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Briar Patch Outdoors

The American Alligator - Part One

by Keith A. "Bootlegger" Williams

Although the actual term of "Alligator mississippiensis" may be unfamiliar to many, almost everyone has at least heard of the American Alligator. Having been born and raised in the Florida Panhandle I have spent a lot of time around this prehistoric beast, and developed quite the fascination for it at an early age. In this modern world, I find that there are fewer and fewer people who voluntarily spend real time in the outdoors and it saddens me that so many of our nationís youth are being raised without much appreciation for things not surrounded by plastic, concrete, and steel. For those who will spare a few minutes, Iíd like to shed a little light onto an amazing, if misunderstood creature.

We see them most every day as they swim or lounge around with little or no regard for our presence. Their basic design is so well adapted for the wetland environment that it has changed very little in more than 150 million years. Like all reptiles, they are cold blooded animals, so they can frequently be found alternating between periods of basking in the sun to absorb heat, and dunking back in the water, to properly regulate their body temperatures.

An alligator is an overly engineered creature with a heavily armored body and thick, bony plates commonly known as scutes (osteoderms). Their skeleton is made of thick bones and is surrounded by tough and heavily textured skin. They were designed in a harsher time and tend to look out of place as they lumber about on their stubby legs. Their tracks are easily identified because their front feet have five toes, and their back ones have only four and are webbed. Alligators have wide snouts and a permanent facial expression that looks like a grin. An alligatorís eyes, nostrils and ears remain above the waterline and can be effectively used while swimming. The nostrils and ears have flaps over them to keep out water when they submerge, and the eyes have a special transparent eyelid that allows it to see under water. For efficiency, they tuck their legs in next to the body to minimize resistance, and use their powerful tails to propel themselves through the water in what appears to be an effortless fashion. An alligator has 80 conical teeth that are hollow and each has another directly under it for an immediate replacement, should one be damaged or lost.

Its habitat spans much of the Southern and Eastern areas of the United States, to include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and possibly having one or two showing up in other places as well. Alligators are a "Keystone Species" which means that their existence is very important to the balance of nature. They weed out the sick and the weak, and keep other species from overpopulation problems. During dry periods or in places where water levels fluctuate, Alligators wallow out depressions in suitable locations and excavate dirt to eventually create what are known as a Gator holes. These hold much needed water for the alligators and are important for many types of animals as well. Although they are more at home in the water, it is not unusual for them to cross large distances on land to get from one area to another. Alligators slow down and can go dormant in colder temperatures but donít actually enter a true state of hibernation. They dig tunnels in the banks of ponds and rivers and prefer to pass the time inside these dens until conditions warm up again.

ON TO PART 2 - The American Alligator

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Briar Patch Outdoors
219 Holmes Street
Durand MI 48429
(989) 288-0168

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