Friday, February 13, 2009

Alligators and Freaks

I've been seeing a lot of alligators lately, and most of them from my kayak here in Florida. You can find these reptiles, survivors of the dinosaur age, in freshwater marshes, swamps, rivers, and lakes (almost anywhere you could put in a kayak or beg to swim in hot weather). Being cold blooded, alligators save energy not having to heat themselves internally. Consequently, they don't need to eat so often but do like to bask in the sun to warm up. These long bodied crocodilians (Florida also has crocodiles which prefer the more salty waters and milder weather of south Florida) move well in both water and on land; the front feet give them firm footing on land and the rear feet, which have more webbing, help propel them through water.

It looks like I am getting too close, but in many cases the rivers are very narrow. The alligators rest like statues, not moving one bit while we float by. But I have seen them bolt like lighting from the bank when startled, always retreating into the safety of the water. They are not interested in eating me. There have been few fatal attacks. This is amazing considering how closely the two species live together in modern Florida. Alligators prefer to feed on fish, turtles, snakes, wading birds, raccoons, and our pets, which are just another small mammal to an alligator.

Here is an 8 footer on the shore. Notice the red and blue in the foreground. I am in my red kayak and my Ohio friend Emil is in the blue kayak. This is the first time Emil has ever been in a kayak (I won't give his age but will say that he is drawing social security) and this is the first alligator he has ever seen. Emil is raving about how he never imagined Florida to have any wild, natural areas remaining. This is precisely why I want to introduce him to one of many natural areas I've had the pleasure of exploring here in southeast Florida, the Luxahatchee River.

OOOPPS! Emil flips the kayak on the next bend. What is so cool is that Emil is cool (more than soaked in cold water). He doesn't freak out. I guess that the American alligator doesn't stack up to the communist whom young Emil, his mother, father, and sister escaped by foot one dark, Hungarian night in 1956.

Alligators are docile. If left alone, like other reptiles such as snakes and turtles, they will retreat to a more isolated place if they feel threatened. The exception though is a female alligator with her babies. She guards the eggs she lays in a nest and then protects the live ones for nearly 2 years. Even with this vigilant protector, few alligators will make it through the 1st year. In the photo above, a mother floats near 2 of her young. The little ones are camouflaged by reeds in the bottom left quadrant of the photo. I am standing on a road shooting into a ditch for this photo.

Knowing what I do about alligators and having seen dozens by now from my kayak, doesn't mean that it is any less exhilarating to see one in its natural habitat.
Look at my foot in this photograph. My toes are freaking out! Unlike Emil, my feet have never had to help me escape from the above-mentioned, freaky, non-reptilian specie.

1 comment:

Debby said...

Thank you for the primer on alligators. We see crocs when we head to Costa Rica, but I don't think I've ever seen an alligator in person (in-animal?).