Tag Archive: Alligator

The American Alligator: a new nuisance for the panhandle?

The American Alligator: a new nuisance for the panhandle?

I recently saw a photograph of an American Alligator (Alligator mississppiensis) crossing Perdido Key Drive on a heavy rain day.  This encounter would surprise some, and unnerve many.  The majority of the nuisance wildlife calls I receive are for snakes.  I have never received a call for an alligator but no doubt, my colleagues in central and south Florida have.  They certainly will with the landfall of Irma.  Just as humans relocate for storms, wildlife does as well.  High, dry ground is a need for all, and as our friends return to their homes after the storm, they will no doubt encounter creatures in the debris that can be a bit unnerving.

Alligator basking on a shoreline; photo: UF/IFAS Communications

“Nuisance” is in the eye of the beholder. Defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as being annoying, unpleasant, or obnoxious, a nuisance species is one we would rather not have in our yard.  Snakes are one of those.  Most of the people who call about snakes wish them no harm; they just do not want them on their porch or in their pool.  Venomous snakes in particular raise anxiety levels, especially when children or pets are around.  Though we do not get many calls on alligators, the feeling a homeowner would have if they found one in their driveway would be the same.

 

There were no calls on the alligator on Perdido Key. Actually, not everyone believed the photo to be legit.  I cannot verify it, but I did receive a call earlier this summer when an American alligator was found swimming and basking on a Gulf beach in Navarre and later near Ft. Pickens.  Though not as common as they are in central and south Florida, alligators do live here and they are found on our barrier islands.  Though encounters with them are rare, how should a homeowner deal with this potential nuisance? When I give a program on snakes I typically go over four points.  Let us go over the same with the alligators.

 

Is it venomous or not?

Obviously, this is not a question here – no crocodilian is venomous. They do have bacteria in their mouths that have caused problems for some who have survived an attack, but there is no venom.  However, in south Florida identification is still important because there is more than one crocodilian roaming the landscape.  The American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is a native species found in coastal waters of south Florida, the northern reach of its range.  The Speckled Caiman (Caiman crocodylus) is an exotic species from Central and South America that is now found in freshwater canals and lakes of southeastern Florida.  It is likely that post Irma cleanup will include encounters with these two.  However, this is not likely for the panhandle – our winters are too cold.

 

How do I avoid encounters?

Generally encounters with nuisance wildlife occur for one of two reasons; (a) we have moved into their habitat or (b), they have come to us.

With the population of Florida growing at an ever increasing rate, currently 21 million people and a growth rate of 1.77%, development continues to expand into habitat where these animals have remained out of our sight for some time. As we continue to move into these habitats, encounters with nuisance wildlife will increase. They will be forced to visit our yards and pools.  It is no different with bears.

In other cases we, either knowing or unknowingly, provide food and shelter for them. Predators tend to select the easiest prey to kill, the ones that take the less energy.  Human development tends to provide habitat for vermin, such as rats, in concentrated areas.  This makes hunting for predators, such as snakes, bears, and alligators, much easier – and they will take advantage of this.

 

With alligators, (a) is more problematic than (b). Alligators have a natural fear of humans and do not typically seek us out looking for easy prey.  They seem to prefer to live and hunt away from us.  However, feeding alligators changes this and thus, it is a felony to do so in our state.  In 2015, the state legislature developed a tiered penalty system for assessing fines and charges.  As we continue to develop in areas where alligators live, it will be harder to avoid encountering them.

 

What do I do if I encounter one?

The general nature of wildlife is reacting to predators, prey, reproduction, and shelter. Alligators are top predators and feed on a variety of species.  They are opportunistic hunters, selecting prey they can easily swallow and are relatively easy to catch.  Much of these are smaller animals.  If the opportunity to make a large kill presents itself, they will – however, they will drown the creature and leave it underwater to soften the carcass so they can swallow.

 

The method of capture usually involves lying still and waiting for prey to move within range. If encountering an alligator the questions that come to mind are: (1) am I within range?  (2) are we near water? – remember they need to submerged large prey.  Keep in mind that small children and pets are easier prey and care should taken when in alligator habitat.

