Tag Archives: Alligator mississippiensis

Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, Florida; 03 March 2014

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Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, photographed in Volusia county, Florida (03 March 2014).

Monday 03 March 2014 was a busy day. My father –the enigmatic and curiously awesome Les Jones– underwent foot surgery the week prior. The medical folks played hell dealing with his pain meds and working against the onslaught of mayhem emanating from his non-cooperative nerve endings, but with everything balancing out it was finally time for him to make the transition from Florida Hospital in Orlando to a rehab facility closer to home in Mount Dora.

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South Florida EcoRomp Part V: The River is Wide and Time is Long

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South Florida EcoRomp Part V
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI

Once upon an ago, but not too long ago, the Florida Everglades formally reached north from Florida Bay to the southern edge of the vast and epic, yet remarkably shallow, Lake Okeechobee. What’s more, the water intake system (the drainage unit) of the Everglades actually ranged all the way north to Orlando by way of the Kissimmee River. Indeed, the better portion of the southern Floridian peninsula was directly and intricately connected to the what we now know as The Everglades.

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Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator) at Trimble Park, Florida; 07 June 2013

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Alligator mississippiensis, the American alligator, photographed in Orange county, Florida (07 June 2013).

This is the 21st post on Dust Tracks featuring an American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). I’m not sure if I have much more to say about them, short of telling  stories of specific individuals. Sometimes encounters with American alligators are very story-worthy. I’ve certainly had a few…

There was the behemoth at Lake Woodruff who pulled his way on the levee and effectively blocked my path. I had to double-back several miles to get back to the Jeep. The monster gator simply wouldn’t get out of my way. Stubborn. 

And then there was the one-eyed devil in Big Cypress who stalked me along the edge of Loop Road. That was a creepy encounter, a creepy, big gator. Friggin’ gator was stalking me like I was a big dumb mammal or something. Maybe I shouldn’t have been walking so close to a gator hole?

And, yeah, then there was the youngster (but not too young) in Alachua county that I caught by hand one chilly afternoon. It was the one and only gator I’ve ever –or likely will ever– catch by hand. Such foolishness is not recommended. Even a youngster like that could do some serious damage to feeble human hands.

Yeah, I’ve got some stories floating around that are worth telling sooner or later…

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Gators, Snakes, and Turtles at O’Leno State Park, Florida; 24 March 2013

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On Friday, we checked out the Santa Fe River as it runs through O’Leno State Park, eventually disappearing in a sinkhole and then traveling underground for three miles until it resurfaces at River Rise Preserve State Park. Today’s post features alligators and turtles photographed atop and along the edge of that sinkhole in O’Leno State Park on 24 March 2013.

American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) are a no-brainer in a habitat like this. With plenty of duckweed and buoyant logs collecting and floating on the surface of the sinkhole pool, so to speak, as well as along its shore, this is a fantastic basking area for the gators. Turtles are also, of course, expectedly present in great numbers in an area like this.

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But what species are these turtles? I checked out O’Leno State Park and River Rise Preserve State Park: Unit Mangagement Plan published in 2003 by the State of Florida Department of Environmental Protection (Division of Recreation and Parks). According to the report, both Suwannee cooters (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis) and Florida redbelly turtles (Pseudemys nelsoni) are present in the area (Appendix 4-17). This was expected on both counts, but I immediately leaned more toward the Suwannee cooter identification with most of the individuals I could see. I do believe most of these are likely Suwannee cooters, though a few could easily be Florida redbellies. (I’m simply not a turtle expert.)

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Digging around online a bit more, I wanted to see if there were any more-recent studies of turtles around O’Leno State Park and the Santa Fe River, specifically to find recorded species accounts. I quickly found Yurii Kornilev‘s 2008 Masters Thesis at the University of Florida. In Behavioral Ecology and the Effects of Disturbance on the Suwannee Cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis) in a Blackwater Spring-Fed River, Kornilev noted the common presence of Yellowbelly sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta) in the Santa Fe River. Further, Kornilev also noted that the Florida redbellies and Florida cooters (Pseudemys floridana) were also present in the Santa Fe, but uncommon to rare. Even more rare were a couple of Red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans, not-native to Florida), and even some possible intergrades between T. s. scripta and T. s. elegans (page 20).

