If you have ever been to the southeastern United States, you know that you will likely encounter an American alligator (Alligator mississippienis). While many people think of Florida when they think of alligators, other states in that region also have them.
Louisiana is one of the most popular states. Today, we will highlight one lake and its high density of alligators. But how many alligators live in Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain? We’re here to do a study and understand how many alligators live in Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain while also examining their current status.
History of Lake Pontchartrain
Lake Pontchartrain is a popular lake among locals and tourists. Significantly, it is known for fishing and swimming. It is an estuary that is currently the greatest body of water in Louisiana. Moreover, it is estimated to be among the largest saltwater areas in the country.
The history of Lake Pontchartrain goes as far back as 5000 years ago. Early on, it originated when North American glaciers began to melt. It caused swelling to the Mississippi River, resulting in the lake shifting eastward.
The river began to spread toward the Gulf of Mexico. Ultimately, the lake spread and slowly expanded east over the next 2000 years. Native Americans used to call it “Okwata,” which means “wide water.” Later, it got its name in 1699 when Pierre La Moyne, a French settler, named it after visiting the lake while touring it with Native American tribes.
Lake Pontchartrain is a part of the larger ecosystem called the Pontchartrain Basin. Furthermore, it is composed of many different rivers, bayous, and swamps. The Pontchartrain Basin is massive, with over 10,000 square miles spread across Louisiana and Mississippi. Additionally, it is among the biggest estuarine systems around the Gulf of Mexico.
Species Profile: The American Alligator
You will find alligators in Lake Pontchartrain. Ultimately, it is a hospitable body of water for alligators to partake in. These creatures are apex predators that have survived for thousands of years. Therefore, they are an animal to revere. Their natural prey is small fish, insects, snakes, and turtles. Unfortunately, they have attacked humans before.
Alligators are dangerous. However, they are nowhere near as dangerous or deadly as their cousins, the Saltwater Crocodile or Nile Crocodile. While a crocodile will generally not back down when approaching humans, it is possible to scare an alligator away. There have been numerous videos online of small feral cats scaring alligators away. Yes, they are dangerous. But alligators are also timid and will back away and may back away if another animal challenges them.
Where Alligators Live
Alligators live in the southeast of the United States. More specifically, you will find them in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, and the southern part of Texas. Alligators prefer freshwater habitats, like swamps and marshes. Occasionally, they will venture into saltwater territories. Some alligators venture into the Gulf Coast, like Biloxi in Mississippi. However, they cannot survive for long periods in ocean climates like crocodiles.
How Large Can Alligators Get?
Alligators can grow up to 20 feet or larger. Significantly, the biggest alligator ever found in Louisiana was an estimated 19 ft 2 in. But alligators usually average out between 11 and 16 feet in size. Males are usually bigger than female alligators.
Estimating How Many Alligators Live in Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain
It is sometimes difficult to estimate how many alligators live in Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain. Ultimately, there are approximately 2 million alligators in Louisiana. However, the number of alligators varies, depending on their migration patterns. Currently, Lake Martin is the lake with the most alligators in it in Louisiana. But alligators typically live in the marshes and bayous nearby. Therefore, you won’t find as many alligators in Lake Pontchartrain as you would other lakes.
However, alligators will occasionally cross over to the lake. According to sightings reported in New Orleans news outlets, there may be between 15 and 50 alligators. The saline levels in Lake Pontchartrain have dropped over the last few decades, so there might be more alligators showing up.
Safety Around Alligators
How safe is it to swim in Lake Pontchartrain? Swimming in Lake Pontchartrain can vary, depending on the situation and the area. Yes, alligator attacks have happened over the years throughout the United States. But it is incredibly rare in Louisiana. Still, it is better to stay safe than sorry.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife of Fisheries has some advice on what to do and what not to do. First, LDWF advises people never to harass or touch alligators. You should never allow your small children to play in the water without proper supervision. Also, you should never swim at night. Do not feed or encourage the alligators to go near you. Remember, alligators lose their fear of humans when you feed them.
The LDWF does give some advice on what you should do. First, you should call the proper authorities if you see an alligator acting aggressively or being a nuisance. It is best to swim during the daylight hours. Moreover, if you see someone feeding alligators, advise them not to. The best distance to photograph alligators is 50 feet.
Other Wildlife That Lives in the Lake
Lake Pontchartrain has plenty of wildlife. You will see all kinds of mammals and reptiles. The Louisiana heron is among the many birds that frequent the lake. You might also see some seagulls, pelicans, or rock pigeons.
Numerous fish species have been spotted in the lake, including the Alligator Gar and the Atlantic Croaker. Additionally, you will also find the Atlantic Stingray and the Blacktip Reef Shark. You will also see the Bull Shark and the Blue Catfish in these waters.
There are other reptiles in the lake, including the Alligator Snapping Turtle and the American Toad. Additionally, you will also find other toads in the lake, such as the Oak Toad, Southern Toad, and Gulf Coast Toad. There are also several snakes in the lake. Yes, you will see the Eastern Copperhead and Diamondback Watersnake. You will also see the Timber Rattlesnake and the Cottonmouth.
There are other varieties of lizards in the lake. Subsequently, you are likely to see the Eastern Fence Lizard or the Prairie Lizard. You may also run into the Eastern Grass Lizard. Additionally, you will find similar creatures like the Spotted House Gecko or the Mediterranean House Gecko.
You may also see creatures of the night, such as the Eastern Screech Owl or the Barred Owl. Of course, who can forget the Great Horned Owl? The lake has such a vast diversity of animals all around. Consequently, it did not used to be like that.
Lake Pontchartrain used to deal with pollution issues. However, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded approximately $31 million to help clean and restore the lake. The efforts of the EPA have helped clean the ecosystem and are resulting in numerous animals returning to the lake. Therefore, that is the main reason why more alligators are beginning to cross over.
The Future of Alligators in Lake Ponchartrain
As long as the EPA keeps the lake clean, alligators will continue to inhabit it. Ultimately, this could increase their numbers. Do not be surprised if you start to see hundreds of alligators inhabiting the lake over the next few decades as they continue to populate these newer waters.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © David Louis Tiffany/Shutterstock.com
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