Judi Stuart: Looking for ancient species? You might find one here

0 Comments | Leave a Comment

As an adult, he weighs about 800 pounds, is 13 feet long, and has 75 teeth. It’s the teeth that worry me.

I have visions of one of the monster reptiles crawling up the bank of the canal in our backyard to look for a snack.

After reading that a 12 foot alligator was run over and killed by a minivan in Dare county in May, I figured that they are headed my way, too.

The victim, “Cheeseburger,” was so nicknamed by the locals because he especially liked that delicacy fed to him by Dare residents. Apparently, he was just lying on the highway when he was struck and killed.

Because he had been fed by people, he saw no need to protect himself.

Previously, a 12-foot alligator killed an 80-pound Siberian husky near Jacksonville. It is illegal in North Carolina and many other states to feed alligators because it causes them to lose their fear of people. Generally, they prefer to stay away from humans.

Alligators survived an extinction that killed 75 percent of the life on Earth 65 million years ago and are sometimes described as living fossils. There are only two species of alligators.

The Chinese alligator lives in the Yangtze River and only ten to fifteen are known to be surviving. They are much smaller than the American alligator which lives in the south-eastern United States including Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and North Carolina.

In the spring, female alligator move into areas where decomposing vegetation creates more heat for the eggs. The sex of the offspring is determined by the temperature of the nest. Males are produced in the warmest areas and females are hatched in the cooler nests.

The mother looks after the young for a year, and they are considered mature when they are about six feet long.

Because their nests leave deep holes, they contribute to the ecology by providing habitats for other animals. They also help plant diversity in these areas, thus contributing to the ecological balance in the wetlands, rivers, lakes, ponds, swamps, and marshes where they live.

Although they are known for their powerful bite, the jaw muscles are relatively weak. A human can hold the jaws shut with little effort. The reptile’s preferred meal includes small animals such as fish, birds, turtles and small deer.

How many alligators are there in North Carolina? A study sponsored by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has recently tried to estimate that number. The last study was done in 1980.

The results concluded that the highest concentrations were still around Wilmington, the Croatan National Forest, and south of the Albemarle Sound. In our area, alligators have been spotted in a pond near Morgan’s Corner, in Merchant’s Mill Pond, and other isolated areas.

Because North Carolina is cooler, the reptiles are more vulnerable to predators all year long.

Be aware, don’t feed them, and never let them see you smile.

Judi Stuart is the Visitor Services Manager at Port Discover.