A Close Encounter of the Alligator Kind

In the fall of 2019, I visited the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge in the company of Steve and Eve Schwartzman. As we approached one of the ditches that threads through the refuge, we came upon a Great Egret fishing at the water’s edge; eventually, that bird’s photo appeared as an entry on Steve’s Portraits of Wildflowers blog.

Just over a week ago, I was traveling the same road, but when I came to the same ditch, I discovered a different creature emerging from the water. This handsome alligator had hauled itself up the bank and onto land, obviously intending to cross the road. It seemed to be as surprised as I was, and we sat there for several minutes, eyeing one another.

After ten minutes or so, it seemed as though the staring contest could go on for some time, so I decided to continue down the road. As I slowly drove past the gator, about three feet off the end of his nose, that fearsome creature didn’t snarl, hiss, or charge the car. Instead, without changing expression, he slowly pushed himself away, slid backwards down the bank, and disappeared beneath the water. No doubt he was waiting for the traffic to clear.


Comments always are welcome.

74 thoughts on “A Close Encounter of the Alligator Kind

  1. What a handsome alligator. I have never encountered an alligator in the wild, so I might have been a little freaked out if I had seen this one, especially if I were on foot. My bigger concern, though, would be stumbling on one unexpectedly at ever closer range.

    1. I usually see them in the water with only a snout and a pair of eyes visible, so this was quite a treat. I’m always cautious during mating season, and a nest of babies needs to be given a wide berth, but I personally know of only one death by alligator. That fellow was both drunk and reluctant to take the “NO SWIMMING–ALLIGATORS” sign seriously. Swimming with gators is not advised, to say the least.

      1. I think that being cautious and alert is usually sufficient to stay out of trouble. It is the rule that I use with snakes. As for swimming with gators–it’s never a good idea.

  2. At first I had not realized you were in your vehicle and thought you were walking, when an encounter so close might have been a little more disconcerting. It is a handsome creature, but not one with whom I wish to have an intimate acquaintance!

    1. Even if I’d been on foot, it would have been all right, albeit a little nerve-wracking. If you back up and give them their space, they’ll just trundle right on and go about their business. Like so many creatures, they will leave helpful signs of their presence. A friend taught me to recognize their ‘slides’ — places where they leave and enter the water, and flatten the grasses over time. Still, the best practice is to assume they’re everywhere, and act accordingly.

      This was a beautiful specimen. I was thrilled to see him.

    1. He did seem frozen in place, so your vision of icicles is appropriate. I really hoped he’d go ahead and cross the road, but he wasn’t about to move. It was fun to see him slide backwards into the water. I couldn’t see any movement at all except in his feet and forelegs — a sign of how strong he actually was.

  3. He is handsome, in a toothy sort of way, and glad you were in a car at the time. I admire his shiny hide, too, if he was charging, or pursing his lips, it would put me in mind of an expensive handbag.

    1. He is handsome. Even when they’ve been out of the water for a while, the hide of the younger ones really is attractive. There’s been a lot of fussing among the males over territory and such, but he seems to be unscathed — at least, he’s still wearing his smile!

    1. He’s a fine specimen, for sure. I suspect the egrets and herons don’t worry much about the alligators, but anything that floats on the water has to. Both the gators and the gar fish will grab ducks, coots, and such by the feet and legs and pull them under. The first time I saw it, I didn’t realize what had happened. Calves, young feral hogs, and such are easily taken, too. Everyone has to eat — even the alligators.

  4. I was glad to read you were in your car – those gators can run mighty fast! He looks like a happy, friendly fellow but I suspect that a gator’s smile is as trustworthy as a crocodile’s tears. I always gave smiling gators a wide berth on Florida golf courses and hoped the golf cart was well charged up if I needed to make a quick get-away.

    1. I knew they could put on some speed when on land — around 20 mph for a short distance — but I’m as cautious about their ability to jump. A fair-sized gator lurking in the grasses at the water’s edge could make a lunge for an unsuspecting photographer (!) before she knew what happened. We get them on the freeways and golf courses from time to time, but it’s nothing like Florida, where they’ll climb fences and break into houses!

    1. I confess I’m fascinated by them. I’m also cautious when I’m around any water down here, because they can be anywhere. In this case, it was a thrill to be so close to this one, while being perfectly safe.

  5. What a great shot, Linda — so much detail you’ve captured here! I’ve never seen a gator up close, and I find myself mesmerized by his skin and grin!

    1. The skin is beautiful, especially in the younger ones. The big news here is that the Texas Gatorfest will be back in September. Come on down and get you some fried gator, or gator chili, hear some good music, and maybe even pet a gator!

  6. I’m very glad you were in your car rather than on foot – I’d be afraid of it turning into an encounter of the bitey kind otherwise!

    1. I’ll confess that being dragged underwater by one of these isn’t something I’d like to experience, although their way of taking prey is pretty interesting to see. I’ve been close to them while on foot, but ‘close’ is a relative term. For a small one, six feet is about my limit, and I let my lenses do the work of getting closer.

    1. If I had to make a choice between clouds of mosquitoes and the occasional alligator, you know which one I’d choose! When I decided to slide on by this one, I had no idea how he’d respond; it was quite a surprise to see him slide back down the bank and into the water. It may well be that he’d never been quite so close to a car, and decided that discretion truly was the better part of valor.

  7. Obviously a non-confrontational sort, eh?
    The car was too big for him to eat or he just wasn’t very hungry I suppose.

    1. Even with a little salsa on the side, fiberglass wouldn’t be particularly tasty. Maybe he saw the car like we see turtle shells, and he decided breaking through the shell to get to the tender meat inside just wasn’t worth the effort!

