We have all read and seen the news reports of the death of the child being attacked by an alligator. It was such a very sad, sad thing. People never expected that creature to be in that location. For us in East Texas, alligators are a familiar sighting in ponds, streams, lakes and even the water hazards of the golf course. But, knowing they are here does not mean we humans are safe. Our HOA has had signage for years stating our swimming areas are also alligator habitats. I began thinking "do I really know much about gators except the meat tastes good at Rodney's Circle M Crawfish?" Since I like to be out on the water here, I decided to brush up on these dinosaur-like creatures to be safe.
Alligators, crocodiles and gharials are in a group of animals known as crocodilians. Crocodilians are the world’s largest reptiles – yipes!! The American alligator (Alligator mississippenisis) is the least aggressive crocodilian – I guess that is a good thing. . . maybe.
Alligators normally avoid humans but become nuisance animals when they establish territories where there are humans. As we begin to move into their territories here in east Texas, there have been increased encounters between humans, pets and alligators. The current legal definition of a nuisance gator is “an alligator depredating livestock or pets or a threat to human health or safety.” The definition of all of this is located in the Texas Administrative Code (Title 31, Part 2, Chapter 65, Section 65.352) if you are in want of a little light reading.
Gators are ectothermic meaning the air temperature around them determines their body temperature. When the temperature reaches 60 degrees or less they burrow in the ground and remain dormant (mid-October to early March). This period is called brumation. March through May is their breeding season. During this time females stay close to home territories while male alligators can occupy ranges up to ten square miles.
They are active dusk-dawn and feed in the evening hours. In the summer a large alligator may only eat once or twice a week. Alligators have excellent sight, smell and hearing. They are very good at stalking their prey without being seen. They are carnivorous and will eat anything they can catch including fish, turtles, lizards, snakes, small mammals, waterbirds, crustaceans and other alligators. Alligator jaw muscles have little strength for opening their mouths, but the muscles that shut them are very strong and have awesome force, about 300 pounds per square inch in an adult.
Other interesting facts are:
- Large gators can hold their breath for 45 minutes.
- Females seldom reach lengths of 9 feet but males can be 14 feet.
- In captivity, female alligators may reach 30 years of age, however, males can live past 60!
- They are very vocal and make sounds like a bark, bellow grunt or hiss depending on the circumstances.
- They are very quick on land and are capable of running quickly over short distances. Generally, alligators will not flee when on land.
**Except when engaged in hunting, it is against the law to intentionally feed a free-ranging alligator.**
Texas Parks and Wildlife has a great article called “If You See an Alligator” that you may want to read. The URL is: http://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/species/alligator/safety/index.phtml
|Charlie at feeding time|