With all that being said and accounted for, I’m pretty sure this is a Suwannee cooter:

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Note the markings just visible on the turtle’s plastron (the underside of the shell). Redbellies and Yellowbellies lack those kinds of markings along the scute lines. That pattern looks fairly typical for Suwannee cooters, so far as I understand.

Here’s an image of two individuals basking nearby:

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Again, these “feel” like Suwannee cooters to me, though –again– I must confess I am far from being a turtle expert. It also would’ve helped if I could’ve gotten closer for better reference shot material! Hopefully I can get some confirmation from Planet Turtle.

The Suwannee cooter (arguably classified as by some as a distinct species: Pseudemys suwanniensis) ranges in north/northwest Florida, essentially wrapping around the Big Bend region of north Florida. They’re essentially outside of my own personal native range (central Florida, northeast Florida, and south Georgia), so I’ve never had any concrete experience with the species. Though I’ve undoubtedly seen them before in this area and other north Florida locales, this is the first time I’ve actually identified and focused on them. A lovely lot, these fellows.

There was indeed an abundance of activity at the Santa Fe River sinkhole at O’Leno on this day. It was freakishly warm and brilliantly sunny, immediately following a solid, long run of stormy, unseasonably cold weather. The turtles and the gators were certainly taking advantage of the sunshine, and they weren’t alone. While creeping around the shoreline, trying to get a better angle of a young adult alligator basking on a floating log, I came across this Southern black racer, Coluber constrictor priapus:

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The racer was actively hunting along the shoreline. We spotted each other at the same moment. Note how the racer is “periscoping.” This is typical behavior for a racer when he or she finds something of interest (or is actively searching for something of interest). Racers have wickedly sharp visual acuity and this one was directly checking me out. As I raised my camera, it periscoped in response to the motion. Needless to say, no catch was made or even attempted. The snake was beautifully positioned well out of reach. Our next post will feature another racer — one I was able to get much, much closer to.

We have plenty more O’Leno material coming up in the next few days. As I said before, it was a productive and rich couple of hours! To wrap up this post, here’s the gator shot I was trying to get when I came across the racer:

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Next up on Dust Tracks? The power and glory of the Southern black racer! Also: the Eastern fence lizard! Rah!

~ janson

Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator) at Grand Bay WMA, Georgia; 10 March 2013

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This is, of course, a young American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis, basking on a mat of vegetation in Grand Bay Wildlife Management Area. Given their rather large size, alligators are one of the reptiles you’re most likely to see during the colder months here in Valdosta, Georgia. Seeing this individual wasn’t exactly a “return to spring” moment. I’ve been seeing this youngster and a hand full of others throughout the winter.

One point I want to make is this: Grand Bay WMA and Banks Lake NWR are managed quite closely for fire control, partially in an attempt to keep invasive, non-native species at bay (and to protect gargantuan, uncontrolled fires from occurring). In the photograph below, you can see the results of a controlled burn near the shoreline at Grand Bay.

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These controlled burns are spread out quite a bit. It seems every year Those-In-Charge burn different sections of the land. The featured-above burn site was to the north of the boardwalk trail, but all was clear and untouched to the south of the trail. Presumably this allows wildlife to get the hell out of dodge when there’s a slow burn in progress. Makes sense, right?

As for the marsh/cypress itself, it’s essentially untouched by fire. The invasive plants in the marsh/swamp are more of the aquatic kind than the land kind. Fire doesn’t usually do so well under water. Heh. This is why a few years back Grand Bay was essentially drained, just when I moved to Valdosta. It was an attempt to kill off non-native and invasive aquatic plant species. Soon enough, Grand Bay’s waters were restored, but then Banks Lake (just to the north) was drained. Now, they’re both back to full levels, and then some. Throughout the entire process, these gators persisted. They’re durable little freight trains of archosauria.

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Historically, I have no idea what the gator density in this area has been. In the past two years, gators have essentially been omnipresent, but there haven’t been nearly as many as I’d expect from a similar habitat in central Florida, and they’ve been rather on the small side. Of course, when I first arrived in Valdosta, Grand Bay was essentially drained. I’m curious to see if more (and larger) gators will move into this area now that the watered habitats have been fully restored and we’re moving through a few annual cycles. Typically I only see younger adults such as this one. Maybe more behemoth gators will show up this summer?

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Next Up on Dust Tracks: Ribbit.

