Whoa! What do you mean we have crocodiles in Florida? Does our American Alligator know about this? Yes, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus because our American Crocodile ate him when he was in South Florida.
And, lucky us, someone brought
in Caiman. Caiman are endemic to Central and South America. They’re relatively small; a subfamily of the alligator. Some day I’ll tell the story about my exploits in the Amazon and the time a caiman slid into our dugout canoe. I won’t go into it now but it did involve a ham sandwich, a shotgun and a lot of screaming; piranha played a small role.
The American alligator. That takes me back to the time I was 7 years old, that’s 49 in dog years. My parents took me on a road trip from Connecticut to Florida in the month of maximum heat and humidity. My father was forever getting lost yet, wouldn’t stop and ask for directions no matter how much my mother nagged him. And my mother, who was the navigator, was reading the map upside down through 3 states. It was a wonder we even made it to Florida. I had a hate-love relationship with those road trips.
My father would pull over every time he saw a sign advertising live alligators; baby alligators for sale; largest alligator alive; alligator shoes and handbags– that always interested my mother. We spent more time looking for the perfect pair of alligator high heels and purse to match. There were always shelves full of the tacky alligator handbags with the head of a baby alligator over the clasp, so you would have to press on the poor creature’s head to open and close the bag. Every place we stopped seemed to have them, but my mother was grossed out about the baby alligator head. So, naturally, she bought one for me and found herself a good-looking pair of alligator heels and matching bag. I remember my father bought an alligator wallet. He made a point of not getting anything with a head on it. I hated that bag. I couldn’t stand to touch the dead hide of a reptile, and the baby alligator head with the glass eyes was so disturbing.
Back on the road my mother lost interest in our side trips to “everything alligator” places. She got her booty and just wanted to move along. My father would stop anyway, mostly for me and to piss off my mother, who usually waited in the car while he and I went to see the ‘skeleton of the largest alligator that ever lived’. Now, the places that advertised live feedings of the alligators with pigs or other farm animals– my father would speed past those before I got any ideas in my head.
Each day we would stop in the afternoon at a motel with a pool. That was one of my favorite things on that stupid trip. I couldn’t swim in the deep end because my mother was afraid I would drown (she never learned to swim). One evening in Miami– we were the only ones in the pool, everyone else was watching the Miss America Pageant “live from Miami”. My mother was up to her neck in the shallow end and my father was holding onto me in the deep end. Suddenly my mother yelled the sh.. word and scrambled out of the pool. She had forgotten to remove her jeweled watch. My father, hauling me along, made his way to her end of the pool. While he was heatedly discussing the issue with my mother, I got out of the pool and leaped onto the diving board and yelled to my father, asking him if I could jump off the board. He didn’t like to be interrupted when he was talking such life and death matters with my mother, so he blew me off the way that parents do when they’re really not listening to you. He told me to go ahead. So I did.
I jumped off the board into the deep water. It felt like it took forever to reach the surface and when I did I could hear my father yelling and my mother screaming. My father was booking it towards me, swimming like a pro and my mother came toddling around to the deep end of the pool. I was just doing the natural thing, keeping myself afloat listening to the two of them. They said the usual parent nonsense, screaming and blaming each other until they finally heard me say that I was all right and “look at me, I’m swimming in the deep end”. Then they became proud parents and my pool experiences became a lot more fun. I spent the rest of the trip learning to dive, which caused my mother to have a new worry: the what-if-you-dive-too-deep-and-hit-your-head-you-could-become-paralyzed worry.
Back to the crocodilians– that’s the Order both alligators and crocodiles belong to. What’s the difference between alligators and crocodiles? Personally I think they’re both ugly but if I had to choose I’d pick the crocodile. It doesn’t get as big, it’s shy and it’s pretty much isolated from the rest of Florida. The American crocodile is on the endangered species list as “vulnerable”. The only place you can see them is in the mangrove swamps of the southern tip of Florida and the coasts of some Caribbean islands. Crocs grow up to 6 ft (1.8 m) and can live up to 50 years. They live in the brackish water of the mangrove swamps, living in an environment of both fresh and salt waters.
Now the American alligator can get huge: males can measure from 11 ft (3.4 m) to 15 ft (4.6 m) and can weigh as much as 1000 lb. (453 kg). This beasty inhabits fresh water marshes and cypress swamps from Texas to North Carolina. It’s more tolerant of cooler climates than the American crocodile which is found only in tropical climates. I guess that’s why gators show up now and then in someone’s pool in Orlando or some backyard in St. Petersburg. They haven’t been around 66 million years, that’s 462 million dog years, without knowing how to find a free lunch barking in your backyard.
That’s what I said: 66 million years. The most recent evidence indicates that crocodilians and dinosaurs evolved from a common ancestor. But, the Phytosaur, which lived 228 million years ago was most related to the crocodilians and it was a herbivore (plant eater). About 110 million years ago the Sarcosuchus pretty much looked and behaved like its modern descendants but it was twice as long and 10 times as heavy. Around 80 million years ago the Beinosuchus was about 33 ft long (10 m) and weighed in at 10 tons (9072 kg). It lived in the rivers of North America. During the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction, most notably of the dinosaurs, the crocodilians survived the extinction, evolving into the lovable, cuddly creatures we know today.
Climate change is a big issue for the crocodilians. The warmer temperatures could tip the sex ratio of both alligators and crocodiles because temperature determines the sex of the hatchlings during incubation of the eggs. For example: let’s say that cooler temperatures will turn a hatchling into a female and warmer would produce males. Global warming could affect a
change of mostly males; females being at a premium. Hence, less reproduction. And this is just one of the possible problems they would face with global warming. With rising sea level and temperature we humans would probably see alligators hitchhiking North, with their cousins, the crocodiles following close behind.
Crocodile tears, or an hypocritical show of grief; false tears, comes from an ancient anecdote, spread in the stories of the travels of Sir John Mandeville in the 14th century. Supposedly crocodiles weep to lure their prey or weep while eating their prey. Shakespeare prominently used the crocodile tears expression in three of his plays, most notably, Othello.
- Crocodiles starting to show up in Palm Beach County (cbs12.com)
- It’s a trap! Alligators and crocodiles use tools to hunt (nbcnews.com)
- Alligators and Crocodiles Use Tools to Hunt, in a First (livescience.com)
- Want a ‘Pet’ Croc? Here’s Why It’s Not a Good Idea (kyletaitt.scienceblog.com)