Monday, April 28, 2008

Owen's Everglades Adventure!

Hi, my name is Owen Schumacher.

And I was lucky enough to have taken a fascinating eco safari with Mr. Corradino. I met Pete about five years ago in Vermont. I did one of his wildlife camps and learned almost every thing I know about nature from that camp. I did that camp for three more years until Pete moved back to Florida. Ever since then I have been wanting to visit him and go on one of his eco tours. Well this spring break I got a chance to. (all photos by Owen - 4/23/08)

(Pete, Owen and his brother Trevor)

On this tour I saw many things. One of my favorite things I saw all of the alligators. On the whole tour we must have seen at least ( or what felt like) 150 alligators. It was unbelievable.

Also we saw the smallest post office in the united states. At first I thought it was a joke, it was so small and then I read the plaque and saw the lady that was inside. I also saw the mangrove islands, which was extremely interesting. The mangrove islands are made up of only mangrove trees, no land at all. The cool thing about it is that the islands can only grow bigger, which means that the mangroves are for ever (unless people find a way to build resorts and condos on them). We also saw lots of birds (little blue heron great blue heron, etc.). The funnest thing we did was the fanboat ride. Everything about it was fun, even the noise. Everywhere you looked there was alligators, at least five in every cluster, all good size. On that boat ride we also saw 1,800 year old canoes, from the Seminole Indians; very fascinating. (Actually a Calusa canoe!)

Overall, the eco safari I took with Pete Corradino was a fun experience that I will never forget.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Water Taxi - Ride the Goose

Fort Lauderdale is famous for water taxis that shuttle people around Venice's sister city. Turtles apparently receive similar services.

I walked past the following scene today - dismissed it and continued on. In my head I saw a Turtle decoy on top of a Goose decoy. Then the Turtle waved a back leg and I realized that the nimble little cooter had clambered up on the floating bird to bask in the sun. I didn't dare get closer in fear he'd flee and give up the best basking spot a reptile could ask for. It must have taken the poor thing all morning to reach that plateau! Just imagine the difficulty in that maneuver. I would think it'd be easier to catch a greased pig!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Big Mama - Angry Gator

True for most any species of wildlife that exhibits maternal care - get in between mama and her babies and look out. When the mama in question has 80 teeth and can exert 1200+ lbs of pressure per square inch - its best to keep your distance.
Lake Trafford in Immokolee, Florida has an estimated 4000 alligators in about 1600 acres of wetland. Probably the highest density of alligators per acre in the world. Alligators range in size here from hatchlings to 15 footers and around the lake there are quite a few mama gators ferociously defending there young. Right now the lake is down about 6 feet from normal due to a 2 year drought and 2 summers of dredging. Normally the water should be close to the base of the dock seen below but you would have a good 5 foot plummet into the water from the dock if you tripped.
Mamas have had to find new nesting areas on the lake and two nests in particular are a little too close as far as the marina is concerned. One is just beneath the dock where we once loaded people onto airboats. They've blocked it off and only I can go out there. Apparently they think I'm responsible.
These pups were born last September and have been so well protected by mom that they appear to be emaciated. Let them out to eat mom! They grow about a foot a year but these little ones are tiny. Mom usually keeps them close by for the first 2-3 years of their lives until they are old enough to defend for themselves. The 8-foot alligator below was resting under the dock I was standing on. She wasn't waiting for me to fall in so she could eat me, but instead uses the dock for shelter. There are enough fish and other alligators in the lake for her to eat. But when airboats pass by she lunges, hisses and growls. She must be quite proud. She's scares off 10 boats a day.
This mama has enjoyed the low water. She was able to make a den in the embankment. She can crawl in head first and turn her entire 7 foot body around inside. She had babies from 2005, 2006 and 2007 under her protection. We'll assume they are all hers.
She too growls and lunges. She's a good mama. In the next few weeks it will be breeding season and not long after she'll make her nest in the woods, scraping together grass and mud and laying anywhere from 20-80 eggs. Heat from decomposing plant material warms the eggs and helps them develop. If there's not enough moisture for this process - mama pees on the nest. Incubation lasts 65 or so days and they usually hatch out in late July or August. Then the growling starts all over again.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Crocodile Handouts

The crocodile incident was really not a big issue. I had one small puncture hole that looked like a pin prick. But since some of you have asked to see a picture of the Crocodile and others have asked to see a photo of the injury - I give you the following. Which has nothing to do with me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What a Croc

Where the hell have I been? I've been badgered with demands for a new post and I have a very good reason for being delinquent. I was bitten by a crocodile. While this is 100% true. It's not the reason for for my absence. I'll get to that eventually.
The crocodile in question is a 2-foot monster. Snaggle-toothed, wiry, mean and nasty. He's an educational animal we have on display and although he's still a youngling...he's not to be trifled with. Like Alligators, Crocodiles have 80 teeth and when they are young, the teeth are sharp. The tour today involved a reptile demonstration in which I typically climb into the reptile pit, chase the alligator around a fig tree while rats snakes lunge at me from their perches and finally, with both reptile and myself exhausted capture the beast for display. I normally leave the crocodile alone. He's mean and snaps at me and it makes for a good show to see a grown man terrified of this small creature. I'm the coward version of Steve Irwin.

Today the boss was nice enough to extract both alligator and crocodile and leave them in an aquarium outside the reptile pit. This was in theory intended to make my life easier, but upon reaching into the 5 gallon tank to retrieve the far more pleasant alligator, the croc whipped about and snapped my finger. Without hesitation I plucked the gator from the tank, covered the bleeding finger and went on with the show. It was really no big deal.

The Everglades is the only place in the world where you can find Alligators and Crocodiles coexisting in the wild.

How to tell them apart?

American Alligators
-have tongues
-have a U-shaped nose
-mothers take care of their young up to 3 years
-prefer fresh water
-have black and yellow banding as young
-can not excrete salt water
-have a population of 1.5 million + in Florida
-are on the threatened list
-eggs that are incubated at 94 degrees and higher will be males and below will be females.

Alligator above - Crocodile below

American Crocodiles
-have no tongue
-have V-shaped noses
-have teeth that point up and down when the jaw is closed
-prefer salt or brackish water
-mothers don't take care of young
-have olive green and black banding as young
-can excrete salt
-have a population of 2000+ in Florida
-are on the endangered species list
-eggs that are incubated at 94 degrees or higher will be females and below will be males

Both have 80 teeth, need to maintain their body temperature by basking in the sun and when left alone have a shy disposition and will normally avoid humans. They can't interbreed. (edit -after rereading I've noticed how suggestive this sounds - of course mean Alligators and Crocodiles can't interbreed!)

The only crocodiles I have seen in the wild were in Flamingo in the Everglades National Park. They were each an estimated 12 feet in length. We were very close. Maybe too close. People are not on their menu but you still need to be safe.

(a picture for Pia circa 2005)