Thursday, November 17, 2011

Where Have The Alligators Gone And Alabaster-The Rarest Of Gators

Look closely for the alligator
With the end of summer and the advent of fall, we no longer see the alligators that once inhabited our ponds here in White Gables. Have you ever wondered where they go? Do they migrate to a warmer place? The answer to the second question is no. The answer to the first question is as follows. Just because you don't see them doesn't mean they are not there. That being said, alligators can travel over land or through rivers for several miles, so it is possible the alligators of White Gables could have moved to a more accommodating place to hunker down for the winter.

Alligators are just as much a part of Charleston culture as sweet tea. They fascinate us. We take are kids down to the ponds to watch them. We grab our cameras to photograph them. So, since they are fellow residents and neighbors, we need to know something about them.

Alligators can and do eat just about anything. Sticks, stones, bricks, and even aluminum cans have been found in the stomachs of mature alligators. Their stomachs are the most acidic of any vertebrate. I guess you could call them liter-debuggers. Still, that is not their preferred cuisine. They are carnivores, meat eaters that feed at night. If you think you are safe in a tree, think again. Alligators can leap 5 feet or more out of the water if they see something to their liking. They can even snatch a bird out of the air.

An alligator is not considered sexually active until it reaches 6 feet. In cooler regions of their habitat, such as North Carolina, that could take 16-20 years, and in warmer climates, 8-9 years. When they do reach maturity, alligators restrict their breeding and nesting activities to the warm summer months. Temperature is very important for the first half of incubation of the 40-60 eggs the female lays in built up mounds. Temperatures in the nest less than 86 degrees produce only females, temperatures above 90 degrees produce only males.

American alligators are cold-blooded animals, generally are active year round in South Carolina. They do not hibernate in the true sense, they do undergo periods of dormancy in cold weather months, November to March. They excavate a cave in the bank of a waterway and enlarge the inner chamber so a portion of it is above the water level, allowing them to surface occasionally to breathe. On exceptionally warm days they may pop theirs heads up to see what is going on.

Alligators can hold their breath up to an hour. So, if you see one and it dips below the water, getting its picture may involve a long wait. We should keep in mind that an alligator should NEVER, NEVER, NEVER be fed! The alligators get accustomed to people and, instead of fearing humans, they begin to expect people to feed them. This can lead to alligators being aggressive and a “nuisance species." Bad for them, bad for us. The American alligators habitat ranges from coastal North Carolina to the Everglades in Florida.

Visit the South Carolina Aquarium for a rare treat, an albino alligator. Its name is Alabaster. Alabaster is very rare because in the wild, albino alligators only have about a 24-hour survival rate. Alabaster is the newest addition to the Blackwater Swamp Exhibit. Visit the Aquarium and learn about this rare creature. See you there. Ticket prices for the Aquarium and 4-D theater.

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