It you pay attention to local news in Florida -- and we hope you do -- then you’ve likely noticed an increase in alligator-related news.
News flash: It’s alligator mating season and the big males are on the prowl for a lady friend.
This week on Florida’s Fourth Estate, News 6 anchors Matt Austin and Ginger Gadsden get an alligator tutorial from Brandon Fisher. He’s a gator expert at Gatorland and all-around brave guy because during most of the podcast he had his back to some of the most powerful animals on the planet.
A 2004 study of wild alligators found one of the large gators bit down with a force of 2,960 pounds of force. That was one of the most powerful bites ever recorded, according to one report.
Fisher has a tremendous amount of respect for the reptiles. He jokingly says he got the job at Gatorland because he was the right amount of stupid but he clearly knows what he’s doing. He has been educating people about alligators and other reptiles at Gatorland for about 17 years and says he wants to share that knowledge with others. He wants people who live in Florida and those who visit to make smart decisions should they encounter one of the animals in the wild. The reptiles’ relatives have been around since dinosaurs roamed the planet and their adaptability means they will likely be around even longer.
Fisher says we are seeing more gator activity because during mating season male alligators go to great lengths to find a partner.
We asked him if there were any sounds we should be aware of to let us know we might be in the presence of a conquest.
“The short answer is yes, yes they do. In fact,” Fisher says, " They make all kinds of noises. They bellow, they hiss, they pop their jaws, they slap their tales. It’s all communication.”
Fisher elaborated about the bellowing sound an amorous alligator makes.
“It’s something that the big males do,” he explained. “Males and females do it but the males are the more impressive ones and it happens all the time during breeding season.”
The sound, Fisher said, is accomplished by the alligator sucking in lot of air and then forcefully blowing it out. Fisher gave us an example of what this sounds like and let’s just say, if you ever hear anything like this while you’re out in your yard, you might want to get inside to safety. If you’ve ever watched a sci-fi movie or documentary about Sasquatch, Bigfoot or a Yeti, then you already know what it sounds like. It is worth watching the video at the top of this story to hear Fisher wail.
He explained when the alligators are in the water and they make that sound which causes something known as the “water dance.” When the gators expel all that air they just sucked in the water comes alive “because it’s so powerful, they are blowing out all that air, it causes the water to vibrate,” he said.
He said it’s the water beads bouncing off the gators back causing the strong vibration.
Fisher says he has been told the gator with the water beads bouncing the highest is the one the females are attracted to. In other words, if alligators had a dating app, all the ladies are swiping right for this stud.
Right now, Fisher says the King of the Swamp happens to be his favorite alligator at Gatorland, Buddy. Buddy is also the biggest gator at the park. At 13 feet 8 inches and 1,200 pounds, Buddy isn’t having any trouble bouncing his beads and getting the attention of the females. The other gators are drinking big cups of “hater-ade” when Buddy comes gliding through.
Fishers says the males also have another mating trick up their rugged sleeve but this one is a bit risky. It involves the male blowing bubbles under the females’ belly.
“If she likes him, she will breed with him. If she doesn’t like him, she will bite him and run away,” he said.
That’s what the ladies call a hard no. It’s a good thing gators are resilient reptiles.
Fisher introduced us to Turnpike. As his name indicates, he was found on the Florida Turnpike missing a foot. When it came to feeding time, Turnpike, didn’t miss a beat. He was one of the first ones to head over to Fisher when he saw the bucket of meat.
“They can literally get part of their foot or tail bit off in a fight or something or a big chunk taken out of ‘em and they will never regrow it but literally within 3 to 4 weeks it heals over,” Fisher said.
He says while most reptiles have three-chambered hearts , alligators have four chambers, a trait shared with humans.
Fisher says gators have an extra valve which allows them to control blood flow.
Fisher said it’s likely when Turnpike was lost his foot, the blood flow to the area was shut down allowing it to heal.
However, there are things alligators simply cannot survive.
Recently a couple found at least three alligators near the Wekiwa River in Seminole County with their snouts and eyes taped shut. Now the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is offering a $500 reward. Gatorland has joined the search for the people who did this and is offering a $1,000 reward of its own and just this week the Animal Legal Defense Fund offered up a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible.
This is something that Fisher is really upset about. It is the only time during the entire interview he isn’t smiling and called it an act of someone being stupid.
“It’s possibly the worst thing to happen to an alligator. This isn’t the first time it’s ever happened,” he said. “It’s happened multiple times over the years. Every so often a story like this pops up and it’s somebody being really stupid and not caring about the environment, not caring about these animals.”
While the alligators could still breathe, Fisher says they would have likely died due to starvation.
It is a felony to kill, capture or possess an alligator in Florida.
Fisher says the best way to learn how to live with alligators is to learn more about them. It’s one of the reasons he enjoys his work at Gatorland. People gain a new appreciation of these creatures and they learn why we need them.
If you would like to see Fisher feed the alligators and want to know how much meat the park buys to feed these gators, click on the link for this week’s edition of Florida’s Fourth Estate.
Florida’s Fourth Estate looks at everything from swampy politics to a fragile environment and even the crazy headlines that make Florida the craziest state in the Union.
Ginger Gadsden and Matt Austin use decades of experience as journalists to dissect the headlines that impact Florida. Each week they have a guest host who helps give an irreverent look at the issues impacting the Sunshine State. Big influencers, like Attorney John Morgan, renowned Florida journalists and the scientists protecting Florida’s ecosystem, can often be found as guests.
Look for new episodes every Friday on Apple podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.