Of all of the creatures to see in the Florida Everglades, perhaps the most notorious are the Florida alligators. It is very unlikely that you’ll leave the Everglades without seeing at least one specimen of these great awe-inspiring beasts.
Alligators bask in the sun and humid heat that the subtropical wetland of the Everglades is known for, soaking up every drop that they can get. At night, they mate and their roars can be heard for miles. The alligator is actually much more important than this, though. The alligators help to control the natural balance of wildlife and the preservation of the area with their eating habits and incessant digging. Digging, you ask?
Gator Holes- A Refuge for All
Gator holes are dug by alligators as a way to get away from the heat and cool down in the mud where they have dug. However, these holes dug in areas where the water levels fluctuate become filled with water and become the deepest pools in the Everglades. As such, when drought occurs, these are the last things to dry up, providing a safe haven for many marine animals and reptiles. When the drought is over, the species in the gator holes will multiply and return to their normal life. These holes are also a food and water supply for birds and other mammals in the area.
Alligators vs. Crocodiles
Many people see what they think are Florida alligators in the Everglades, but they have longer, pointy noses. These are actually crocodiles, and the Everglades are the only place that you will:
-See crocodiles in the U.S.
-See alligators and crocodiles living peacefully together
Alligators are much less aggressive, and they have wider, u-shaped snouts compared to crocodiles. Crocodiles also tend to be more prevalent in the saltwater areas of the Everglades, whereas the alligators will prefer the freshwater marshes that abound.
It’s not uncommon to be traveling through the Everglades by foot, canoe, or on an airboat tour and see muddy scales and eyes poking out of the shallow waters. Many tours actually center on the sightings and enjoyment of alligators in the Florida Everglades. However, since they are a popular species in the area, you certainly don’t have to go out looking for them. Visitors will often find them along the way, whether they want to or not.
One of the biggest problems facing the alligator population currently is the decimated environment of the Everglades, as well as the roads that traverse their home environment. It is not uncommon to see an alligator on the road in the Everglades, much like you would see a squirrel or a rabbit in the road anywhere else in the U.S. Therefore, when traveling through the Everglades, you should be on the lookout for alligators whether you’re driving, hiking, or on a boat.
• Whatever you do, do not try to feed an alligator – it’s against Florida law! Feeding alligators can cause them to lose their fear of people and start to associate human beings with food – an idea you definitely don’t want to encourage!
• If you happen to see an alligator and you’re not in some kind of vehicle, stay a safe distance away. Take a picture if you must and then slowly back off. Alligators can run pretty fast, though they don’t like to chase prey over dry land.
• Do not throw anything at alligators – this includes stones, soda cans, empty plastic bottles etc! This should be common sense but you’d be surprised at how many people I’ve seen do this. It is we who are entering their habitat, so treat them with the respect they deserve, just as you would if you entered someone’s home and you’ll be just fine!