Thursday, February 3, 2011


There's no shortage of American Alligators in south Florida. Nearly everywhere one goes, the toothy lizards are laying about, or poking their snouts ominously from the water. Although not very aggressive and hardly a threat to anyone with half a brain and an ounce of self-preservation, their presence does make one look at the murky swamp waters in a new light.

Probably no other animal in Florida excites the touristos like Alligator mississipiensis does. They're big, primitive, scary, and rise from the primordial ooze. What's not to like?

This big boy was one of the larger ones that I saw on my recent trip, but they can get a lot bigger than that. The males grow larger than the females, and there is at least one claim of a 19+ footer being bagged. That'd be exceptional; normally they'll not stretch more than 14 or 15 feet and such jumbos are rare.

Regardless of their size, you don't want to try and ride one sidesaddle or scratch 'em behind the ears. If it didn't flee, the gator might chomp you and that would hurt. Supposedly, the force of their jaws clamping together is one of the strongest pressures ever measured in an animal. A healthy gator can exert over 9,000 newtons of force with its downward clamp of the jaw. What's that mean? Well, 9,000 newtons is about equivalent to a ton of force. An expert boxer normally wouldn't generate half this force in his strongest blows. Plus, the gator has the added benefit of a lot of teeth with which to secure you, and the ability to keep those jaws shut so tightly you'd need TNT to blast yourself free.
Not something you see everyday - a baby alligator. they're colorfully banded with yellow at this stage, and about as close to "cute" as one of these reptiles ever manages to get. This little fellow was perhaps a bit more than a foot in length.

As cute and unintimidating as Jr. Gator was, it still would have been a bad idea to mess with him. This is Mom, and she was huge and ever so watchful. I detect some hostility and anger issues in her eyes, and it was a strong enough signal to keep everyone well back from her two little charges.

It's good that there are so many gators to see these days. It was only a few decades ago that scientists thought they would never recover to the point of being common. Unrestrained market hunting throughout much of the 1900's nearly eliminated alligators from much of the southern U.S., and in 1967 it was declared an endangered species. Multi-pronged recovery efforts following this designation were successful, and the gator was de-listed in 1987 and is once again a fixture of Florida wetlands.


Jack and Brenda said...

I was at the Kennedy Space Center for the November launch that still hasn't happened yet.(I will return for the Feb. 24th attempt) During a tour of the facility, we saw lots of gators in the canals and were told that their best estimate is that there are close to 2000 alligators on the Space Center property (much of which is the Merrit Island National Wildlife Refuge). The tour guide joked that the gators are actual sub-contractors to their security forces.

Cathy said...

" . .you don't want to try and ride one sidesaddle or scratch 'em behind the ears . ."

You're a hoot.

When walking the Bailey Tract on Sanibel - I'm watching 30 feet ahead.

Don't trust 'em.

Jim McCormac said...

Wow! That's a lotta gators roaming the space center grounds!