- As far as alligator-infested states go, Florida sits close to the top of the pile with a population of 1.3 million reptiles, second only to the state of Louisiana.
- Such is the prominence of this apex predator with a penchant for meaty sustenance, including mammals, fish, birds and amphibians, that it is actually the state’s official reptile.
- Lake George is the ideal habitat for alligators owing to its abundance of fauna and flora, and its shallow water.
Alligators are some of the largest living reptiles, particularly inhabiting parts of the United States and China. Chinese alligators are almost extinct, but their counterparts, American alligators, thrive in the United States. These big boys are not strangers to most parts of the U.S, with their population extending from the Rio Grande River in Texas, parts of North Carolina, and up to the southeastern state of Florida. Alligators are very prevalent throughout most of Florida, almost as many as the state’s population of people, and mainly inhabit freshwater habitats.
One of the most alligator-infested areas in Florida is Lake George. To understand why this is, you must first understand American alligators themselves, how to identify them, how they reproduce, and finally, why there are so many in Lake George. Let’s go!
How to Identify American Alligators
Significantly larger than their Chinese counterparts, American alligators are apex predators native to the southeastern United States and are probably the biggest species in the Alligatoridae family. Commonly mixed up with American crocodiles, the easiest way to tell them apart is by their head shape and color. American alligators have a large snout that conceals all of their teeth when their jaws are closed, unlike crocodiles, which have a more narrow snout with a portion of their bottom-row teeth exposed when their jaws are closed.
Adult alligators are usually a darker shade of gray with a lighter underside, while the juveniles have light-colored stripes by their sides for camouflage, unlike crocodiles which are more brown than gray. It is also not uncommon for alligators to blend into whatever areas they are, which is why it is sometimes hard to notice them swimming toward you. American alligators, the largest species in their family, usually grow very long. The males can grow as long as 11.2 to 15.7 feet (3.4 to 4.8 meters), and although the females hardly ever grow past 10 feet, they still get as long as 8.5 to 9.8 feet (2.6 to 3 meters). Male American alligators can weigh up to 1230 lbs (560kg), with the record for the biggest alligator being from Orange Lake in the Alachua county area of Florida.
What Do American Alligators Eat?
Although American alligators are omnivorous, they prefer being carnivorous, feeding on smaller prey. They usually feed on fish like alligator gars, largemouth bass, birds, mammals, amphibians like turtles, frogs, toads, and other reptiles. Juvenile alligators feed on smaller fish, insects, amphibians, and invertebrates. American alligators also occasionally eat fruits like wild grapes and other citrus fruits.
Contrary to popular belief, American alligators do not eat as much because they have a slow metabolic rate. The amount of food they can eat reduces even more during the winter because, at that point, their bodies would be preparing to go into the hibernation period for cold-blooded animals, called brumation. Because alligators are at the top of the food chain, they do not have any predators. However, their eggs and hatchlings are preyed on by bigger animals.
As apex predators, American alligators are primarily nocturnal creatures. During the day, you can find them in the river with only their nostrils and eyes peeking out or by the edge of water banks, sunning themselves because they are cold-blooded. Also, American alligators are opportunistic feeders because they usually just feed on whatever is available.
Where Are American Alligators Found?
American alligators are very common reptiles to find in most states of the country, including Texas, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. These big boys also serve as the official state reptile of Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. They prefer freshwater habitats and slow-moving rivers and surrounding wetlands and can also inhabit lakes, ponds, swamps, and streams. However, they can sometimes move to brackish waters but do not inhabit saltwater primarily because the salt glands on their tongues do not function well enough.
Generally, American alligators prefer open waters, especially in spring. However, during the summer, the females tend to retreat to swampy areas where they prepare their nests and lay their eggs. During brumation, which usually happens every winter, some American alligators remain underwater while some hide in burrows, lairs, underneath riverbanks, or clumps of trees.
Why American Alligators Thrive in Lake George
There are more than 1.3 million American alligators in Florida. Although these apex predators were once on the verge of extinction in the state, aggressive conservation efforts helped save them. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife, Lake George in Florida has one of the largest populations of alligators, with more than 2,300 alligators, including bull gators which grow 9 feet long and sometimes longer. This fact makes it the second largest alligator-infested lake in the country.
Also called Lake Welaka, meaning “chain of rivers” in Timucua, Lake George is a broad and shallow brackish lake on St. John’s River. Lake George is 6 miles wide (9.7km), 11 miles long (18km), and is home to two islands, Drayton and Hog islands. The lake is as deep as 8 feet (2.4 meters) and has a surface area of around 46,000 acres. Another reason Lake George is the perfect habitat for American alligators, aside from the lake’s depth and the fact that it is brackish, is the variety of fish, plants, and other wildlife that live in and around the lake and along its shores. The abundance of prey makes it easy for alligators to thrive in the area.
Where Is Lake George Located on a Map?
Lake George is on the St. Johns River. It is situated in Volusia and Putnam counties. The lake is south of Jacksonville, to the west of Daytona Beach, and north of Orlando. It’s located eight miles west of Crescent City.
Animals That Live in and Around Lake George
In addition to alligators, Lake George is home to a diverse population of animals. The fish species present include bluegill, sunfish, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and crappie. Beavers, minks, squirrels, red foxes, and river otters also live in the area and feed on the fish by the shallow banks.
Animals that might be dangerous to humans if threatened can also be found in Lake George’s surrounds. Timber rattlesnakes, leeches, and black bears are frequently seen around the lake. And it’s possible to find snakes occasionally swimming in the water.
The Most Alligator-Infested Lake in Florida Is Lake Okeechobee
While Lake George has one of the largest populations of alligators, Lake Okeechobee has even more. It is the most alligator-infested lake in Florida, with close to 30,000 alligators in its waters. This includes almost 2,000 bull gators measuring over nine feet long.
It’s the largest freshwater lake in the state and 730 square miles with an average depth of 9 feet.
One way to see alligators in Lake Okeechobee is to walk or bike along the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST), a paved trail that is a part of the larger Florida National Scenic Trail.
How Do American Alligators Reproduce?
Alligators birth their young by laying eggs. Although females can attain sexual maturity at 6 feet, most alligators reach this stage around 7 feet long. A female might need 10 to 15 years to grow that long, while a male might need 8 to 12 years. Following the period of courtship and mating, female alligators lay their eggs. Courtship starts in early April, and mating happens in May or June. Most female alligators retreat to swamps to build their nests out of the soil, vegetation, and other debris. Alligator eggs take between two to three months to hatch. Until they do, she keeps an eye on them until they hatch. Depending on the mother’s size and age, a nest may contain between 30 and 70 eggs.
Alligator babies, which measure between 8 and 10 inches (20 and 25 centimeters) in length, are at risk from predators, including fish, birds, and other alligators. They grow roughly one foot (30 cm) longer per year during the first three to four years of their lives and after that, growth becomes more gradual.
How Long Do Alligators Live?
In the wild, alligators can generally live for 30-50 years. However, some alligators have lived to be much older, reaching over 80 years!
The main factor affecting their lifespans is humans, who can unfortunately cause deaths by hunting, habitat loss, and contamination of water from pesticides and fertilizers.
In captivity, alligators frequently live to 70 years or even older. The oldest alligator currently in captivity is in the Belgrade Zoo in Serbia and is over 85 years old!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Alex Pankratov
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