Back to Nature (Published on - April 6, 2005)
The American alligator – feared and misunderstood
Photo by Rick Tremmel
The American alligator has learned to live with humans, but people don’t always give them the respect and space they need. They should never be fed, because it destroys their natural fear of humans and can lead to attack.
A large picture window permits the person sitting at one of the desks in front of the window to overlook a rather hodgepodge front lawn of various weeds and wildflowers.

To us, having a lawn means that the grass needs to be cut and fertilized, the flowers need to be watered, the mole crickets need to be killed – and our little bungalow looks quite splendid when all those chores are done. To wildlife our lawn means a place to eat, a place to sit a spell, a place to seek a shady nook, a place to train the little ones and a place to “make” little ones.

My friend cautioned it’s probably not allowed to be said, but there’s a lot of hmmmm … “getting together” on our front lawn. One day last week, while typing with my muse, I observed much carrying on, wooing and “getting together.” Early morn brought out the mourning doves, followed by a flock of green quaker parrots, jesting Muscovy males and turned-up tailed females, ring-necked Eurasian doves a courting and a sweet paired mockingbird couple. It makes a mind wonder to just what kind of aphrodisiac species of grass is growing out there? Maybe there’s a market for those weeds?

Beyond the weeds and wildflowers is a short, private street that connects a string of houses gathered up like rickrack around a tiny lake named Sylvia. It’s astonishing how many species of wildlife this seemingly insignificant body of water attracts. This area is designated as an official wildlife refuge. A fact that is probably unknown to newcomers, but it certainly was an enticing benefit when we considered buying more than 15 years ago.

Sylvia is not likely noted on most maps, but to our minute part of the world she represents a direct connection to the natural world and respite from the fumes, lines of traffic and bustle of that “other” world. Red-winged blackbirds, mallards, white ibis, great blue heron, anhinga, American coot, muscovy, great egret, cattle egret, snowy egret, tri-colored heron, little blue heron, little green heron, osprey, an occasional kingfisher and an occasional American alligator have visited or made their homes upon the slender banks of Sylvia.

As humans encroach upon wild land wildlife species adapt to our ways of life. The American alligator calls our ponds and lakes, home. So it’s not a complete surprise to find Mr. Gator taking a swim in your swimming pool.

When a visitor asked a University of Florida professor, “where do the alligators go?” the answer was, “anywhere they want to go … Maybe you thought about doing some freshwater fishing while in Florida? There are many lakes in the area with all types of fish. BUT, do you see that “log” floating in the water? Take a closer look. That is NOT a log!”

April and May is courting season for mature alligators. It’s during this season that alligators may make themselves more visible. During June and July, after mating, the female alligator constructs a mound nest in a nearby marshy area that provides her with food and camouflage. She will lay 30 to 35 eggs. The young alligators hatch in mid-August through mid-September. The first two years are the most critical for hatchlings. A 50 percent mortality rate is considered normal.

The young gators remain with their mother in groups called “pods” for at least the first year, but may stay in the vicinity for up to three years. Mothers are very protective and will aggressively guard her young. Sexual maturity is not reached until most Alligators reach 6 feet in length or about 12 to 15 years.

If an alligator becomes a nuisance the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission are skilled and equipped to deal with this. Do not approach an alligator. Most attacks by alligators begin with feeding by humans. Alligators are agile even on land, deserving of our respect.

We take so much and offer so little, but wildlife will find a way to survive if given the slightest chance of encouragement. Sylvia is one of thousands of dots of water across our peninsula. With proper care and maintenance these oases will continue to introduce life, wildlife and nature back into our communities and carry on our world as a better place back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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