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.