Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Baby Gator Time at Briggs Boardwalk

Two baby alligators right near the boardwalk close to the overlook. Notice the yellow stripes.

Two baby alligators right near the boardwalk close to the overlook. Notice the yellow stripes.

By Bob Schulteis
Conservancy of Southwest
Florida Volunteer

 

We are enjoying watching (at a distance) seven baby gators born to Smiley, our resident gator, on the big pond at Briggs.

Baby alligators, when born, are usually 6–8 inches in length. They grow about one foot a year for the first five or so years, although each year’s growth rate is not exactly the same. At about five years or so, they lose their stripes because they no longer need the camouflage.

When small, baby gators eat small prey such as crickets, insects, spiders, lizards, crustaceans, frogs, and fish, if they can catch any. When gators get mature, they can take down small and large mammals, birds, and even feral pigs and white-tailed deer.

This mom, who we call Smiley, is almost always nearby her babies. It pays not to approach baby gators too closely and make mom worried. If you do, you will not be

PHOTOS BY BOB SCHULTEISSmiley keeping watch as we look at her babies.

PHOTOS BY BOB SCHULTEISSmiley keeping watch as we look at her babies.

pleased with her reaction. Female gators try to protect the eggs from snakes, raccoons, and other predators and to protect the babies from snapping turtles, large fish, snakes, and especially male gators.

Mommy gators are rare reptiles because they raise and protect their young from eggs to about two or three years of age. Then it’s “find yourself another home.” Most reptiles lay their eggs, and leave their survival to chance.

Never feed alligators, or any wild animal for that matter, because then you become a source for food.

Gators have big nostrils that let them breath while the rest of the animal is underwater. While they have webbed feet, their main means of propulsion are their tails.

Gators, like Smiley, are often seen out sunning themselves on a beautiful, warm, sunny day. But gators can lurk in marshy areas, too.

Gators have been the top predator in the Everglades?—?until now. Burmese pythons are

Visit Briggs to see Smiley, resident gator.

Visit Briggs to see Smiley, resident gator.

competing with them for the top spot. They both are preying on each other. Typically, it is the biggest that wins.

Join us at Briggs Boardwalk to see Smiley and her babies for yourself! Enjoy a free, Conservancy-led tour at 10 AM through March, or take a self-guided tour, seven days a week, from sun up to sundown. The half-mile boardwalk is a self-directed nature trail passing through six ecological communities from scrub to brackish ponds. Signs along the walk describe the flora and fauna in each community and out volunteers will help visitors spot and identify plants, birds and other animals and provide a spotting scope on an elevated observation platform overlooking brackish ponds.

The walk is a Great Florida Birding Trail site. For Briggs Boardwalk directions and location information visit www.conservancy.org/offsite/nature-walks. You can also see baby alligators in the Dalton Discovery Center on the main campus of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida www.conservancy.org/nature-center.

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