ARE JUST BEING ALLIGATORS
by Whit Gibbons
July 2, 2006
seem to stay in the news, and they generate many questions, such as the
Q. Why have
there been so many attacks by alligators in Florida during the past few
women were eaten by alligators a month or so ago in Florida, and many
other gator attacks have been confirmed. The answer to why is a simple
one. The population density in Florida continues to rise, placing more
and more people in association with the largest native reptile in North
America. Although each individual case is a personal tragedy, many of
the people attacked, bitten, and sometimes killed by alligators placed
themselves in harm's way. Alligators are not doing much different from
what alligators have always done. People are.
Often people are simply being naive: naively swimming in lakes and canals
at night where large alligators are known to live; being new to the region
and naive about the wildlife that inhabits the region (and always has);
naively walking an equally naive dog along a waterway with big alligators
(alligators will come out of the water to eat a dog).
Again, not to minimize the personal suffering of families affected, alligators
kill fewer humans in a decade than cars kill in a day or dogs or horses
do in a year. Why do alligators harm even a few humans? Most injuries
are caused when humans have fed the alligator (an illegal activity), invaded
its territory (including moving into it permanently), or threatened its
young. When humans choose to live in a place where they might come in
contact with alligators or any other large animal, wild or domestic, each
person should be responsible for knowing where not to tread. And it goes
without saying that it is the responsibility of parents and guardians
to watch out for children under their care. You can't expect an alligator
to do so.
Q. What do you think about the outcry in Lakeland about alligators eating
the mute swans?
Fla., calls itself the City of Swans because a flock of 200 of the introduced
white birds swims around in a downtown lake. Lakeland may have to change
its name to the City of Gators if a recent trend continues--alligators
have eaten almost a dozen of the swans in the past month. Some of the
residents have called for removal of the gators. What do I think? I think
that mute swans are native to Europe and that alligators, which eat waterfowl,
are native to Florida. Alligators, as I said before, are not doing much
different from what they ever have. Mute swans are.
Q. My neighbor swears he saw a large alligator swimming in the ocean somewhere
along the Charleston, S.C., coast at least 200 yards from shore. Do alligators
ever leave freshwater lakes and rivers?
leave freshwater habitats to travel overland during droughts, in search
of mates, and to avoid confrontations with larger male alligators. They
will enter saltwater habitats on occasion and have even been found a mile
or more out to sea. They do not live in the ocean but can tolerate saltwater
for hours or maybe days without a problem.
Q. Is there a sonic sound wave that can scare alligators out of the water?
A. As far
as I know, this is not an effective way to make alligators leave the water,
but they are able to detect water vibrations through sense organs in the
jaws and perhaps would respond by leaving the water. However, if sonic
vibrations in the water bothered them, they might just lift their jaws
out of the water.
Q. Do alligators have the ability to jump out of the water the way a fish
does? Can an alligator leap straight up out of the water? If so, how high?
A. I saw
crocodiles on the Adelaide River in Australia jump to grab meat from the
end of a stick 10 feet above the water. I have never seen alligators do
this, but since they have a body shape similar to a crocodile and have
a flat tail, I assume that they might be able to, at least for a few feet.
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