~ janson

Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator), 23 February 2013

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Heaven does indeed love a young alligator.

I’m not sure what that means, actually. Does Heaven love young alligators? Or even old ones? And does Heaven, if it exists, welcome all forms of crocodilians? If so, are they separated from the general hominid population of heavenly spirits? Or do crocodilians and humans share heavenly pools together? And at what temperature are those heavenly pools of water kept at? If ghostly crocs don’t have appetites, what do they do with their time? Do they bask in The Heavenly Light? And does that light shine down, as on earth, or shine up? Truth be told: I have no idea. I’m just an itty bitty mortal prone to asking questions — some decent and some not so decent.

Anyhow, let’s kick the week off with this magnificent little American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis, photographed at Grand Bay Wildlife Management Area near Valdosta, Georgia on 23 February 2013. I do love me some alligator action — even if that action is defined by laying around and waiting for the sun to come back out.

It’s going to be a fun week on Dust Tracks. Some cool stuff lined up. Grand Bay has been nifty this week.

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~ janson

Field Report: Grand Bay WMA, Georgia; 09 February 2013

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Last Saturday, I ducked out for a few hours to romp through Grand Bay’s cypress wetland and Longleaf pine forest. It wasn’t a remarkably memorable outting –no epic snake sightings– but it was still a nice break from work and such.

The first “big” spotting? Hey, I’ve seen more than I can count in my life, but it’s always cool to come across a young alligator basking in the sunshine, right?

Alligator mississippiensis, the American alligator
Alligator mississippiensis, the American alligator

Indeed, starting my day on the boardwalk trail at Grand Bay, I found a significant number of Carolina green anoles basking lazily in the sunshine. Following a number of sunless, cloudy days, the lizards were more than happy to take advantage of the clear skies above.

Some were in full-on green mode..

Anolis carolinensis, the Carolina green anole
Anolis carolinensis, the Carolina green anole

…others, a bit mixed between green and brown…

Anolis carolinensis, the Carolina green anole
Anolis carolinensis, the Carolina green anole

…and others were sporting their brown coat.

Anolis carolinensis, the Carolina green anole
Anolis carolinensis, the Carolina green anole

Short of the damn-near-mythically-awesome gray-dewlapped A. carolinensis, the green anoles at Grand Bay were fully represented in all their various designs and patterns.

Anolis carolinensis, the Carolina green anole
Anolis carolinensis, the Carolina green anole

Not spotting any cottonmouths or banded watersnakes in the cypress region of Grand Bay, I retreated to drier ground and dug into the Longleaf pine forest. As reported by the massive bucket of All-Things-Known, Wikipedia, Longleaf pine forests once stretched across an estimated 90 million acres of the Eastern United States. Then the Europeans came, along with their precious industry, and butchered the forests with reckless abandon. A few hundred years later, less than 5% of these Longleaf pine forests remain. If current restoration projects succeed, the U.S. Forest Service is hoping to restore Longleaf pine forest territory to 44,700 acres… That’s a lot of acreage, but not much compared to the historic levels.

Pinus palustris, the Longleaf pine
Pinus palustris, the Longleaf pine

The Georgia Department of National Resources (Wildlife Resources Division) states that 21 million acres of Georgia was once Longleaf pine habitat (link). Today, that number is –of course– significantly lower. Still, at Grand Bay there is a good swath of protected Longleaf pine habitat, and I’m extraordinarily grateful for it (as are the organisms dependent on this ever-threatened habitat).

Though the saw palmettos are a bit heavy in some of these areas, the state does systematically conduct controlled burns throughout the Wildlife Management Area, reducing the impact of saw palmetto and fostering the success of fire-dependent Wiregrass (Aristida berychiana) — an ally of the Longleaf pine.

Pinus palustris, the Longleaf pine, and Serenoa repens, the Saw palmetto
Pinus palustris, the Longleaf pine, and Serenoa repens, the Saw palmetto

Longleaf pine, you see, is remarkably adept to wildfires. Even as seedlings, the species is incredibly adapted to withstand the impact of fire. Wiregrass, itself, is actually dependent on fire; it also helps wildfires spread when they do occur. From the points of view of Wiregrass and Longleaf pine, wildfires are good. If you shut down wildfires, you shut down wiregrass reproduction and you enable other plants to dominate the areas around Longleaf pines — areas the Longleafs would rather keep cleared.

