Sunday slide 4

First, the pic:

very young American alligator Alligator mississippiensis sprawled behind mother
And now the backstory. This one’s kind of a favor to the Impertinent Mr Bugg, though Bob knows he doesn’t deserve it, not just for being rude, but also because he still hasn’t done two of his assignments even as he’s messing with his posting dates again.

In March 2000 I was once again touring Florida, cruising down Tamiami Trail (Rt 41) through the Everglades, and had stopped at Shark Valley Visitors Center, which featured a long asphalt loop trail deep into the Everglades. I wasn’t planning on spending a lot of time, but I wanted to see what could be found. And perhaps half a kilometer from the parking area, right alongside the trail, basked a mother American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and several of her young.

And I mean right alongside the trail – I could easily have walked up and yanked on her tail if I so desired. The US is so litigious and liability-phobic that you might imagine the entire trail would be closed in such circumstances, but Florida is a special place, and this kind of thing happens all the time in the Everglades; visitors are warned not to approach too closely, but that’s about it. Alligators can be dangerous, and this one was well in excess of two meters long, but for the most part they’re lazy, and only pose a problem if they feel threatened – this one was probably so used to people that, even with her young so close, she really didn’t care. I set up the tripod at a circumspect distance, using the 170-500mm lens, and kept an eye on her behavior as I shot the babies, which were about 30cm or so in length – you can kind of get an idea of their size by the reeds seen here, but there wasn’t anything else I could do to provide scale, since I did not have a banana on me (leave it alone.) And yes, that’s mama’s tail in the foreground.

And here’s mama:

Mother American alligator Alligator mississippiensis basking alongside trail, Shark Valley Visitors Center
Funny, for years I couldn’t locate this place again on the map, for a couple of reasons. The first is, no one had tagged it with its name, and while I seemed to recall ‘Shark Valley’ (and don’t ask me how it got that moniker since a shark couldn’t come anywhere near the place,) I wasn’t absolutely sure about that. And the second is, Tamiami Trail is a long and feature-challenged road, not quite as boring as Alligator Alley (I-75, further north,) and there are almost no landmarks to be found at all along a hundred-kilometer stretch. Skimming along the map didn’t turn up the spot, until this morning – click here if you have Google Earth installed, though the placemark is only approximate; the spot was somewhere along that stretch of trail.

I will return at some point, because Florida – I mean, c’mon! But I have yet to find the spot on the same road where I took an airboat tour…

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