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Alligator Swamp Dragons
When he was one hundred years old, he could still outrun a racehorse, and knock an unsuspecting cow off it’s feet. He’d never been handsome, in fact most thought him quite ugly. Few can get past looking at his teeth without shuttering.
Not by choice, I’ve had a relationship with him and his relatives for as far back as I can remember. I don't hate him, but he's not my friend today, nor was he ever. Peaceful co-existence is the best that either of us can hope for.
I'm pretty sure I met his younger cousin first. Although I was pretty young, that day is completely imprinted upon my brain, even all of these years later. Some things you don't forget, and meeting him was monumental. It was a day that our family would joke about for a lifetime.
- An alligator's jaw can measure a pressure of 1,000 pounds
- An alligator's jaw muscles, however, are weak and can be held shut with one hand (as long as he isn't moving)
- Alligators were here first
- Gator holes are necessary to conservation of other wildlife, during the winter dry season
- Alligators are "big-business"
- Alligators get tired easily
- Biting is his area of expertise
- A twelve foot or longer gator is easier to wrestle than alligators of the eight or nine foot size. The reason is, that he is heavier and thus slower
- Whirling is the gator’s best fighting ploy
- Alligators will dive to the bottom to either drown or scrape off an opponent
- Alligators can stay under water for over fifteen minutes easily, but have been known to stay under water for up to five hours
- Gators are neither quick thinkers, nor deep thinkers
Is He Dangerous?
We lived in Louisiana and mom decided to take me (age four) and my little brother (age 2) fishing with her for a few hours. Anxious to string her net lines for crayfish, and to get down the very serious business of catfish fishing -- she directed me to take my brother over to a nearby leaf littered log, and eat our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Just as we sat down, the swamp dragon protested at the thought of two little kids with sticky hands climbing upon his back. That was no log! Our mother swiftly grabbed us by our jeaned behinds and ran in the opposite direction.
Back home, my brother cried himself to sleep about the "ugly dragon" that was going to "eat him all up."
Mom smoked at the time. She would later end the story of the day we sat on a swamp dragon, with how she was so upset, she smoked a week's worth of cigarettes, just to calm herself down.
I've been looking before I sit down on anything outdoors ever since that day. I have the same approach I have with laying out my camping roll on the ground, (but that's another hub "how-to" on avoiding sleeping with sidewinder rattlesnakes).
Some people "look before they leap," but I'm more of the type to "look before I park my tush." That probably has a lot to do with the fact, that you'll never see me plummet myself off anything willingly. Still, the day we sat on an alligator was a day to remember, and apparently left a lasting lesson with me.
Night Sights of Gators
As a girl, I learned some first hand facts about alligators that you don't learn from books. Probably, one of the most interesting ones, is how to tell the age and sometimes the sex of an alligator in the dark.
In the night, at a distance from shore, with a lantern or flashlight, an alligator's eyes out on a lake, or other body of water -- they shine like glowing orange-red fire coals burning in a campfire.
Up closer and more personal, there is no mistaking them, and usually these pair of eyes are moving slowly, almost like they are floating (which of course they are in the water).
If the gator is young, the eyes will be more of a greenish yellow (this applies to both sexes).
However, the eyes of an adult male reflects bright ruby red, even from long distances of around five hundred feet.
Saurians is just another word for alligators, or any other type of reptile related to a lizard.
Alligator Hides -- Big Business
As I grew up, I would hear many Cajun stories about swamp dragons from my Grandpere. During the Civil War, his father and uncle had been at the Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Released and pardoned after forty-seven days of combat with the conquering Northern troops, they were some of the lucky ones.
Although wounded, and one of them on crutches, they walked back to Louisiana with the one thing, some other Confederate soldier's didn't have -- boots. Not just any boots, but well made alligator leather boots. The alligator boots were something you needed, if you were setting out to walk 240 miles after a long and bloody war.
It would astonish many people to know that the Civil War created a demand for high-quality alligator leather, and in turn started a massive slaughter of alligators. Populations of alligators were reduced by nearly three million alligators in one state alone, in the first ten years after the war.
Ten years later, there were only one fifth of the alligators that once roamed these Southern states. Today, alligator hunting is strictly regulated for the general public, although they are an even bigger business than they were over one hundred years ago.
In the states were gators are found, the alligator season lasts for about ten weeks a year, usually in and around August-September. Often the licenses are sold out in the first few hours, once the purchase date is available.
Hunting is done by night from air boats, with a harpoon, crossbow, or bow. Each hunter gets to have some "agents" along to help them. Some hunts are done from shoreline, but not usually and there are a lot of other regulations in place.
Professional hunting guides charge hefty fees for such hunts. It can cost well over $5,000.00 for just one private hunt. Today, it costs around $500 to have an alligator hide tanned.
