Friendly Neighborhood Alligator

alligator peeking out of the water

Neliza DrewApr 8·3 min read

“American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)” by acryptozoo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Alligators: fearsome dinosaurs that will eat your dog; an endangered-species success story; and giant lizards that supposedly consume Florida’s meth and occasionally appear at 7–11 for shenanigans.

Alligators sometimes get a bad reputation, in part because tourists are not known for reading signs, Disney isn’t great at posting signs, and even places that post signs sometimes don’t fully spell out what they should. Generally speaking, if you see water in Florida and you can’t see the bottom, assume there’s an alligator in it. Canals, lakes, large puddles, there’s a chance it has a gator in it. Even swimming pools and backyards can end up with the large reptiles in them, though. They’re even been spotted swimming offshore, but the ocean has a lot worse things in it, like floating medical waste.

Which is why it’s not generally a good idea to walk small dogs (or small children) along the edge of dark water, especially at dawn and dusk. While alligator attacks on humans are rare, and most result in injury but rarely feeding, looking like a snack at mealtime is never a good idea.

Feeding prehistoric lizards so they associate humans with food is also not wise (and illegal). It’s sometimes hard to convince tourists, though, that not all animals they see in the parks are domesticated. Hell, not all the people they see in Florida are domesticated.

Speaking of parks and not being fully domesticated, the husband and I like to go camping during the winter months in Florida. A book we have on the ecosystem defines winter as December — February, though most of the time December still feels like “fall.” Honestly, that book is a whole topic unto itself and we have been know to read it while camping. So, camping, right. We tend to aim for off-the-beaten-path campsites and places that aren’t too popular.

A few years back, I convinced him to stay at Burns Lake. It looks far more active in the photo on the National Parks website. We set up our tent, which we bought in 1995 at a K-Mart and have since dragged to Texas and Arizona and New Mexico and South Carolina in addition to spots all over Florida. We have some dinner and clean up. We enjoy looking at the stars.

And we hear alligators.

We hear a lot of alligators. I mention to him that’s what we’re hearing, but he seemed not to believe me until years later. Probably just as well because he’d likely have ended up back in the truck. Turns out, though, gator grunts are very soothing and I slept like a cat in the middle of a desk you want to do work on. Then again, I also slept through the night when we stayed at a former brothel across from the tracks in Kingman, AZ where the freight trains would rattle the whole building all night.

Why, yes, depression is a thing I am far more acquainted with than insomnia. Why would you ask?

He’s since become the guy who hears the alligators grunting at dusk and gets excited. My sister’s exchange student was a little less thrilled with alligators when he visited Florida. We went to Shark Valley where, especially in winter months, the gators will line the tram road and lounge in the entrance because they honestly don’t care if you get to go biking or not. He spent a lot of time practically hovering in mid-air.

Thing is, he’s an avid surfer, but does not appear to have a similar fear of sharks. Perhaps that’s because my sister is the president of the shark fan club and loves diving with them so I’m sure during his year there, he got to hear all the facts about sharks and the actual lack of threat most pose. I did not realize I needed to have park ranger level knowledge before taking them out to the Everglades.

At least he didn’t get eaten by anything but mosquitoes.