With a copiously wet start to Southwest Florida’s rainy season, it has become a bit more challenging for some to spot the region’s many alligators, since trails are water-logged and these mighty creatures have plenty of water in which to play.
As water levels rise, however, new opportunities also exist to encounter the state’s official reptile, and sometimes they occur very close to home.
Florida contains an estimated population of 1.25 million alligators, with several hundred thousand native to the southwestern part of the state. They can be found anywhere there is a supply of fresh or brackish water and the animals pursue a tasty diet of fish, turtles, snakes, birds, raccoons, and various small mammals.
Mating season begins in the spring and those early months offer ideal conditions for nature lovers to spot gators, since dry lands can be visited, while these creatures move in search of both water and companionship.
Once mating occurs, females become territorial to guard the nests that house their eggs, but summer represents an equally good time to spot alligators. In fact, cold-blooded reptiles are most active when air temperatures exist between 82° and 92° F. And it is a near guarantee that Southwest Florida experiences such a muggy climate daily during July, August, and September.
Indeed, the preference for basking in the sunshine of hot weather is so strong that these reptiles stop feeding when the temperature falls below 70° F. Alligators further become dormant when ambient temperature drops under 55° F, so summer clearly offers advantages if hoping to snap a photo of the namesake of University of Florida’s beloved mascot.
One further benefit of recent rain is it reduces the alarming chances of finding an alligator cooling off in a backyard pool. These animals, which average between 7-12 feet in length at full maturity, are instead likely to be seen floating in the region’s many rivers and ponds or crossing Southwest Florida’s marshes in search of food.
I made a recent trip to Pine Island, a narrow 15 mile-long Gulf Coast barrier island, and quickly encountered a pair of large gators occupying an acre-sized pond that surrounds nearby housing.
Spotting alligators on Pine Island is not rare. I have even previously stopped my car to allow a few to cross Stringfellow Road. Yet, it is always a treat to encounter these majestic beasts so close to the Gulf of Mexico.
Though the island is better known for salt water creatures, such as birds, dolphins, and manatees, its landscape is dominated by wetlands and rain enables these suddenly-active alligators to traverse new territories.
Unlike their evolutionary relative, the American crocodile, gators can only tolerate salinity for short periods of time and will move quickly to find freshwater habitats on marshy islands, such as Pine Island.
Be sure to view the Slideshow above for a closer look at these animals enjoying the recent combination of rising water and hot temperatures.
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