This spring, probably later this month, I’ll cover a wildfire-cleared area of Grand Bay’s longleaf pine habitat to illustrate this process further. It’s quite awesome. I’ll also talk more about the species that depend on this habitat.

Serenoa repens, the Saw palmetto
Serenoa repens, the Saw palmetto

Admittedly, I’m typically more drawn to wetland and watery habitats. That’s where I find my beloved Nerodia watersnakes, after all… But, as I grow older I find myself more invested in drier, more-xeric habitats. Though biodiversity seems less dense in the drier areas, it also seems more refined and precise. More efficient, if that makes sense. The cypress wetlands, swamps, streams, and ponds are no doubt awesome, but so too are the Longleaf pine forests of the American southeast. At Grand Bay, I get the best of both worlds.

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Next on Dust Tracks: I really don’t know! I’ve been terribly busy as of late, so I’m short on new material. Perhaps some more retro field reports are in order? Any profile requests? Anything you want to see more of?

ADDENDUM: I forgot I shot a 90-second video on my phone. heh.

~ janson

Field Report: Grand Bay WMA, Georgia; 16 January 2013

Unidentified

This past Wednesday, I didn’t have to be on campus until about 3:30 pm. Our freakish warm weather was still persisting, so I decided to hop on over to Grand Bay Wildlife Management Area (just east/northeast of Valdosta) to see what was shaking. I only spent a couple of hours there, but the sunshine and mid-70s air temperature served me well. All kinds of activity.

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Field Report: Grand Bay WMA, Georgia; 12 January 2013

Unidentified

With the temperature in the lower seventies and a mostly-sunny sky overhead, I took off for Grand Bay earlier today, 12 January 2013. It was my first real outing of 2013 and, though it’s still a bit early for strong reptile action, it was a fun little trip.

I’d planned on hiking the pine forests at Grand Bay, but the Gun Folk were out in force, aiming to shoot and kill something. Trucks and trucks were lined up side to side — and I spotted lots of camouflage. Despite their stealthy camo costumes, I saw the hunters from a good distance off, hanging out behind their trucks, glimmering rifles in hand. It was a festival of guns-wanting-to-be-fired, so I abandoned that plan and headed back to the boardwalk trail at Grand Bay. I figured I’d give the boardwalk a brief walk and then head north to nearby Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

The water was still quite chilly at Grand Bay and the foliage was sparse, but I did manage to find one angsty, teenaged American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) basking in a dry spot:

Alligator mississippiensis

This little spot along the Grand Bay boardwalk trail must be like the teen alligator’s shopping mall. I often find a youngster hanging out in this spot, doing nothing, chilling. Probably thinking about how time is all infinite and what-not and how love is an illusion and yet eternal like the tides and my heart will go on and so on.  I’m not sure. Frankly, the thought of an alligator as an angsty teenager is creeping me out, so let’s move on.

Unidentified

I spotted a few clusters of fungi I’m absolutely unable to identify in any capacity. I swear, when it comes to fungi, I feel like a blind person trying to navigate by the stars. I’m just lost. I really need to work on that.

Anyhow, it was fairly quiet at Grand Bay. In about a month, the place should really start popping with activity. Frogs, turtles, gators, snakes, birds, lizards… Absolute mayhem of awesomeness. But not yet. Not today. It was still quite mellow –though beautiful– earlier today. Also: lots of Gun People. Beware the Gun People, quiet hikers. Hike not with Cheney and hike not around active hunters.

Unidentified

Next post, we’ll head north to Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge!

~ janson

Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator). 12 May 2006. Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida.

Alligator mississippiensis

A gaggle of gators! Rah rah!

You know, American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) certainly aren’t limited to Florida; they range throughout much of the southeastern United States. Still, they seem so Floridian to me. No doubt, if I grew up in the bayous of southern Louisiana, I’d probably be singing a different song… But, such as it is, it’s hard for me to separate my experience of Florida from all those alligators. Alligators are Florida in my life.

Alligator mississippiensis

These gators were photographed near one focused stretch of Loop Road in Big Cypress National Preserve (south Florida). Water levels were significantly low at the time and the gators were clustered around one stretch of standing water. There were gators by the dozens — gators basking, gators soaking, gators patrolling, gators doing what gators do: biding their time and waiting for opportunity and inclination.

