I Think I’ll Call Him ‘Freckles’

A pied beauty cruising a local pond

Bands of color help newly-hatched and young alligators hide themselves from predators. As they grow, the patterns and colors remain visible, although they begin to fade; asked to name the color of an adult alligator, most people suggest gray, black, or brown.

The alligators I see cruising our ponds and bayous or sunning on their banks tend toward a solid gray, so it was quite a surprise when this freckle-faced fellow surfaced at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge. Over the course of three weeks, I watched him take on several challengers in what I assume were territorial squabbles; by the time I took this photo, he seemed to be the ruler of his pond.

He was by any measure the most beautiful — and unusual — alligator I’ve encountered. While alligators weren’t a part of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s world, I’m sure he would have recognized him as one of the ‘pied beauties’ celebrated in his poem.

Pied Beauty
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

 

Comments always are welcome. As always, you can click on the image for greater size and detail.

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.

Has Anyone Seen the Leftover Turkey?

A few days before Thanksgiving, this little beastie was on the prowl, cruising through a picnic shelter at the Brazoria Wildlife refuge before heading down the boardwalk, sliding into the grass, and disappearing into the water.

Perhaps he’d heard rumors that a feast was coming and, having seen A Christmas Story, hoped to follow in the footsteps of the Bumpus’s hounds.

While I doubt that turkey showed up on his Thanksgiving menu, he surely found a different tidbit or two for which to be grateful. I was grateful that he seemed willing to pose, and that he was small.

Alligator mississippiensis

 

Comments always are welcome.
If you haven’t yet seen A Christmas Story, I highly recommend it.

Off With the Old, On With the New

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) in the process of shedding its skin

Fallen needles from longleaf pines and fresh, recently unfurled ferns were the order of the day: a pleasing palette of brown and green. When the unexpected flash of white caught my attention, I wondered if I were seeing trash: an odd experience in a place where signs of human presence usually are limited to stretches of repaired boardwalk or botanical research markers.

In fact, I had spotted trash, but of a very natural sort. A green anole, one of our most common lizards, was in the process of shedding its skin. The process, known as ‘ecdysis,’ differs from reptile to reptile. Snakes leave their skin in one piece; turtles shed the scutes that comprise their shell individually; alligators lose their large scales one at a time; but lizards, including the green anole, peel away old skin in sections.

Prior to shedding, anoles become less active and change their color to a dull brown, making the pattern along their spines easier to see.

As the shedding process progresses, anoles need moisture to keep the dead skin from drying too quickly and adhering to their bodies. Areas like the tips of the toes can be especially problematic. If that skin fails to shed along with that on the rest of the foot, the remaining skin may shrink, causing constricted blood flow and toe loss. For this anole, the same humidity that I found annoying was a real benefit.

Most anoles stop eating while they shed, or cut back on their diet substantially. But the process takes energy, and a little snack never hurts; for the anole, the snack closest at hand is its own skin.

Filled with vitamins and minerals, the shed skin helps to reactivate the digestive system, provides nutrients, and also reduces the possibility that bits of leftover skin might alert a predator to the anole’s presence.

I thought at first that this one was using its mouth solely as a handy tool for skin removal, but I soon realized that those bits of skin weren’t being allowed to fall into the ferns or onto the ground.

While I watched, the creature tugged, nibbled, and gnawed its way through nearly all the skin on its body, leaving only its tail and toes to be tended to.

By the time it had finished consuming the last large bits of skin, it was ready to move deeper into the ferns: presumably to finish cleaning its tail and toes before the Saturday night social began.

 

Comments always are welcome.

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.