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Warm weather causes more activity in alligators, crocodiles

By Staff | Apr 20, 2011

This mature female crocodile, measuring more than eight feet and weighing approximately 150 pounds, was released into the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge last summer. Since then, she has moved to The Dunes, where residents have nicknamed her "Judy."

As most islanders will concur, alligators and crocodiles are an important part of Florida’s heritage and play a valuable role in the ecosystems where we live.

The onset of warm weather in the spring is when alligators and crocodiles usually start getting active, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding both residents and visitors to be cautious when having fun in and around water.

According to FWC spokesperson Lindsey Hord, there has never been a documented attack on a human by an American crocodile in the State of Florida.

The American crocodile that resided on the islands for more than 25 years — before she passed away due to the extended cold snap during the winter of 2010 — peacefully basked for years on Wildlife Drive while hundreds of people took her picture and were amazed at all 11 feet, eight inches of her.

“No one went looking for another crocodile to replace the one that died, but the State of Florida had an eight-and-a-half foot female that needed to be relocated last summer,” said Dee Serage-Century, Living With Wildlife Educator for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. “The reason for relocation was surprising… she was eating small alligators in a man-made lake behind three homes. Evidently, the residents were very attached to their alligators.”

Last May, the FWC contacted Paul Tritaik, manager of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, asking if they could relocate the mature crocodile after a state trapper captured the reptile in Grove City, Fla.

“It had been found on private property,” said Tritaik, who explained that the FWC had been looking for an area where crocodiles had recently inhabited.

In the past, crocodiles within the local region had been transported to an released within the Collier County State Park, but the FWC had requested an area not too distant from Grove City, located in Charlotte County.

“They were hoping it could be released closer to its native territory,” Tritaik added.

During the transportation of the crocodile, the FWC had placed magnets near her head, hopeful that this would disrupt her orientation from where she had been captured. This process does not harm the animal in any way, Tritaik noted.

“Wilma,” the name some islanders bestowed upon the prior crocodile, once was relocated to Collier Seminole State Park but found her way back to Sanibel.

But some folks may wonder if the relocated crocodile — recently nicknamed “Judy” — will find a mate and/or nest this summer? Wilma nested yearly around May 1, but the eggs never hatched.

“Crocodiles can lay eggs even if they are not fertilized,” explained Serage-Century. “But it is possible she could find a mate because the Florida crocodile population is growing.”

For many years, the community of Gulf Shores lived with a crocodile that nested in their neighborhood until her death. Now, a new community — The Dunes — is adjusting to living with a crocodile as well as alligators.

Here are some facts that may help islanders live peacefully along with our reptilian neighbors:

• Alligators and crocodiles do not chase their prey down on land. They can run, but it is usually to get from one body of water to the next.

• These critters capture their prey while in the water or at water edges. Children and pets should never play next to fresh water edges.

• Never get closer than 20-25 feet from a basking gator. They may look like they are asleep, but they are not!

• On land, cold-blooded crocodilians are thermo-regulating, moving into the shade or the water when too hot and sun basking when too cool.

• Stop anyone you see feeding a crocodile or alligator and report any incidents to the Sanibel Police Department at 472-3111.

If you have any questions about crocodilians, please contact Dee Serage-Century at SCCF by calling 472-2329 or sending an e-mail to dserage@sccf.org.