Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Stay a safe distance from gators and snakes

Excellent advice from Morgan and Jack's mom. And that's the trick to guiding in the Everglades. You have no choice but to get very close to alligators, snakes and all sorts of seemingly dangerous plant and wildlife. So I found great humor in this advice as it came on a day when I was training to use the educational snakes and gators at Lake Trafford.

The lake (click for map) is the northwest headwaters of the Everglades and has more alligators per acre than any place on earth. There are well over 1000 of them and this is where we take our airboat ride. I don't think it's possible to find a better airboat road as this outfit takes you back among the Alligator Flag and cattails into places no normal boat could possibly go. The air or fan boats, having a 250 hp engine and a fan above the water and at the back of the boat pushes you across water, mud, grass and occasionally gators (this does not hurt them, nor does the sound seem to bother them as they rarely move when visited). This is one lake you don't want to fall into. It's one thing to fall into a cold Vermont pond (like VINS home schooler Alex B. might do) but another to fall into the muck and gator filled lake here in Immokalee, FL. Although gators have caused less than 20 deaths to humans in the last 50 years in Florida, the swamp stink alone should be a natural deterrent to inadvertent tumbles overboard.

The airboat ride is the highlight of the trip, but we do an educational, hands-on reptile program with American Crocodiles, American Alligators, Corn Snakes, Yellow Rat Snakes, Water Snakes and Indigo Snakes. The Indigo is an Endangered Species and most likely collected to the point of extinction. They live in upland areas and co-habitate with Gopher Tortoise.
Indigo's have smooth, glassy skin and the males have an abundance of red/orange around the head. This one is obviously a male. They don't often bite, but I'm a coward and thus the face.You can also determine their gender by investigating their cloaca, but the head coloration works best with Indigos. :)

Indigo Snake Drymarchon corais

To safely handle an alligator, as anyone should do, you have to grip them behind the head and hold their body tight. They can thrash and use their tail as a whip. The bite however can be very painful regardless of the size. The smaller they are, the sharper the teeth. But the older they get the duller. The problem is, the bite of an alligator older than a few years has amazing crushing strength, so being bitten by either is not good. This one is close to 2 years old. Alligators have rounded snouts and yellow and black banding when they are young.

American Alligator Alligator mississippiensis

Alligators were once endangered in the US. Now there are well over 1 million in Florida and can be found in just about every body of fresh water around (even swimming pools) with perhaps the exception of the Winn-Dixie storm run-off pool near my house. There is a turtle living in it though. More on him another time.

This silly project of mine is being read on 5 different continents. If you know of anyone in Africa or Antarctica that would like to read of my wild adventures, feel free to pass along the link to them or anyone else for that matter. Especially anyone who has ties to TV producers at the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet. hehe

all photos © Pete Corradino

1 comment:

  1. Love the blog and all the photos, even though I think most blogs are stupid It's educational, funny and lets us know what you are working on and just how much danger you are in.
    You should make your photos so they can't be downloaded. Keep up the good work.
    And now...back to my burrito.