  8. His name wouldn’t have been Tic-Toc, would it? Obviously not a critter I’d see here and if I did I would probably echo MIke’s sentiments. He is a handsome fellow with that nice shine and healthy skin. That overbite is kind of cute.

    1. Can you believe I had to look up Tick-Tock? I wasn’t a particular fan of the Peter Pan story, so I’d forgotten a lot of the details, including the way Tick-Tock got his name. Familiarity does ease fears. Once you learn a creature’s habits and preferences, it’s easier to be around them. The day I turned around and saw a bobcat was a different experience entirely.

      1. I’ve not had a close encounter with a bobcat although I have seen a few from a distance. Around here they are generally shy and a human causes flight. I am not sure how I would react to a closer encounter. I do not think they pose a threat the way a mountain lion would. There have been rumored sightings of cougars but nothing verifiable. A lot of folks see a bobcat and insist it is a cougar but when informed about the bobbed tail realise their mistake. Understanding a wild animal’s ways makes one much less nervous about them and knowing their comfort zone makes them more comfortable too.

    1. I usually can find one or two lurking in the canals, especially at roadside culverts. I suppose there’s something about them that makes the alligators’ hunts more successful in those spots. They can hang around and wait for the prey to be carried to them.

    1. Believe me – he was as surprised as I was by the encounter. That’s probably why he froze in place; he was doing a little evaluating on his own.

  9. A handsome fellow. Obviously you are a lot more used to alligators that I am. I’ve never seen one in the wild, and I probably would be a little freaked. But, as with all matters, familiarity breeds familiarity.

    1. Familiarity’s key. There’s good reason to learn as much as possible about any natural phenomenon, whether storms or predators.

      I only recently learned that something I see from time to time — round, flattened areas in the grasses — may or may not be a sign of deer bedding down at night. After I sighted my first bobcat recently, I did some reading, and discovered this: “The bobcat also hunts by a method in which it stops, sits, and waits for prey. These waiting spots are called lookouts and hunting beds. As the bobcat crouches and waits, it slowly rotates so it can watch the area all around it. This action results in a circular “bed” with paw prints around the edge.”

      The next time I find a circle of flattened grass, I’ll know to look for the paw prints.

  10. A very handsome creature. His sudden appearance reminded me of these lines from a children’s rhyme, completely unrelated to alligators, which go, ‘it got so lonely down below, it just came up to say hello.” Perhaps the alligator heard your vehicle and was curious to see if the company coming was compatible with his social requirements!

    1. In fact, the gator would have been well into the process of hauling himself up the bank before I showed up. What doesn’t show in the photo is the curve in the road I came around just before the encounter. If his mother hadn’t taught him to stop and look both ways before crossing a road, there might have been a squeal of brakes involved — although I rarely am traveling more than ten mph on those roads. I still wonder how much longer I would have had to sit there before he continued on his way. Had I not decided to move, we might still be there.

      1. The gator’s mother would have been proud of his vigilance at the road side. At school we followed road safety rules while walking in crocodile formation to various places.

        1. Or elephant formation. And although I haven’t seen it for years, I used to see pre-schoolers walking along with each one holding on to a long rope. It was an easier way to do it than holding hands.

  11. Wow, what an experience for you! Albeit for the gator, it’s just a casual everyday thing, waiting to cross the road. Nicely put.

    1. It was fun to be so close, and yet so safe. I was tempted to stop in front of his nose for another closeup, but his backward slide prevented that.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised to know he’s either thinking, “I wonder if it would be good to eat,” or “I wonder if it’s going to eat me?” Of course, it might have been thinking, “I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to sit very, very still and see if it ignores me.”

    1. Wander around long enough, and you’ll come across something. Maybe this one had ordered some chicken wings from Door Dash — just before their app went down, and wailing was heard across the land from those who were missing their $12 french fries.

    1. When it comes to alligators, distance is good. I’ll admit I was pleased to be so close to this one, and to be inside the car. I’ve been as close to others, but I’ve either been on a boardwalk and well protected, or the gator’s been a small young one.

    1. Isn’t he fine? And speaking of markings, have you seen something like this? I found him in a different pond on a different day, fighting with several smaller alligators. I’ve never seen one with a color scheme like this. It never had occurred to me that there might be color variations among gators. (And, yes: he seemed to have won every fight.)

      1. The alligator’s skin color may differ according to age, diet and habitat. Yours is certainly attractive! If he is different than the local inhabitants, that may be why he’s in a fight – probably often!

    1. I’ll confess to a real affection for alligators — particularly the females, who are more loving as mothers than I’d ever expected. They’re fierce defenders of their young, and the males will beat each other up in territorial disputes, but they like an easy meal as much as we do, and we’re not really in that “easy meal” category — unless we do something stupid.

  12. I imagine him thinking, “Ha! Ha! Made you stop!” and smirking to himself. When they’re lurking half submerged, they always remind me of Nemo’s submarine in the Disney movie with James Mason.

    1. I love seeing the little ones when they’re in lurking mode. Their heads are so small that when they sink down and only their eyes and the tip of their nose are showing, they almost look like bullfrogs. They’re perfectly aware of their surroundings, and when they don’t want to be seen, just a like a submarine, it’s “Dive! Dive!”

    1. There’s not much need for a wide-angle when you’re less than 20 feet away! He is a handsome one, isn’t he? The hide on those legs looks like patent leather.

    1. Actually, no–not a killing machine. Just another critter who enjoys a good meal. If you want an example of a killing machine, feral cats might better fill the bill. Gator mamas will protect their nest and babies, and the males fight for mating dominance and territory, but cats will kill for sport.

      I’ve grown rather fond of these creatures, and have lost my reflexive fear of them. Of course, I’m cautious around them — especially in areas where humans might have been feeding them. When that happens, gators could be forgiven for confusing the hand that feeds them with dinner!

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