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.

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