This is, by the way, the same group of gators through which I watched the raccoon family move ever so cautiously. How’d you like to be a raccoon in this neighborhood? 

Alligator mississippiensis

Next on Dust Tracks: It’s time to wrap up 2012!

~ janson

Procyon lotor (Raccoon). 12 May 2006. Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida.

Procyon lotor

Heh. Just thinking about this raccoon (Procyon lotor) makes me giggle a little bit. A giggle coupled with a sigh of relief. And here’s why…

I was trekking through the Loop Road run in Big Cypress National Preserve (south Florida) and came upon a rather thick waterhole cluster of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis). There were probably about two dozen gators in the immediate area — clustered along this little stretch of standing water and the dried cypress forest surrounding it. The area was in need of some serious precipitation.

I spotted a mama raccoon and a couple of youngsters carefully treading (and I do mean carefully treading) through the area. Each and every one of the raccoons looked extremely cautious. For good reason, I thought to myself. The mama raccoon was moving fairly steadily and one of the youngsters had paused to sniff something out and fell behind. Suddenly the little one realized it was alone. It turned three sixty and then immediately went to the closest tree and climbed. The raccoon used the perch to survey for mama. Meanwhile, the gators simply continued basking, going nowhere in the plenty of time (to borrow Momaday’s words).

The mama raccoon mini-group paused and the tree-climbing youngster spotted them soon enough. It climbed back down and made its way over to the family group about twenty yards away. The gators never budged and the scene ended without any carnage. Still, watching the event unfold was quite exhilarating. Whereas Big Cypress would be a fantastic place to scratch out a living if one were reincarnated as an alligator, I’m not so sure I’d want to be a raccoon in this part of the world. Heh.

Alligator mississippiensis

Next on Dust Tracks: Alligators and more alligators! A survey of the surrounding American alligators from this scene at Big Cypress!

~ janson

Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator), 29 September 2012

Yeah, yeah, yeah… So I just posted about Okefenokee alligators a few clicks back on Dust Tracks. Yes, I did. See? I can take responsibility. I can admit it. And that’s the first step to recovery, right? Still, there are worse problems to have than an over-abundance of alligator photos. Am I right?

So, why another gator post so soon? Well, for starters it only seems fair to represent these lovely road-side American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) after celebrating the rambunctious little gators  from earlier in the day.

These photographs were taken along the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp Island Drive on the eastern edge of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. As you can tell in the second photo, the road cuts through a lovely longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) forest and is bordered on one side by a lengthy canal. A few gators were predictably patrolling the canal line. This is also where I spotted the angriest-cottonmouth-ever.

Of interest to me is this: just as I checked out the bottom gator, so too did that gator check me out. Me thinks this gator was a wee bit hungry — or perhaps a little too conditioned to receiving freebies from visiting tourists. It’s always disconcerting when a gator sees you, swims over to you, and then actually starts to crawl up on shore in front of you, facing and watching you the entire time. I, of course, backed off a bit. This is generally recommended, if you didn’t already know. It’s best to keep a bit of distance between yourself and an alligator. Why? Well, they’re surprisingly fast when they want to be. Plus, you know, they’re pretty strong and have big teeth.

So, here’s where we officially wrap up the Okefenokee tour from 29 September 2012, though –truth be told– this post will actually be followed by a photo taken early that same morning. From there, we’ll then shift our focus back towards Valdosta and Grand Bay. Autumn is thickening (sort of) and there’s much to cover back on the home front! I’m also feeling an itch to revisit Arizona and Utah sometime soon (photographically, of course).

~ janson

Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator), 29 September 2012

On 29 September 2012, I skipped over to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge for a day of kayaking and photography. Amazingly enough, it was my first trip to the Okefenokee, despite having moved to Valdosta over a year prior. Launching from the East Entrance of Okefenokee NWR, I kayaked westward through the main entrance canal and explored  Mizell Prairie to the north and both Chesser and Grand Prairies to the south.

My first kayak trail excursion was the Cedar Hammock Kayak Trail, heading north from the main canal. The narrow canal line runs north into the area known as Mizell Prairie.

