From el lagarto, the Spanish word for “lizard” we get alligator. The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is one of two species of alligators in the world, the other being the Chinese alligator.
I have always been fascinated with alligators, maybe because of their armored skin and powerful jaws, but maybe because it is for these characteristics that people tend to dislike them. I’ve never understood why people have such a strong hatred for predatory animals like wolves, hyenas, crocodiles, etc… when we ourselves are predators. At one point alligators were hunted for fashionable leather products to the point of near extinction. A species over 150 million years old, that survived beyond the dinosaurs, almost extinct because of humans. They were put on the endangered species list around the 1970s and subsequently made a huge recovery. They were removed from the list and now number in the millions.
Living in Florida, I have had my fair share of alligator encounters. From my experiences, they are relatively shy and wary of humans. I’ve come across sunning gators on banks while kayaking, get too close and they will slide away into the water. I’ve been walking near ponds and come across basking gators. Again- get too close and they just slide away. In fact, years of kayaking in their presence and I have never had a remotely threatening encounter with an alligator. I’ve even bumped them with my kayak and they remain completely unphased. The one exception however is when I have come across a mother with babies. In that case, get too close and she will start to puff up and hiss- a warning (and rather effective one) not to get anywhere near her babies.
Alligators eat generally anything from fish, turtles, birds, and muskrat to deer. However, a couple of weeks ago I was in the Everglades National Park talking to a ranger and she informed me that a large portion of their diet comes from consuming the endemic Apple snail. There is nothing that can take the ferocity away from a gator than learning that they eat a small and basically motionless snail. Having said that, I would never like to be tested against an adult gator- 1000 lbs of muscle with roughly 80 teeth. While they may eat snails and fish, they are also completely capable of grabbing an adult deer. They are a predator deserving of our respect.