Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Alligator is Not An Otter

If you've been reading my blog for a while you may remember a post a while back about my (nearly) phobia level fear of alligators.  When Paul finally decided on a school of Florida, my feelings were slightly mixed because, while I loved the mission of the University, I was pretty sure there were going to be alligators everywhere, and my google searches of the city, which showed lakes and ponds every five feet, did little to ease those fears.  The comments that I received on the post however, helped a lot, and when I moved I was confident that at least alligators didn't stalk people, or regularly take trips far from their watery homes, or run at 70 mph....

I've been on the lookout since I arrived in Florida and have been busy instilling a healthy (I hope) fear of the various bodies of water around our new home in Sadie and Mae.  This mostly involves saying "okay, I want you to watch for alligator eyes when we go by this pond" on our daily walks.  Then Sadie yells "I see an alligator eye" every ten seconds of so.  Things can really get out of hand when we walk by a pond next to a tennis court where the mud near the bank is dotted with soggy tennis balls.

A canal runs along the back side of many of the ponds and the canal actually makes me feel slightly more panicky than the ponds themselves in an "alligator highway from pond to pond" sort of way.

I was startled when we were driving past one of the larger ponds in our community a couple of weekends ago and I spotted a mother, with two boys who looked to be pre-school and toddler age (I would guess two and four) in swim trunks right at the edge of the slimy, green water.

Now I know that not everyone has my obsessive fear of alligators, but it still seemed like a crazy thing to be doing on a beautiful Saturday, in a town dotted with other free cooling off opportunities (there was a free city water park just down the street).

And I wondered if I was just overreacting.  Were there many Floridans that packed up the kids and went to the local pond for a swim?

A few days later, on one of my few trips out with the girls in the van (which is going into the shop today, thank goodness) I saw movement on the banks of the pond of the very same pond as I drove by.  I slowed and saw a huge almost black shape, moving rapidly down the grassy bank, it's body snaking from side to side.  It looked to me, as I barely made the turn and had to refocus my attention on the road, to be around five feet in length.

Because I figured that my fear of alligators might cause me to see alligators where there aren't any, I tried to find other solutions and didn't announce my first alligator sighting on my blog.  Could it be an otter?  I remembered seeing a special on giant river otters in the Amazon reaching six feet long.  Were their giant river otters in Florida?

And would otters slither side to side?  I'd seen otters in the ocean and rivers, and at the edge of the river in California, but I'd never seen them run any significant distance.  I wasn't sure how they moved.

Another reason I was unsure if it were really an alligator was because the head was so enormously thick.  In my quick sighting it didn't look like there was any significant tapering around the animals snout.  The entire head look pretty thick.  

Yesterday I came around a corner on my bike, towing the girls in the trailer behind me (we did 7 miles yesterday! And let me say that towing over 90lbs for 7 miles is quite the workout!) and came face to face with an otter, about eight feet away on the grass.  It was little and cute and shiny brown.  It did a sort of arching hop across the grass to the water.  And it was probably around two feet long.

After that I had to restrain myself from running up to every person I saw and exclaiming:  "It's an alligator!  I saw an alligator in there!" because I really can't think of anything else that it might be.

So for all you who've lived near alligators what do you think?  Can I officially count this as my first alligator sighting (I kind of am already because I can't think of what else it could be!)?

All the photos for this post from Wikipedia!


  1. It's your story, you can call it whatever you want. :)

  2. It sounds like a gator to me unless it was skinny and then I'd guess snake.

  3. I have been to Florida many, many times and never NOT seen an alligator. When i was 13 we visited my grandparents there and they had a small one right in their yard. Their yard backed up on a canal and there were many in there. The ones I have seen are smallish, under 5 feet or so. I think you probably saw one! I am actually more afraid of the palmetto bugs though :)

  4. Hey it's Martha from Philothea! As a native Floridian with a HUGE fear of gators, I thought I'd comment. Although it certainly COULD have been an alligator, we do have very large otters here as well - they're usually large because they can live in the sea or in fresh water, and sea otters are much larger than fresh water otters (haha that kind of rhymed!).
    Either way, I would never ever take my children to a lake in Florida, honestly. No matter how many people there were in the water or whoever said it was safe, I could not take the chance. If it's not gators, it's water moccasins. Oceans and pools will have to suffice for me! :)

  5. We get otters all the time in the river and spring behind our house (mostly in the winter, though, because the springs are normally warmer than other bodies of water)!!!!
    They're ADORABLE as they swim on their backs munching on crawfish and snails!

    Alligators don't hop across the grass. ;)
    I've seen quite a few in my years here in Central Florida... if they're out of the water, they're normally just sitting still and sunning themselves.

  6. It probably was an Alligator. They have a very thick U shaped head; crocodiles have the narrow, tapered head (there are also crocs in Florida, but they are rare)
    This was an interesting and fear calming article on alligators: http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/alligator-zigzag.htm

  7. I can understand someone fear around alligators especially if they havent been a "way of life" like us in deep south Lousiana!! From my experience from the thousands of times I have been in the boat with the hubby, and the thousands (yes, thousands...lol) I have seen over the years, I have never seen one be aggressive and attack. We have fished many many many times with a gator(s) a few feet from us, not to mention the tons of times we (and everyone we know...lol) have swam in bayous (were they live) without any trouble whatsoever! Also, one tidbit that has kept me calm during my alligator "exposures" is that they feed at night!Myself and my family cannot ever recall someone being attacked by a gator down here (trust me we have plenty...lol). My hubby grew up in an even more rural/swamp/deeper south area and alligator hunting was a way of life for his family.He was in a boat at about 3years old while his uncles and grandpa hunted them! Even in that alligator infested area, they have never had a gator attack. Gators are more likely more scared of us than we are of them!! ;0)
    PS~I dont know if you have ever seen the series "Swamp People" on the history channel, but we live exactly where a couple of them hunt! My hubby has seen his deer hunting spot on several of the shows!!

  8. I'm more scared of water moccasins and cotton mouths than Alligators. I guess when you live with Alligators all your life they are just a fact of life. I know they tend to be more scared of you than you need to be of them. Don't sweat it. They don't tend to be aggressive unless they are really hungry and that tends to be if you are in the water. I agree with Shawna. I think she and I must have grown up in the same environment (If not the same place). I have never heard of an alligator attacking a human and I've seen thousands as well.

  9. I have to say that this story didn't help my fear:


    It was all over the news here a couple of weeks ago!

    I guess it's probably kind of like Californians and earthquakes. I remember a bunch from when I was little (when we lived where there were earthquakes) and so it was never that scary.

    The one that I saw looked to be crossing from one pond to another. I think that's why he was out and about, because the road divides two huge ponds.

  10. A former South Carolinian, here, I assure you that you are not crazy to be wary of alligators. They are bad business! My dad has lost more than one dog to those things ... but of course, dogs are a little more aggressive about going up to and enraging alligators than the average cautious Catholic mom. I don't think there's anything overprotective about teaching your little ones to spot the 'gator and beware; it almost (almost) sounds like fun.

  11. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7GyLr7Cz2g

    This is what I lived in.


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