 

Resources provide the following suggestions if an encounter occurs:

  1. They have a nature fear of humans and will try to retreat. This is true. Provide an avenue of escape for the animal. Do your best not to corner it.  Remember it may react to pets and children as prey and could approach.
  2. If they hiss, they are warning you that you are getting too close and they are feeling threatened. Back away slowly. Sudden movements could be misinterpreted and they may defend themselves by attacking.
  3. Keep in mind they are fast moving for several yards, so do not think of them as slow and lethargic.
  4. Females guarding a nest may attack. They will charge to drive you off but typically return to the nest once you have moved to a safe distance (safe in their minds). Alligators build nests of leaf litter above ground in quiet water areas within their range. You may encounter one while hiking along shore. Avoid these nesting areas.

Alligator basking on the Escambia River; photo: Molly O’Connnor

And what if I’m bitten?

This question makes sense if you are talking snakes. With snakes, you are bitten and the snake withdraws.  So the question comes up, now what? Not so much with alligators.  Though alligators tend to feed on smaller and softer prey, as they increase in age and size, their skull structure adjust to where they can crush turtle shells and mammal bones.  Forces have been recorded between 12 and 9452 Newtons, depending on age.  When they bite they do not typically withdraw, but rather will drag you into water.  Do whatever you can to avoid being dragged into water.  Since 1948 there have been 388 alligator attacks, 24 were fatal.  That averages to 6 attacks/year statewide and about 1 fatality every 4 years – so it is not very common.  But remember, human development is encroaching and we will need to learn to live with them as our ancestors did when the animals were more numerous.

 

In Florida, an alligator is not considered a nuisance unless it is at least 4 feet in length. If you feel there is a nuisance alligator in your neighborhood you can call.

1-866-FWC-GATOR

 

References

 

American Crocodile: Species Profile. National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/ever/learn/nature/crocodile.htm.

 

Caiman. 2017. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. http://www.myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/american-crocodile/caiman/.

 

Erickson, G.M., A.K. Lappin., A.K. Vilet. 2003. The Ontogeny of Bite-Force Performance in American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). Journal of Zoology. Vol 260 (3). Pp. 317-327. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-zoology/article/the-ontogeny-of-bite-force-performance-in-american-alligator-alligator-mississippiensis/150E92D79C5FAEB821DDBF563888E773. P

 

Florida Population 2017: Demographics, Maps, and Graphs. 2017. World Population Review. http://worldpopulationreview.com/states/florida-population/.

 

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nuisance.

 

Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program. 2017. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/alligator/nuisance/.

 

Swiman, E., M. Hostetler, S. Webb Miller, M. Main. 2017. Living with Alligators: A Florida Reality. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science Extension Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS) publication WEC203.

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW23000.pdf.

 

Texas Parks and Wildlife. If You See An Alligator. https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/species/alligator/safety/index.phtml.

 

Wildlife Feeding Rules and Penalties. 2017. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. http://myfwc.com/news/resources/fact-sheets/feeding-rules-and-penalties/.

PG

Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/09/15/the-american-alligator-a-new-nuisance-for-the-panhandle/

Look Who Is Enjoying the Beach This Spring… An Alligator!

Look Who Is Enjoying the Beach This Spring… An Alligator!

I received a call the week before Earth Day to let me know that an alligator was laying on Pensacola Beach, on the Gulf side, near the gate to Ft. Pickens. This is certainly not something you see every day.

Alligator basking on the Escambia River; photo: Molly O’Connnor

Two questions came up…

One, Is this weird?

Two, Can alligators tolerate salt water?

Let us start with question 1 – is this weird?

Actually, it is not as weird as you may think. Alligators have been found on barrier islands of the northern Gulf of Mexico for decades.  I myself have seen them at Big Sabine (though it has been many years since I saw one).  As a student at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, we found them on Dauphin Island and on Petit Bois Island in Mississippi; I am sure they are on Horn Island in Mississippi as well.  It is listed on the Gulf Islands National Seashore guide as one of the animals you may encounter in the park.  They have been reported in the dune lakes of Walton County, and I have seen them at St. Andrew’s State Park in Panama City.  So yea, they are found in our coastal areas – even the barrier islands.  However, they do prefer the freshwater bodies of water on these islands.  Which brings up the second question…

 

 

Question 2 – can they tolerate salt water?

The quick answer is yes, for a period. There are several reptiles in Florida that can tolerate periods of seawater. Those who spend long periods in brackish to marine waters have lachrymal glands to remove and excrete salt from their blood stream.  This keeps the cells of their body in a more “fresh” environment and thus, can tolerate salt water for longer periods.  Marine turtles, the most salt tolerant of all reptiles, excrete this salt through these glands located near their eyes.  This gives them the appearance of “tears” or “crying” when they are on land.  They are actually secreting salt from their body.