I’d hoped to come across some Nerodia watersnakes basking in the foliage along the canal line, but no such snakes were anywhere to be found. In fact, I never saw a single snake during the entire trip — except, of course, for the rather testy cottonmouth featured in the previous post. And that one was on a road. So it goes.

I did, however, see plenty of alligators (Alligator mississippiensis). Lots and lots of juvenile and young alligators.

Photographing alligators from a kayak is a fairly new experience for me. Hell, photographing anything from a kayak is a new experience for me. I am, for the most part, far more land- than water-based on my little outdoor excursions, though I’ve been itching to get into kayaking and photography for quite some time. With that in mind, it was rather fun negotiating kayak momentum, steering, and photographing animals all at the same time. It took a little while to find a balance, but I got there soon enough.

After romping about with the young gators for a few clicks, I eventually turned around and ventured back to the main canal. I wanted to head south into both Chesser and Grand Prairies — the good stuff, I was told earlier in the day, back at the refuge headquarters. Though I never did find the watersnakes I’d hoped for, the Okefenokee still had plenty to offer…

Next Up: More Okefenokee, of course!

~ janson

Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator), 22 September 2012

There’s a lot to love about the American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis. I love that they lazily bask in the sun pretty much wherever they want. I love that they will erupt in a frenzied explosion of motion when retreating into the water. I love that they are essentially tightly wound springs of robust muscle, just waiting to unleash their own spring trigger. I love their color, their texture, the poise — at once calm, deliberative, and pensive, while somehow also paranoid, alert, and on the edge of mayhem.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve adored alligators. They’re an undeniably important thread in the quilt of my youth. Growing up in central Florida, I was always on the lookout for alligators. Hiking near shores, wading in shallows, trekking through swamps, trudging through mud — always excitedly on the lookout for the alligators.

I’ve only had one horrifying encounter with an alligator (that I can remember). It was a large partially-blinded individual in Big Cypress who stalked me near the shoreline of a waterhole during the dry season. It was a horrifying moment, realizing this very large, old alligator was stealthily gliding toward me under the water, stalking me. When I realized it was coming, we were separated only by about eight feet or so. I quickly retreated away from the water and the gator froze, waiting, hoping I would prove to be a remarkably dumb-ass mammal. Well, in many ways I am a remarkably dumb-ass mammal, but not on that day. Thank heavens.

That’s the only horrifying moment I’ve had with an alligator. The rest of the gators –all those countless gators in my life, UF excepted– have been incredibly awesome encounters, near and far alike.

Here in south Georgia, alligators aren’t nearly as common as they are down south — but they are here, particularly at Grand Bay. The young adult featured on this post was basking on a particularly popular little island of vegetation in the Grand Bay marsh. I often see a gator in this spot. They time-share the island, apparently. Heh. I have dozens of photos of gators perched in this spot and I never grow tired of seeing them, watching them, and photographing them.

Gators are awesome, though I’m not a fan of their football team.

~ janson

Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator), 22 November 2010

This is a bold, young American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) photographed at Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida, along the edge of a swampy rural road. As summer prepares to give way to fall, I’m starting to think more and more about south Florida. My dad and I have a trip coming up later this autumn and I’m feeling edgy to get down there and play in the ecologically-diverse stew that is south Florida. Bring on the gators! Bring on the swamp!

~ janson

Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator, with Leech), 22 June 2012

At first glance, given the title of this post and the firs image, you might think it’s all about this American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis, photographed at Grand Bay WMA near Valdosta, Georgia. Well, look closer. Let’s zoom in on that little squiggly line you can see on the gator’s back, about halfway down its back:

Leech on alligator, likely genus Placobdella.

Aaaaah! Leech! Indeed, that is a rather impressive leech, probably about two inches in length, or so. I know very little about leeches, but believe this is a species of Placobdella. There are numerous species in this genus, a few of which are associated with American alligators (and turtles).

If you happen to be, you know, a leech expert (I know you’re out there somewhere) and you happen to be reading this post, I’d love to get your input on the species!

~ janson

Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator, young), 22 June 2012

This is a young American alligator, Alligator mississippienis, basking in a narrow off-road trough at Grand Bay WMA near Valdosta, Georgia. I’ve seen a decent number of young gators in this immediate vicinity, taking advantage of the narrow, focused waters (also lacking in big adults). It’s a good stretch of water for them, though it does also keep them within easy shooting distance of pinheads with nothing better to do than to shoot gators for no apparent reason.

