Thursday, October 22, 2009

Florida's forgotten superbeast

Its impossible to get very far in Florida without hearing about the American Alligator. You drive past alligator farms, diners offering gator burgers, get warned about gator attacks and gators crossing, hear about gator wrestling, top Floridian bloggers have blogs about nothing but gators and then of course there is a chap called Tim Tebow and a team of Gators on ESPN who apparently play a quirky sport the locals erroneously call "football". All this would make you think that alligators were the only show in town when it came to big predatory creatures but of course they are not. Florida still has black bear and, barely, its Florida Panthers. It also has several introduced reptillian predators capable of reaching significant scale (a number of big constrictors, spectacled caiman and at least one species of monitor lizard) as well as big birds and big fish. There is one other big predator that seems to get overlooked though - the only one of Florida's big creatures which (from a US standpoint at least) is truly uniquely Floridian - the American Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus. This is actually a very widespread beastie ranging from both coasts of Mexico all the way down to Venezuela as well as roaming the Caribbean sea to populate a number of islands including Cuba, Hispaniola and Jamiaca (one hauled out on a beach on Grand Cayman in recent memory causing some surprise) and one I've tried to see and dipped repeatedly. In the US it is a very rare animal though and there are really only two major population centres. One is the Turkey Point Nuclear Facility (where heated water flowing into cooling canals provides an unnaturally warm water habitat the crocs thrive in) and the other is the south everglades (around Flamingo).

american croc1

I've visited Flamingo a number of times and never seen crocs in its dock area although I've seen countless photos of crocs there, including many of an enormous toothless male who seemed a locked in certainty to be there. On my most recent trip I took a boat trip a little deeper into the 'glades and was rewarded with the sight above - a small American crocodile.

american croc2

This shot shows it narrow head pretty well which clearly distinguishes it from the broad snouted florida gator. American crocs get pretty big in the warmest parts of their range - supposedly pushing the 20 foot mark but the biggest US specimens seem to top out at the same size as gators; around 14 foot. The crocs are apparently far more weather dependent than the gators which is probably at least part of the reason they do not cover the same range as the gators and likely limits their size in Florida.

american croc3

I was a little disappointed this was my sole sighting but to tell the truth, I'm just delighted to have connected after missing out repeatedly even if it was with a baby. This guy still has a lot of growing ahead of him and perhaps the next time I pass through he'll be a 12 footer and the Florida crocodile will be almost as famous as those gators.


myamuhnative said...

I'm a bit jealous!
Flamingo is in my backyard (well, you probably know what I mean) and all I have ever seen is the big guys that are so often laying about on the bank across from the marina store.
Your young'un is ever so much better looking than the old guys!

tai haku said...

Hey mayamuhnative - whereas I really wanted to see the big guys you see across from the marina store! I've a post coming up about another big reptile you probably see in your backyard fairly regularly too.......

jason said...

Very cool! Beautiful shots, too. What a stunning critter. This is definitely worth a trip to Florida.

(BTW, hope your travels are going well. Can't wait to learn about the new location once you settle and what kind of discoveries you'll be making there.)

tai haku said...

Thanks Jason - its a cool animal alright and very spectacular to see in the wild. Travels have gone well(ish) although I'll be resettled shortly (whereupon I hope normal service can resume here)!

NellJean said...

So where is the Peacock on Lantana that I was about to pick on Blotanical?

tai haku said...

Hi NellJean - I'm scheduling posts a couple of days in advance due to internet issues and next wednesday's picture post briefly escaped the corral early! It'll be up on the 28th.