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Alligators of Merritt Island

Banana River
Banana River
Photo by Maideline Sanchez

There is not one person in Merritt Island who hasn't seen these massive creatures even in their backyards. Even I lost count of the number of alligators that have been present in my backyard pond. They are ubiquitous and extremely ferocious and I unfortunately hear stories everyday of cats and dogs becoming gator bate. It is best to stay away from edges of ponds and lakes especially during the evening.

Alligators have been known to exist for 200 million years, since the ages of reptiles. There are currently two well known types: American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) and Chinese Alligators (Alligator sinsensis). The species name originates from the Spanish term “el lagarto” which means “the lizard” when translated in English. The American Alligator can grow up to 14.5 feet and weigh up to 1,032 pounds while the Chinese Alligator can only grow up to 5 feet and weigh up to 100 pounds. They also grow rather slowly, only reaching two feet after 2 years.

American alligators are found in the southeastern United States, where they live in freshwater environments such as ponds, marshes, rivers, lakes, and swamps. The largest recorded population of alligators living in the United States is found in Louisiana. The area can hold up to 1 million of these reptiles at a given time. Chinese Alligators are only found near the Yungtze River Valley, the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world after the Nile and the Amazon.

Generally, the larger males tend to be solitary and territorial while the smaller species remain in close proximity to each other. Their main sources of food are smaller animals, although they may sometimes consume larger prey by drowning them and initiating the “death-roll.” The “death-roll” is a technique used by alligators to tear off larger chunks of meat of their prey by spinning convulsively.

In the spring, females lay about 40 eggs at a time and the incubation period is 65 days. The hatchlings use their “egg-tooth” to break open the shell. Alligators stay with their mothers for about 1.5 years until they move on to live on their own.