Hopefully this young one will eventually find his way to the complex of water that is Grand Bay and Banks Lake!

~ janson

Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator), 26 April 2012

I do believe I have been an ass. HARK! An ass, I say! Yes, a mammalian ass I have been. And why do I say so? What have I done to deserve such a label as “ass”? Listen and I will tell you. Lean in, listen close: I have slighted and ignored my beloved alligators.

Yeah, I just realized I haven’t really said much about alligators this year, with the exception of writing about a dead gator being eaten by flies back in March. Alligators deserve better. They’ve earned better, damn it.

Though their population density isn’t anything close to what I’m used to in central Florida, there are still gators a’plenty at Grand Bay and I see them quite frequently doing their thing — which is usually basking out in the sun, lounging about, getting a tan, and begging for sex. (Reminds me of my undergraduate days at Florida State back in the 1990s.)

Alright, the tan thing is bullshit, but you get the point. It’s sometimes easy to forget that such a seemingly-lazy animal is capable of such enormous and raw power. Alright, that’s bullshit too. It’s impossible to forget how powerful alligators can be. They are thundering explosions of kinetic energy waiting to happen –which, I guess, makes them *potential energy* pre-explosion– and there’s no way a rational person can forget this when they gaze upon those massive bundles of packed muscle. If somebody does actually believe gators are sluggish, slow, weak organisms… well, survival of the fittest, my friend. And game on.

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia for you: the crocodilians (Alligator mississippiensis included) are more closely related to birds than they are to lizards, snakes, and/or turtles. Put that in your 21st-Century-WTF-Pipe and smoke it. Hell, share it on Facebook. Tweet it. Tell the world,  Hey, world, crocodilians are more-closely related to birds than they are to lizards, snakes, and turtles. Crazy, right?

Alligators and their crocodilian kin are included in a group of organisms known as the archosaurs. Dinosaurs were archosaurs. So too were the so-called flying- and marine-reptiles (common, childhood-favorite examples being pterodactyls and ichthyosaurs, respectively). Birds evolved directly from the archosaur mega-clade (more specifically from the dinosaurian clade, Theropoda). Yup, crocodilians, birds, marine- and flying-reptiles are all brethren within the Cult of Archosaur. You won’t find lizards, snakes, or turtles attending Archosaurian-membership-only club meetings, though they may often hang out nearby wishing they could play in the big kid playhouse.

Despite their remarkably-long and enduring evolution and presence in the wilds of southeastern North America, it didn’t take too long for the European-Americans to come along and fuck it all up. Our uproariously brilliant and well-balanced southern ancestors damn-near annihilated this species to the brink of extinction in the past few hundred years. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and in 1967 the American alligator was federally protected as an endangered species.

Since that overwhelmingly fascistic/communistic/evil-doing/anti-state’s-rights act of federally protecting the species, the American alligator’s North American populations have recovered remarkably well and today the species serves as a testament that sometimes humans can, in fact, right their wrongs. It also demonstrates that hey, you know what, the federal government can do some good when it tries. (I also like to remember that if tea-partiers had been in control in the 1960s, this species would be long gone; the Constitution, you know, doesn’t explicitly state anything about the value of protecting alligators!)

Anyhow, I do love my gators. I’m not as smitten by the archosaurs as I was when I was younger and had more hair (my heart lies soundly in Club Squamata, with the lizards and snakes, do it please ya), but that doesn’t negate the general kickassery of these remarkably adapted, powerful, and robust bombs of energy.

I simply can’t imagine the “South” without them. Some folks may believe their precious confederate flag is a symbol of the true south, but for me I like to imagine an American alligator eating a Rottweiler wearing a confederate flag bandana as the real, true south. In the real south, the north won, the feds protected, and the species survived. Thank you for playing.

Viva la revolucion de la Alligator mississippiensis!

Now, I’m going to make like a gator, lay around in the sun for a while, and wait for the southern tea-party hate mail. BAM!

~ janson

Calliphora vomitoria (Blue Bottle Fly), 12 March 2012

This is a fun post. Not only is it about a species of fly called “vomitoria,” it’s also about a dead alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), and the irrationality of human beings.

Here’s the deal: These are photographs of blue bottle flies, Calliphora vomitoria, consuming the carcass of a dead alligator at Grand Bay WMA just east of Valdosta, Georgia.

