution has seen fit to keep them relatively unchanged then since them. That is phenominally aweinspiring.

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