A Wildlife Adventure – The American Alligator
by: Davis Yancy Clegg
When you are raised in rural Mississippi – or any southern setting near water – you are bound and determined to encounter a few large creatures throughout the course of your travels. No, it isn’t snakes. It is none other than the American Alligator. This large reptile is of crocodilian decent and is endemic to the Southeastern region of the United States of America. A great deal larger than their cousins to the east – Chinese alligators – these guys can reach a length of up to 15 feet, and weigh in the neighborhood of a half a ton!
Like many Floridians and other southerners, I have had the privilege of seeing these beasts up close and personal. I went to college for my first two years on a golf scholarship. Our team was comprised of every character type you could imagine. And one of those types was that of a “will do anything you dare him to” kind of guy. We were playing the final round of the state championship, and the player from our high school team that was paired with the group I was paired with spotted a gator. He was just sitting on the edge of the water hazard looking “calm” according to my teammate. It was by this logic that he decided it would be a splendid idea to pounce up on the 7-foot gator and wrestle it into submission. Long story short, unless he was going to pick up playing golf with one hand within 24 hours, he was out. I think the lesson that we can all take away from this experience is that jumping on a 750 lb gator is not an intelligent move. All wildlife species are best left alone and admired from a far.
I have to say, the American Alligator has definitely become one of my favorite predators. I came to decide this after doing a bit of research on the species. The main reason being, the American alligator is what you would call an Apex Predator. Other synonymous terms that describe such a figure are Alpha predator, Super predator, Top predator and Top-level predator. One of the most common mistakes observers make when witnessing an alligator dwell in its environment, is believing what they are looking at is a crocodile. There are many ways to distinguish alligators from crocodiles. One of the easier methods is to examine their teeth. The large fourth tooth in the lower jaw of an alligator fits into a socket in the upper jaw and is not visible when the mouth is closed. Crocodiles do not share this trait. Alligators have between 74 and 80 teeth in their mouth at a time. As teeth wear down they are replaced. An alligator can go through 2,000 to 3,000 teeth in a lifetime. That’s a lot of visits from the tooth fairy. Although I would imagine she keeps her distance on those trips! While the female alligators like keep their home secluded from the masses of the forests, males are the exact opposite and embrace the ability to govern square miles of territory to assume as their own. Both males and females extend their ranges during the courting and breeding season. Once hatched, the newborn will remain close to the area where they originally became hatchlings. One interesting aspect of alligator biology is that they undergo periods of dormancy when the weather is cold. They excavate a depression called a “gator hole” along a waterway and use it during dormancy.
Next time you find yourself in the territorial midst of one of the treasured reptiles, keep a safe distance that allows you to enjoy their prehistoric-like beauty and take notice of the physical features that separate them from their relatives which are indigenous areas which are borderline opposite of the American alligator species! Safety first…. then adventure.
We don’t see many alligators but we know they are there. Specially in Ft. Clinch Park and the Greenway.
How about hopping on one of our new destination tours? These may be able to get you up close and personal with an American Alligator – from a safe distance of course. Check it out!