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Bradford Torrey and Floridian Reptiles in 1894

I got to thinking this past week about romanticism and nature. I have a healthy appreciation for objective, analytic studies of nature and also the more-subjective (often emotional) interpretations/responses of and to nature. In my life, nowhere is this more obvious than with reptiles, particular with Anolis lizards and Nerodia watersnakes. This blog, after all, is essentially an orgy of subjective responses to these animals (and landscapes).

Nowadays, I’m diving headfirst into the former. I’m formally studying science, starting with biology and chemistry at the root, collegiate level. I’m balancing things out, if you will — balancing my Dionysian-pathos side with my Appolonian-logos side. Let there be balance.

Anyhow, this morning I started re-reading snippets of Bradford Torrey’s 1894 travel memoir, A Florida Sketch-Book and was struck (again) by his prose. A New Englander, Torrey (1894-1912) was the author of quite a few overtly-romantic, nature-based travelogues. He was a big bird fan (not of the Sesame Street variety, obviously), but seemed to relish most of what he could experience. In many ways he’s a follower of William Bartram (who explored and wrote beautifully of Florida and other locales in the 1770s), though Torrey’s not as game-on as a naturalist (in my opinion, at least).

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Egretta tricolor (Tricolor Heron) and Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator), 11 February 2007

This is neither my best photograph of a tricolor heron, Egretta tricolor, nor my best photograph of an American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis — but it is my best photograph of the two caught together in the same frame on a lazy February afternoon.

Photographed on 11 February 2007 near the Sweetwater Strand of Big Cypress National Preserve, you can see the gator doing his own thing in the background, basking on a fallen cypress trunk. The tricolor heron is doing the same, albeit on a smaller branch and with a bit more vertical grace and posture. This, for me, is a classic south Florida winter scene: two animals, one often preying upon the other, basking in the mild Florida air in February.

This is another moment that benefited from a short lapse in cloud cover. Most of the day, as previously mentioned, was overcast and miserable in terms of light. Still, the sun did manage to break every now and then. No doubt the animals were as grateful and opportunistic as I was for these little intermittent bouts of direct sunshine.

Next? The dark angel of Florida…! heh.

~ janson

Alligator mississippiensis (American Alligator), 03 September 2011

Ah, yes. The American alligator: Alligator mississippiensis. Let’s not ignore or forget the ThunderCat of Floridian reptiles! The American alligator demands representation!

After leaving the Miami/Coral Gables area, I headed west toward the northern Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve. The Everglades are, of course, divine beyond reason — but it’s Big Cypress that truly grabs my heart. Big Cypress is a rich, thick, and atmospheric stretch of both land and water — most often a direct fusion of the two. Unlike the Everglades, however, much of Big Cypress is tucked beneath the Spanish Moss and the thick strands of vegetation looming overhead. Whereas the Glades are often dominated by light and wide-open expanses, Big Cypress is a region dominated by shadow, nooks and crannies.

There’s certainly no shortage of alligators in Florida. This is especially true in Big Cypress. These magnificent behemoths dominate Big Cypress. Big time.

Featured on this post is one such individual, an average-sized adult chilling out along the edge of a small road in Big Cypress. I’m particularly fond of the unidentified parasite (?) in the gator’s jaw, just by the joint (that little round oval of black).

A fantastic individual — and only one of many.

Remind me sometime to tell you about the blind alligator that “stalked” me in Big Cypress… heh.

~ janson

American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis (2009)

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Alligator mississipiensis, May 2009, somewhere on a dirt road in Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida. Oh, the love!

And I’m not kidding. I love alligators. Just love ‘em.

I have to admit, I’m pretty excited to be moving back into alligator territory this summer. Granted, we probably won’t have nearly as many in south Georgia as we had in central and south Florida — but it should still be a healthy population. I have to imagine the Okefenokee Swamp, just east of Valdosta, will have more than a few? A boy can hope…

The young individual photographed here was camped out in the middle of a rain-swamped dirt road shortly after a spring thunderstorm. Rain sometimes does that. It’ll bring the gators out, bring them up to the roads — especially when there’s standing water after the storm and the land thirsts for the rains to come later in the year.

Gators. Never a disappointment. Well, unless you’re talking about football.

~ janson