Tuesday, October 20, 2020

On the Move…Gators and Crocs

An adult female gator emerges from a canal in the Big Cypress area to sun itself. Gators are “ectothermic” and depend on surrounding temperatures to regulate body heat.

“I went on my morning walk today and saw five alligators in our community lakes!” “Well I was driving my car and saw six, count ‘em, six gators in the canals along Collier Boulevard!” These types of posts and conversations are dominating social media and neighborhood talk these days.

Yep, we are in mating season and alligators are on the move. Spring is in the air and that means warmer temperatures increase the metabolism of the gator and they seek more prey, wherever they can.

A full stomach means a healthy pair will successfully mate.

Seen through the mangrove trees, a crocodile catches some sun in the waters by the Marsh Trail.

From the middle of April through the end of May you will hear a lot of grunting from both males and females that pinpoints their locations to each other. The male may also engage in head slapping, performing a “rain dance” by shimmying its torso and also snapping its jaws. It is not a romantic courtship and you will not here “Strangers in the Night” playing softly in the background.

Interestingly enough, the bellows of the males and females are slightly different and the not-so-audible vibration of the body by the males, that “rain dance” mentioned above, produces an infrasonic signal so strong that the water seems to rise above the male, as if it were actually dancing around it.

If you see two gators in the water swimming next to each other, rubbing noses and even blowing bubbles this could be a pair performing their mating ritual. This could continue for several weeks.

They may unite several times during this period but there are no promises of a “happily ever-after” lifestyle. Both the males and females may have multiple partners throughout mating season and the clutch of eggs produced by the female could be from several different males.

After the courtship season the male will go his own way and the female begins to build a nest for her eggs. She will construct this nest above the high water marks in her area to prevent the eggs from being flooded. Unfortunately last fall, with the arrival of Hurricane Irma and the extremely elevated water flows, many areas were consumed by water and quite a few nests did not incubate to produce hatchlings.

Constructing the nest from twigs, branches, leaves and mud, the female will eventually deposit about forty eggs, which she covers with even more vegetation. Approximately sixty-five days later the young will hatch and mom will carry them gently to the water for their first swim.

Whether these hatchlings are male or female depends on the summer sun. Eggs incubating at a temperature of ninety degrees or higher will be males and those at temperatures of eighty-five degrees or slightly lower will be females.

Photos by Bob McConville |
A crocodile’s fourth tooth on the lower jaw will jut out while an alligator’s does not.

Indeed, gators are on the move. Nearly 1.3 million in total can be found in every county throughout Florida. But gators are crocodilians, so are there crocodiles in the area as well? You bet!

Primarily from the salty and brackish waters of Lee County on eastward to the Florida Keys nearly 2,000 crocs call South Florida their home.

They can be distinguished from alligators by their light gray skin color and narrower snout. Also, the fourth tooth on lower jaw juts out and sits in a fleshy pocket of skin on the upper jaw.

They nearly disappeared from the Florida landscape several decades ago but their numbers seem to be on the rebound. Their mating and nesting season are the same as the alligators and the courtship rituals are very similar. Close to home, a crocodile has been seen regularly in the waters near the Marsh Trail on U.S. 41, about three miles south of San Marco Road.

So please be cautious and vigilant this time of the year. These reptiles are not usually aggressive but surprising one in an area where you might not normally see one could be alarming for both parties. As is the case everywhere with nature, always be aware of your surroundings!

Bob is an owner of the Dolphin Explorer, a research team that maintains a record of the genealogy, habits and behaviors of our area dolphins. He is also the author of two books, both available at several outlets on Marco Island. Bob loves his wife very much!

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