IN ALLIGATORS IS ON THE INCREASE
by Whit Gibbons
July 7, 2003
alligators are increasing throughout much of their range; hence we receive
many queries about them.
My daughter recently took photos of an alligator swimming in the surf
here on Seabrook Island in S.C. It eventually was encouraged to head
out to sea by some of the island security, but I've been wondering why
it was in the ocean in the first place. We've speculated that it was
sick and possibly just confused. I've not been able to find any information
on alligators in salt water and am hoping you can educate us a bit.
Reed of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory provided the following
answer, which I agree with completely.
"Gators are seen fairly regularly in saltwater habitats and have
occasionally been found miles out to sea. They are good dispersers and
can tolerate saltwater for quite a while, so this sighting isn't quite
as unusual as you might suspect. A number of possible explanations exist
for this sighting, and I'll list a few.
The recent deluges have likely flooded gator habitats, causing them
to move around more, and this one just happened to swim out of freshwater
while looking for a good temporary home.
I can't tell the size of the animal from the photo, but it could be
a young adult male looking for a territory. Adult males fiercely defend
territories from other males, and the main cause of mortality among
young males is attacks from bigger males. This guy could have reached
maturity and found that he was no longer welcome back home, spurring
him to head out in search of new horizons.
There's a faint possibility that this was a female looking for a place
to lay her eggs. High water levels may have flooded all of her normal
egg-laying areas and pushed her out of usual haunts.
You could be right about this being a sick animal."
I was once told during a ride through the Florida Everglades about alligators
and their ability to jump from the water. Although I could not recall
the actual height they could jump, I do remember that it was impressive.
When I returned from my trip, a friend said that either I had heard
wrong or that our guide was mistaken, because alligators are too big
and heavy to be able to jump out of the water. Can you advise me on
this matter? Can an alligator jump a certain amount of feet from the
water? If so, how high?
A: I have seen a 10-foot crocodile in Australia jump straight up out
of a river until its tail was at least a foot above the surface. Although
wild, these particular ones on the Adelaide River in the Northern Territory
have learned to jump from the water to catch meat from the end of a
stick. I have never seen alligators do this, but as they are approximately
the same shape as a crocodile and also have a flat tail, I assume that
they might be able to. I would not be surprised if they can.
Q: Is it true that the eyes of male alligators are red and those of
the female are yellow?
A: The eyes of both male and female alligators are yellow with a black
pupil. However, the eye shine (the reflection of the eyes at night from
a flashlight) of an alligator can range from deep ruby red to orange
to yellow. In contrast to the eye color of the pupils, the reflection
actually looks like a shining light and is visible more than a hundred
yards away. The eyes of big alligators seem to me more likely to appear
deep red whereas smaller ones are more often yellow, but this can vary.
Male alligators get bigger than females, but I am aware of no inherent
difference between the eyes of males and females.
Alligators are fascinating animals, and like all species they and their
habitat deserve our respect. But these enormous reptiles are capable
of injuring or killing a person without much effort. Although generally
shy, inoffensive creatures, their unpredictable behavior in some circumstances
makes them a species to be cautious around, especially when children
or pets are involved.
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