Summer brings out the best, worst in alligators


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Alligators are an integral part of the Florida ecosystem.

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Since it’s almost summer in Viera, it’s time to start talking about alligators and their ecological presence and role. As it warms and as mating season nears, more and more of them will be seen.

I don’t know about you, but I love alligators. They are mysterious, majestic and fierce. I am fascinated every single time I see one — and I am a native Floridian.

It just never gets old for me.

However, this fascination is tempered by a healthy respect for their place in the Florida ecosystem. And, if you live in Florida, it is your responsibility to learn all you can about the alligator and how to live harmoniously with them — and the rest of the dangerous Florida wildlife.

Too often, people move here from other parts of country and do not understand alligators. They will insist to their homeowners association that all alligators must be removed (and killed) from every single pond in every neighborhood.

Well, that is a bit extreme — don’t you think?

One thing I tell all my new residents at the New Resident Orientation is … you wouldn’t move to Alaska and not learn about the Kodiak Bear, would you? Then why move to Florida and not learn as much as you can about the Florida Alligator? They were here first and they are a part of our natural environment. We can co-exist if we follow some basic rules and accept their natural behaviors such as:

Don’t feed the alligators!

It is both dangerous and illegal. And, when fed, alligators overcome their natural dislike and wariness of humans and learn to associate people with food.

I’m sure you see where this is going. … People = Food is bad. These are the alligators that show up in our garages and on our back porches. These are the alligators that have to be killed because humans were negligent and disrespectful of the natural environment.

Dogs and cats are similar in size to the natural prey of alligators. Don’t allow your pets to swim in water that might contain alligators. Assume all fresh water bodies have alligators.

Alligators are most active between dusk and dawn.

Leave alligators alone! State law prohibits killing, harassing or possessing alligators. They are not pets.

Courtship begins in April for alligators during mating season. You will begin to hear the bull alligator calling out to the females. You will also see males traveling from pond to pond looking for their lucky lady. If you like to walk in the evenings after dusk, bring a flashlight and watch where you are walking.

Alligators are ectothermic, which means they have to rely on external sources to regulate their body heat. This is why you see them sunning themselves out of the water.

It is not because they are hunting. It is because they are trying to raise their body temperature so that they can digest food and so that their bodies can function properly. Alligators are dormant below 55 degrees and stop feeding when the ambient temperature drops below 70 degrees.

Alligators are opportunistic feeders. Adult alligators eat fish, snakes, turtles, small mammals and birds. Young alligators eat insects, amphibians, small fish and other invertebrates.

Female alligators rarely exceed 10 feet, but males can grow much larger.

Here is a startling piece of Florida alligator trivia — the largest alligator caught in Florida was right here in Brevard County in 2010 in the Lake Washington area. It measured 14 feet, 31/2 inches.

Unfortunately, there are times when the Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program (SNAP) hotline needs to be called to report an alligator. If an alligator is no longer afraid of humans, there is no way to live in harmony.

So, if anyone feels that an alligator poses a threat to people, pets or property, then call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286). SNAP uses contracted alligator trappers to remove alligators. However, be aware that alligators are killed, not relocated.

If you want to see an alligator, go to the Viera Wetlands. It’s really cool when the young ones are becoming active (late summer/early fall) and just cross the path in front of you without a care.

So, until next time, please remember … “Never insult an alligator until after you have crossed the river.” (Cordell Hull).