CROCODILIANS OF LAKE WOODRUFF NWR

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Alligators can be found along all the canals and impoundments of Lake Woodruff.  Try to get there early or late in the day to see them best - especially in spring, summer and early fall, by midday they are usually hidden in cover to avoid the intense heat.

 

American alligators (Alligator missippiensis) are the only crocodilians found this far up the peninsula.  They are abundant in all of the impoundments and canals at Lake Woodruff NWR, and are most evident in fall and late winter/spring on sunny days, when they haul out on land to bask.   This is an 8' female who has nested nearly every year along the canal on the south side of Pool 1, no more than a couple hundred meters from the parking lot.  Her nest is usually hidden on one of the brushy islands, but by late August, her clutch has usually hatched and babies are hard to miss.

 

Most of the time, all you see gators do is bask, swim, or retreat to the water if you get too close to them.  Occasionally you may actually see one eating something, most often a big crunchy fish like a gar.   This guy is choking down a garter snake, and they are fond of turtles as well. Feeding by people is prohibited on the refuge (as it is everywhere in Florida) to prevent them from becoming habituated to humans.  Consequently, they all have a healthy respect for people - if only the morons who try to feed them marshmallows would reciprocate that respect....
The reptilian buddies are just hanging now, but once that alligator gets a bit larger, everything won't be so cool between them.  Larger alligators love to eat turtles, and a big male can generate enough crushing power to break the shell of adult cooters and red-bellies.


 

You're more likely to see young gators  a foot or two long than larger individuals, simply because they are more abundant.   They are also more colorful - the yellow bands begin to fade when they are a year or two old, and most individuals over 2-3' long are solid gray or black, sometimes augmented by growth of algae.
               Groups of youngsters from the same clutch often stay near each other for several months to over a year after birth, and sometimes lay around in groups, or even on top of each other when out basking. Usually, mom is nearby, and if they are alarmed, they will produce alarm grunts that will often bring the female to their aid in a hurry.

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