Friday, October 30, 2020

It’s All About Location, Location, Location!

Rumination from the Rock and Beyond

Master Naturalist Bob McConville provides information and amusement in his wildlife presentations. | Photos by Jory Westberry

If you haven’t ever heard Bob McConville speaking at the Marco Island Historical Society Rose Auditorium, you’re missing a master naturalist with a buoyant sense of humor. Bob can talk about almost any type of Florida wildlife and answer questions about the rest. His presentations fill up quickly with few seats to spare, because he not only has the knowledge, he shares it willingly. So, if you want to hear a dynamic lecture, be sure to attend on July 16 at 7 PM; it’s about dolphins.

His recent presentation focused on alligators and crocs, but he threw in pythons, dolphin, bull sharks, manatees, sea turtles, osprey, dragonflies and much more. Bob shows video and his beautiful photos as he talks so the audience can witness the animals in the wild while ensconced in safe, comfy chairs. He also shares where to get the best photos, the likelihood of finding the same critters that he found and the optimum time of day to capture the animal/bird, I mean photo.

For the first time, I really understood the difference between an alligator and a croc. No, not that kind of croc, the four-footed croc! Mostly, it’s about location, location, location. A gator abides mostly in fresh water, but sometimes ventures into brackish water (that’s water that’s partly fresh and partly salty), but not often. They prefer bodies of fresh water, either natural or man-made. Gators will travel and can cover some distance to find water food. Maybe that’s the allure of the golf courses? Of course some of the “food” carries metal clubs…

On the other hand, a crocodile prefers salt water. Luckily, crocs are not interested in sun-bathing on our beaches, they prefer marshy tidal areas to hunt birds, frogs, crabs, and snakes, far away from the odor of suntan lotion and the raucous noise of children having fun. Whew, right? Actually, crocs are pretty shy. Double whew.

Just an FYI, there are about 1.3 million gators in Florida, and the numbers keep increasing for two reasons. One, they live from 60 – 80 years old, which means that they can produce more “reptile-ettes.” Two, mama gators stay on location with their babies for up to two+ years! Who knew, right? There’s that “location” word again! The mini-gators sometimes ride on their mom’s head and back for the ultimate protection – for them, it would be like riding a Navy cruiser!

Backtrack. Before the hatchlings are even a gleam in their mother’s eye, both gators and crocs prepare nests that are above the water or high tide line, bury them under sand, soils and mulchy debris and wait for them to incubate under the warm Florida sun. They both lay about the same number of eggs. The biggest difference is that the mama crock stays around a couple of days and swims off without so much as a farewell to her brood. It’s not rocket science to see which little reptiles have a hand, er, claw up. Even so, about 10% – 80% of the baby gators make it to adulthood. The babies, about the size of a dollar bill when born, will grow one foot every year. With every foot they grow, they have a better chance of survival.

Bob McConville compares his fist to a gator skull.

Here’s another difference. Crocs have a more pointed snout and gator heads are more broad. And here’s a huge clue. Crocs have a protruding tooth on their bottom jaw; to be specific, it’s the fourth one from the front and it’s visible when they smile. Just kidding about the smile, it’s visible when their jaws are shut. Location again!

I passed two “teenage” gators on the East Trail the other day, who met their demise while crossing the road. I wondered, Why did the gator(s) cross the road? There was no water on the other side and they probably needed more reason than what a chicken had to cross the road! Wait. Two of them? Teens? Rendezvous?

The crocs have a smaller territory due to the temperature and habitat, and are seen in the Keys and to the Broward/Collier latitudes. Gators on the other hand have been habituated in all 67 counties in Florida and farther up the southeastern coast. There are about 2-3,000 gators in Collier County, but who’s counting? To see them, head out to Corkscrew Sanctuary, Big Cypress Swamp, Shark Valley and if you attend one of Bob’s presentations, he’ll probably tell you more divine places to go.

Bob mentioned a battle between a python and a gator somewhere in Fiddler’s Creek, but never disclosed the victor. Pythons have become more invasive than the gators and there is some serious capture/tagging/research that is going on to decrease their spread. Not to mention the experienced hunters that are trying to find them. I’ll keep you posted. ‘Til then, get out there and enjoy nature! And don’t forget Bob’s next presentation on the dolphins, July 16th at 7 PM. (P.S. Bob loves his wife very much!)

Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!

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