When a Little Distance Makes Sense

 

As if to emphasize the appropriateness of the sign’s message, this American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) had decided to take its ease on a nearby bank at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge.

From a slightly different perspective, its size was impressive, and its awareness of its human visitor detectable in a just-barely-slitted eye. (If you enlarge the photo, the slit in its eye will become detectable.)

As I moved around for a slightly better view of the impassive reptile, its eye finally opened, and it seemed to be running through a mental checklist. Even though it didn’t stir, I decided I would, and I made for the boardwalk.

From my new vantage point, I discovered that the alligator wasn’t alone. Obviously a female, she was surrounded by youngsters whose size suggested they still were less than a year old.  Able to explore the world independently, they remained young enough to crave their mother’s considerable protection; a dozen or so were staying close by her side.

After watching my movements for a few minutes, one youngster decided to snuggle up even more closely to its mother’s foot: for all the world like a human child running back to its parent for security.

Its braver siblings seemed eager to move around at the pond’s edge, perhaps hunting for insects, tadpoles, frogs, or small fish for their afternoon snack.

Despite their size and reputation for ferocity, mama alligators are diligent and loving parents. For at least the first year of her babies’ lives, she protects them as fiercely as she protected her nest, and juvenile alligators will call to her for protection when they feel threatened.

About six to eight inches long as hatchlings, the young often ride on their mother’s back as she swims, or sun themselves there when she’s at rest.

A different mother and babies, seen from the same boardwalk

Once young alligators reach 4 feet in length, they’re considered virtually invulnerable in the wild, except to humans and larger alligators. Separating from their pods, they begin to live independent lives.

This one, which had retreated to a spot beneath the Brazoria refuge’s pavilion during a time of especially high water, was almost exactly four feet long. His (?) willingness to pause beneath the pavilion steps made his size easy to determine.

There’s no question he was the most beautiful alligator I’ve seen. Free of mud and more colorful than older gators, he was easy to photograph from above as he moved farther onto the land. It was an unusual opportunity, and a memorable one.

 

 

Comments always are welcome.
Click any image for greater size and detail.

Turtle, Times Two

 

Late on Christmas afternoon, two turtles had trundled up this tiny snag to enjoy the sunshine and the gift of an especially warm day.

Cold-blooded, turtles control their body temperature by basking in the sun to absorb warmth and UV rays. Heat is radiated to their bodies from their shells, but they often will stretch out their legs to collect additional heat. In the photo below, you can see how far their legs are extended, and how they’ve widened their feet to increase the surface area even more.

I usually see turtles lying prone on logs, but these seemed comfortable at about a 60 degree angle. It’s clearly a favored spot. I’ve seen this pair of what I presume to be red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) on the same snag three different times, but this is the first time I’ve caught their reflection in the water.

 

Comments always are welcome.

An Insufficiently Sneaky Snake

Surely snakes don’t eat water lilies. Do they?

Perhaps they do. The crisp, curled edge of the leaf the snake is sidling up to might be evidence of previous nibbling.

But, no. The sudden thrust of that serpentine tongue clearly is seeking a different kind of treat.
Whatever the prey, it escapes: a wingèd blur of disappointment to the hungry snake.

There’s no time to sulk. Somewhere, another morsel awaits.

As the snake submerges and ripples smooth, no record remains of the little pond drama — apart from these photos, of course.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Why Did the Alligator Cross the Road?

American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge
Click image for greater size and detail

Honestly? I’m not sure. Perhaps he’d become bored with the pond and decided to try the ditch. Maybe he’d wakened from a nap and thought he’d take a stroll. He could have heard a rumor that a flock of appetizers had flown into the neighborhood, and a little snack sounded good. 

This much is certain. As I stood outside my car, I didn’t hear him coming, and when he emerged from the grasses, silent and purposeful, I wasn’t about to get in his way.

Watching him cross the road in front of me, I imagined him to be at least twenty feet long, even though I realized that eight to ten feet was a more realistic estimate.

After giving me one last, sidelong glance, he disappeared into the grasses and slid down the bank. Then, it occurred to me. Wherever he was going, he might be meeting friends.

Comments always are welcome.

 

Sympathy For A Snake

Plain-bellied water snake ~ Nerodia erythrogaster

If I’d had a machete or side arm at hand and an evil intent in my heart, this beautiful creature wouldn’t have had a chance, and it appears to know it.

Which of us was most surprised by our encounter is hard to say. Curled near the base of a tree in a pool of late spring sunshine, the snake seemed more inclined toward napping than attacking. As I changed lenses and took a few quick photos, it never moved, but fixed its gaze on me with an expression that, even at the time, seemed like supplication. I could imagine its thoughts: Please, lady…

As we looked at one another, sensing that neither of us posed a threat to the other, an ages-old enmity began to dissolve. As it did, I recognized what I was feeling, and couldn’t help smiling. Sympathy for a snake, I thought. Who could have imagined that?

 

Comments always are welcome.