Thursday, March 12, 2015

Alligators and Crocodiles Part 1

Florida is the only state in the US that has crocodiles, and the only place in the world inhabited by both alligators and crocodiles. Although crocodiles are not native to Pinellas County, one infamous crocodile visitor found in Tarpon Lake made headlines across the US. More details in Part 2.

American Alligators and American Crocodiles are very different.

American Alligators
1. are darker with black or gray bodies. 
2. have a powerful U-shaped, shorter snout to exert the downward force needed to crack turtle shells. However their jaws are weak to open like all reptiles.
3. are typically smaller and lighter, averaging 8-12 ft long and weighing 400-600 lbs
4. have partially webbed toes on hind legs.
5. have an overbite so that only the upper teeth visible when jaw is closed.
6. have sense receptors on their jaw only.
7. Florida has 1.25 million alligators.
8. are not very aggressive and prefer to flee humans except for ones that lose their fear as they have either been fed or threatened by humans.
9. prefer fresh or brackish water found in canals, streams, large shallow lakes etc.
10.The range of the American alligator is in 10 southeastern US states, including the southern parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, coastal South and North Carolina, East Texas, the southeast corner of Oklahoma, and the southern tip of Arkansas, with the most found anywhere in Louisiana and Florida. Unlike the crocodile it can withstand temperatures as low as 45 degrees.

There is only 2 species of alligators. The other is the Chinese alligator which lives near the Yangtze River in China.

American Crocodiles
1. are lighter with olive green or tan bodies and with darker markings on their back.
2. have longer, V-shaped snout to eat a more varied diet. His jaws are strong to open, but can be held shut with a rubber band.
3. are typically larger and heavier, but the American crocodile is only 7-12 ft long.
4. have a jagged fringe on the back of their hind legs and have five toes on their front feet and four on their back feet..
5. both upper and lower teeth are visible when jaws are closed and has two protruding front teeth.
6. Have touch receptors on their whole body to detect their prey.
7. As of 2014 about 2000 crocodiles are estimated to live in southern Florida.  
8. The American crocodile is not very aggressive, although its relative, the Nile crocodile (two 4 foot ones were found in Florida recently) is very aggressive. 
9. prefer blackish saltwater in the mangroves along the coastal areas, but can also survive in freshwater. They only reason they are confined to Southern Florida is they .
10. They live only in southern tip of Florida in the United States, but are also found in coastal wetlands in the Caribbean along the Pacific Ocean from Mexico to Ecuador and along the Atlantic Ocean from Guatemala to Florida.  

Of the 14 species of crocodiles, Charles Darwin University found that the Saltwater crocodile was the most aggressive crocodile. It is also the largest at 23 ft, a record set in 2006 and lives in Australia and throughout SE Asia. The Nile Crocodile is also very aggressive and lives in Africa.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Allligators in Pinellas County

Adult alligator at Largo Central Nature Preserve
  Everyone  who visits the Pinellas County parks seem to be fascinated, yet scared of the alligators.  They imagine 20 ft reptiles that lay hidden in wait for unsuspecting creatures and attack suddenly, at least that is how it happens in the movies.

However, they rarely bite even stupid humans. Problem gators are usually relocated by the state of Florida. Gators do give warning. They hiss and  growl and snort and bellow. They are the most vocal of reptiles.  Go to this page to listen to them.

In the winter the alligators become less active.  They might have a burrow on the bank of a river, above the water level, or an alligator hole below the water. They can lay at the bottom of water and still survive, as long as it is no cooler than 40 degrees. If the pond freezes, they might float up to the top where their nostrils can breathe. Then, when the ice melts, they can swim free. As they cannot breathe underwater, even in winter they have to come up for air at least once an hour.  

Alligators are most active when the temperatures are between 82 and 92 degrees usually during the summer months and between dusk and dawn. 
Alligator on the banks of McKay Creek at the Florida Botanical Garden
Alligators rarely eat until it is at least 70 degrees, and then only once a week, often at night when they can be identified by the red, glowing eyes. They can last up to 2 years on the fat stores in their tale. You might see birds walk right by an alligator on even a warm day, but they remain motionless.

Alligators mostly eat fish, turtles, water birds, snakes and other alligators. Young alligators eat snails, insects, spiders, worms and larvae. It takes 9 to 14 years for an alligator to reach 6-7 feet, which is considered adulthood.

The larger the gator, the more likely he will occasionally eat bigger mammals like raccoons, small dogs, cats, etc. On a warm night he might venture up to 170 ft from the water and attack prey on land, but it would have to be a huge gator to attack a rare deer, wild boar, bear, bobcat or a human.
Alligator near the dog park at Walsingham Park
The alligator at Largo Central Nature preserve can usually be found near the beginning of the boardwalk around the retention pond. He makes himself scarce on the cool days, but when it heats up into the warmer 60's he comes out to sun himself. At Sawgrass Lake Park, I have seen the young alligators out even in jacket weather. 
Young Alligator at Sawgrass Park