Saturday, 30 April 2011

It's the time of the year alligators are lookin' for love (Via Herp Digest)

It's the time of the year alligators are lookin' for love
Apr. 23, 2011,

Written by KEVIN LOLLAR 
"Alligator creepin' 'round the corner of my cabin door;
"He's comin' 'round to bother me some more."
- The Grateful Dead

It's that time of year again, the height of the dry season and alligator breeding season, when the state's favorite reptiles are on the move looking for water and that special scaly someone.

But that doesn't mean alligators will be comin' 'round to bother you some more.

"Right now, you might see them out and about more, moving from one water body to another," said Jeremy Conrad, a biologist at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. "In mating season, they're a little more active, but that doesn't increase their aggressive nature at all. They are not going to chase you."

And that, of course, doesn't mean alligators are not potentially dangerous animals.

Since 1948, 333 unprovoked alligator attacks and 22 fatalities have been recorded in Florida.

For years, the prevailing wisdom was all alligators fear humans, that alligators become dangerous only when people feed them and fed alligators are more likely to attack people.

This much is true: When an alligator is fed, it becomes habituat ed to people - loses its fear of humans - so it will be more likely to approach people for a handout

Recent research, however, shows few of the unprovoked attacks on humans were by alligators that had been habituated through feeding.

On the other hand, a large alligator, even one that hasn't been fed, might see a human as a prey item.
During mating season, alligator behavior doesn't change much, said Mike Knight, a resource manager at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, home of thousands of alligators.

"Most of the time, they're doing the same old thing," he said. "They're lying around, basking in the sun to warm up, swimming around looking for stuff to eat."

Still, alligators exhibit some changes in behavior when they go into mating mode.

"A month ago, we started seeing more confrontations between alligators," Knight said. "They're charging up as far as their hormones go, gearing up for breeding season, establishing territories. Between now and July, they'll be bellowing more."

An integral part of the courtship ritual, bellowing is an unmistakable sound, though other wildlife sounds are often mistaken for alligator bellowing.

"A lot people come out and hear a pig frog, which is a loud, short grunt, and think it's an alligator bellow - it's not," Knight said. "An alligator bellow is like something out of the movie 'Jurassic Park.' It's a long, drawn-out roar. It will vibrate the boardwalk.

"The neat thing about the bellow: The alligator arches its back, lifts its head and tail, makes the bellow and settles back. Then a subsonic sound causes water to dance off its back. It's an awesome sight to see."

For people going into gator country - virtually any freshwater habitat in Florida - Knight suggested a healthy dose of common sense.

"Be mindful that you're on the alligator's home turf," he said. "Don't do stuff that would put you in danger of an alligator attack. Don't go swimming in the early morning or late evening. Don't have pets out there around alligators. Don't feed them. Stay away from them. Don't go poking them with a stick."

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