Grandpere, his brothers, and his sons all hunted alligator. It was a means to add to the family income. Personally, I've never been on an alligator hunt and have no plans to do so. However, I have heard some of the best alligator hunt stories known to womankind, and tend to believe "some" of them when it comes to gators.
Back then they trapped them and clubbed them to death, or just plain hunted them. Two of my uncles claimed to have been chased by an old gator and escaped. Only they were surprised by him a few nights later, when they woke up and discovered him laying beside one of them where their camping rolls had been spread out on the ground.
They swore he wasn't there to get warm, but to measure them for eating. The uncle he was nearest to, ran all the way home half naked and without his boots. He never did gator hunt again.
When I was a girl, they could get over ten dollars a hide some years. Mind you, that was for an alligator over five feet long.
In case you think that hunting an alligator is easy, remember, like cockroaches, they didn't survive since pre-historic days because they aren't tough.
Older alligators can be bold and excessively aggressive. The larger they are, the more deadly. Alligators over eight or nine feet long, have been known to attack dogs, livestock, and even humans.
Keep in mind, that even a smaller dormant looking gator can use his tail quicker than you can imagine, to to knock an animal or a person over, and disable you with one bite. One would be wise to always have a healthy respect for the danger of these creatures.
The Ancient One
So, I guess you could say that by the time I met the ancient one -- he who my Grandpere said could outrun the best race horse in all of Terrebonne Parish -- I should have been indoctrinated into the "no big deal alligator" club. I wasn't.
For a number of months two calves and two of our farm dogs, disappeared one after another, without a trace. The remaining dogs were on edge almost every night, acting like scared cowards, instead of the brave guardians of our cattle ranch they once were.
Back then, we still didn't have indoor plumbing, and what lights we had were limited to the kitchen, living room, and one bedroom. I'd been busy that day and neglected to make that before bedroom nightly trek to the outhouse until after dark. Lantern in hand, I went out the back porch door and as I did, Merci (our Catahoula Leopard dog) almost groaned an un-dogly whimper of protest, as she dutifully followed me outside.
Within ten feet of the outhouse, Merci began growling and tugging on my pajama leg. I was getting mad because she almost made me drop the kerosene lantern, for which I would get a spanking for breaking.
It wasn't until Merci began frantically barking, and nearly knocked me over for a second time, that my Grandpere came flying off the porch and yanked me back. That's when I met him -- the thirteen foot swamp dragon who had been poaching our calves and farm dogs.
One quick look back at him charging the dog was all the introduction I needed. Merci survived and our centenarian unwelcomed guest didn't. It took the men in our family (seven of them) and a hired hand, to capture and kill him. The worst part, was they thought he was dead at one point. Only for him to get a second wind, and spring to life for one last surprise that nearly cost one of them a hand.
By the end of the next day, pretty much everyone living in the area had come to inspect him. It was one big Cajun swamp dragon good-bye party.
As for me, there is no after dark unfinished business, wherever alligators still lurk and the outhouse is my only choice.
Alligator Attacks Boat
The Bellow of a Gator
Bayou country in Louisiana leaves you with an appreciation of both how noisy mother nature can be when she wants to get your attention, and how deadly quiet it can be if needed. I am at a loss for the exact words to describe the bellow of an alligator, but it's one I can recognize almost instantly.
Grandpere talked often about how when he was a boy, and alligators were more plentiful that the noise of male gators at certain times of the year, sounded like far off thunder.
He liked to tell of a story that one of his sons read about in the 1940s, how people accidentally discovered that alligators will bellow when they hear B flat played on any instrument for five to ten seconds. Now, I don't know if that applied to all alligators, or where the tale came from, but he swore he had a copy of the newspaper clipping about it.
What I do know about is that baby alligators, often make a high pitched distress call, and that is when you want to be definitely looking around or out for their mamas.
We All Need Each Other
We all need each other, everything breathing thing on the planet has it's place, and that includes the alligator. States like Florida and Louisiana, etc. have large populations of American alligators, so is it's important for the general public to know that alligators have their role in conservation in nature.
Our climates have dry seasons and wet seasons. During the dry season, where there isn't a natural body of water -- alligator holes are sometimes the only source of year round water for:
- Breeding fish
Alligators also eat less desirable members of nature -- like the garfish that is known to devastate game fish.
A Common Myth About Alligators
- Alligators are not green, but a shade of black. When young, that black can be laced with yellow striping and yellow spots.
My Last Swamp Dragon
I wish I could say that was my final swamp dragon adventure, but that wasn't to be. Someday in another hub, I'll have to tell you about the alligator who liked marshmallows. See you later alligators!