 

Alligators do not have well developed lachrymal glands. However, their tough skin is impermeable to absorbing seawater.  They have thinner areas of skin where saltwater can enter and of course they can swallow seawater.  Because of this, they cannot tolerate seawater very long and must eventually return to freshwater.

 

Alligators, like most Florida reptiles, do have to bask on land to warm their bodies in the morning. This is needed for proper digestion as well as other functions.  It is also another way that alligators can avoid salty water for periods of time.  I understand the alligator still had the faint yellow cross bands on its tail, indicating a younger animal, who may have wondered into the wrong location.

 

As far as being a danger to humans, you have to “read” the animal. Wild alligators have a natural fear of humans and would prefer to avoid us.  According to the FWC, there have been 388 alligator attacks on Floridians since 1948, about 6 per year.  263 of those were considered “major” attacks, about 3 per year.  24 were fatal, about 0.4 per year (1 every 3 years).  Wild alligators can be a problem if

  1. The animal is very large – it will consider larger prey like humans
  2. Attacking a pet (even on a leash) and indirectly attacking the pet owner
  3. Swimming in bodies of water with large alligators, especially at night (when they most often feed)
  4. The person was near a nest or young – alligators are very defensive of their young and nest

Any alligator can become a problem when fed. They lose their natural fear of humans and see us as a source of easy food – though they more often go after our pets, which are easier; they are more willing to approach us looking for an opportunity.  Thus, is against Florida law to feed alligators.

 

I am not sure whether the alligator seen that week was acting aggressively or not but certainly could have been a problem. A “nuisance” alligator is defined by FWC as one being larger than four feet and acting aggressively towards humans or pets.  If this is the case, they have a team of trappers who will come to collect the animal.  It is not recommended that individuals try to capture these animals.  As with snakes, many people bitten by alligators were trying to either catch them or kill them.  It is best to leave this to the professionals.

 

Though it is a bit nerve racking to see an alligator on the beach, they are part of Florida’s environment. Like sharks swimming along our shores, alligators should not be approached but rather contact a local authority to alert them of the possible danger.

PG

Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/29/look-who-is-enjoying-the-beach-this-spring-an-alligator/

Invasive Species of the Day Series (March 6th): Chinese Privet & Alligator Weed

National Invasive Species Awareness Week: March 3rd – March 8th

March 6th: Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense) & Alligator Weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides):

Video courtesy of Aquatic and Invasive Plant Identification Series by the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Invasive Plant Management Section.

Chinese Privet: Chinese Privet is a non-native shrubby tree commonly found in forested areas in northern Florida. This eastern invader thrives in low-lying, wet areas near forest openings and fence rows. Other species of the Ligustrum genus are commonly grown in landscapes. Chinese Privet can be identified in the spring by its small white flowers which omit a foul odor. Birds easily spread this weed by feeding on and excreting the fruit which contain many seeds. Additionally, Chinese Privet can spread by underground plant structures called rhizomes which allow new shoots to sprout up from the ground from a mother plant. For control options of Chinese Privet, see http://www.gainvasives.org/pubs/gfcnew.pdf or contact your local extension agent.

For more information, contact the author Josh Thompson, Regional Agriculture/IPM Extension Agent 850-482-9620.

Alligator Weed: This highly invasive aquatic weed, which is a native of South America, was first discovered in Florida in 1894 and is believed to have been transmitted through ballast water.  Alligator Weed is usually found as sprawling mats

Alligator Weed photo by Vic Ramey courtesy of  UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida

Alligator Weed photo by Vic Ramey courtesy of UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida

across the surface of water. Although classified aquatic, it can be found along shorelines or dry land.

This plant is a category II invasive and also an aquatic weed. “This species is on the FL DACS Prohibited Aquatic Plant List – 5B-64.011. According to Florida Statute 369.25, No person shall import, transport, cultivate, collect, sell, or possess any noxious aquatic plant listed on the prohibited aquatic plant list established by the department without a permit issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. See 5B-64.011 for more information.”

There are several biological controls of Alligator Weed, such as the Alligator weed Flea Beetle. For more information about this biological control and others, please see the following IFAS extension publication. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in831 .

For more information, contact the author Matt Orwat, Horticulture Extension Agent 850-638-6180.

PG

Author: Brooke Saari – bsaari@ufl.edu

Brooke Saari

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2013/03/06/invasive-species-of-the-day-series-march-6th-chinese-privet-alligator-weed/