Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Getting to Know the American Alligator

Growing Up in Everglades City

Photos by Savannah Oglesby and Jordan Kovacs
The author at Wootens Airboat Tours holding a young American Alligator.

The Everglades is home to an array of interesting wildlife, but the one creature that you will see nearly everywhere is the American Alligator. A staple to the State of Florida really, the American Alligator is found anywhere that is near warm water. They tend to like freshwater more than they like saltwater, but in the Everglades, they live mainly in a combination of both salt and freshwater known as brackish. The American Alligator isn’t only in the state of Florida though, states such as Virginia, South Carolina and many other Southeastern states are home to the American Alligator as well.

Now the reasoning as to why I keep saying the American Alligator is because there are two different types, the American and the Chinese. The Chinese Alligator doesn’t live anywhere in America and is significantly smaller than American Alligators. The average size of an American Alligator is around seven feet long, yet they can grow up to almost 20 feet! Their bodies are most of their weight but their tail on the other hand accounts for nearly half of their length. The tail on an alligator is used to propel itself while swimming, but it also is used for defense. Their tail is very muscular, and I’ve heard of many people getting whacked by an alligator and it felt as though their bones were broken from it. Another fact about the tail on an Alligator too is that the meat is actually edible! Many people especially us locals who live in the Everglades have eaten gator tail and absolutely loved it. When I worked at Island Café this past summer I would get the Gator Tail nuggets all the time! It tastes just like chicken but with more flavor and it is a bit chewier (but not in a bad way). You can get gator tail at majority of the restaurants in Everglades City and if you haven’t tried it already, I highly recommend that you do!

An alligator’s diet ranges from small fish to birds to deer, usually depending on their own size. When I tell people I’m from Everglades City, they always tend to ask the question concerning how many people get attacked by alligators where I live. This is an important question because on the news and online you hear about how a person has gotten attacked or eaten by an alligator. News outlets have led people into believing that alligators are vicious creatures that will attack you any chance they get. This is not the case at all. In fact, alligators tend to be more afraid of humans than anything. The reasoning behind why in recent years alligators are attacking people is because people are feeding them. Feeding an alligator causes the gator to become unafraid of humans and when humans are associated with food, this causes an attack. This is why in Florida it is illegal to feed alligators in the wild, so there won’t be attacks but people sometimes break this law, and the situation usually ends negatively.

People often confuse alligators for their relatives, which are crocodiles. It is understandable since they do favor each other, but there are key factors about each that separate them into different creatures. Crocodiles’ snouts are more pointed, like the letter “V” whereas an alligator’s snout is shaped more like the letter “U.” Their coloring is another factor since alligators are darker and have a blackish-grey tone. Crocodiles on the contrary are significantly lighter, with tones of brown or olive-green. While both can be aggressive creatures, crocodiles are more aggressive than alligators. Crocodiles will react aggressive almost instantly if came into contact, yet alligators on the other hand can be near you and you couldn’t get a reaction out of them.

If you ever visit us down in the Everglades make sure to look on the side of the road, out in the canals, or even on an airboat ride for an American Alligator! If you go to any of the airboat places you can even get the chance to hold one, which is always a fun memory for an individual or the whole family. Lastly, if you haven’t already tried it, for sure stop by one of our local restaurants and try some delicious Gator Tail!

University of Florida student Savannah Oglesby has lived in Everglades City her entire life. A lover of nature; some of her favorite things are sunsets, night lightning and mountains. She enjoys adventures and spending time with family, friends and two orange tabby cats. She also enjoys travelling, taking photos of nature, learning about extreme weather and seeing the world in different perspectives. Savannah’s love for Everglades City, and its history, is endless.

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