photo by David Cloud
The American alligator is a large, semi-aquatic, carnivorous, fresh water reptile that lives in the warm southeastern part of the United States, with the largest populations in Florida and Louisiana. The name is from the Spanish el larato, meaning big lizard, which is what the Spanish explorers called the creature. There are an estimated two million alligators in Louisiana and Florida alone. The largest alligator on record was a Louisiana specimen over 19 feet long; the heaviest was a Florida gator weighing over 1,000 pounds.
The alligator is wonderfully designed for its purpose and habitat. For example, it has a valve in the back of its throat that closes when it submerges and thus prevents water from entering its lungs. It is a cold-blooded creature and must sun itself to maintain proper body temperature, but it has done this with unfailing accuracy century after century. It’s tail forms half of its length and serves many functions, propelling it through the water, acting as a weapon, and storing fat that the alligator uses for nourishment during times when it cannot feed. A large male alligator can bite down with a massive force of more than 2,900 pounds. This is the most powerful bite force ever measured, more than the force of a mid-size car falling on top of someone.
In contrast, the hyena has a bite force of 1,000 pounds; a lion, 940 pounds; a dusky shark, 330 pounds; a Labrador dog, 125 pounds; and a human, 170 pounds. The alligator can snap its jaws shut within 50 milliseconds. Gators spend much of their time floating partially submerged with just their snout and eyes showing above the water, waiting for a meal. The female builds a large nest of vegetation that provides heat for the eggs as it decomposes. The gender of the offspring is determined by the place the egg occupies in the nest and the temperature at which it is incubated. If the temperature is 86 degrees F (30 degrees Celsius) or lower, the eggs produce females and those of 93 degrees F (34 degrees Celsius) or higher produce males.
The mother lays from 20-50 eggs and defends the nest from predators during the 60 or so days of incubation. At this time she can be a great danger to those who venture near the nest, as an alligator can run 17 miles per hour for short distances, which is faster than the average human. She will warn away intruders by hissing, thrashing her tail, and chomping her jaws. A group of alligators is called a “congregation,” and many pastors can testify that a church can be more like a congregation of hissing, snapping alligators than a congregation of saints!
(Friday Church News Notes, February 15, 2013, www.wayoflife.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, 866-295-4143)