|Alligators live in
Full grown male caught on street near bayou in Winnfield
By Jay Huner
Imagine driving through Winnfield, Louisiana in mid-October and finding an 8-plus foot long, 200-plus pound alligator in the road?! Well, thats what happened to Piney Woods Journal staffer Shannon Mercer of Winnfield, and her husband recently. (See separate story, right.)
There are plenty of alligators in southern Louisianas lowlands. Their range extends northward into southern Arkansas, eastward to the Atlantic Coast, and westward into Texas. But, there isnt a lot of choice alligator habitat in the red dirt, piney woods hill country in this range. So alligators are seldom encountered away from reservoirs or permanent bayous and rivers making the Winnfield gator so much of a surprise.
Based on the size of the Winnfield gator and its location, it was most likely a male. Male gators move around quite a bit. There are two probable explanations for its appearance. First, it could have been a wandering animal moving from the Ouachita River area up various waterways until it found itself in Winnfield via the Dudgdemona River. Alternatively, it may have moved into the region some years ago at a smaller size following a similar route. It then set up house-keeping in a local pond or bayou where it terrorized fish, turtles, nutria, beavers, dogs, cats, feral hogs, etc. before finally deciding to move around a bit.
Its highly unlikely anyone caught a full grown alligator and moved it to Winnfield as a prank! While gators seem pretty docile when sunning themselves, they can move into instant action slashing prey or molesters with their powerful tails and/or clamping down and tearing up victims with their teeth studded jaws.
Alligators arent really cold blooded because they can adjust their body temperature by sunning themselves. But, their grow
best at temperatures around 80 F. They simply dont grow during winter in most of their range with the exception of central to southern Florida. So, it takes about 10 years for a six-inch hatchling alligator to reach sexual maturity at about six feet in length - sooner in south Louisiana and later in northern Louisiana.
Female alligators build nests of decomposing
vegetation in late spring-early summer. The composting
vegetation heats up and incubates the eggs. When the eggs
begin to hatch after some weeks, the mother uncovers the
hatchlings and guards them for some months. The little
gators eat almost anything a bass would eat - small
turtles and snakes, insects, crawfish, and minnows. Once
they leave their mothers protection, all manner of
creatures will eat them including their own mothers!
[Side Bar - One often hears about alligator trappers. There is no such thing as an alligator trap. Trappers actually catch the alligators with a set line and hook normally baited with a chicken drumstick or thigh. The bait is hung from a pole about a foot above the water surface. The line is tied to a tree or post on the bank. Once hooked, an alligator is carefully tugged to the surface where it is shot or hit with a hatchet between the eyes. No sane alligator trapper horses an alligator to the surface as all manner of bad things can happen if the gator, especially a big 300-plus pound one starts thrashing around.]
Jay V. Huner