Welcome to #NotesFromTheRiver! My name is Marcia Meara, and I'm one of those increasingly rare Florida natives, you've heard tell about. (There’s me, and some guy up in the panhandle, I think.) I not only was born here, I’ve lived here just about all of my life, and I’ve spent a good portion of those years hiking and canoeing the woods and rivers of central Florida. Those experiences—combined with several years of volunteer work, back in the day, with both Florida Audubon and the Central Florida Zoo—have given me an undying love of the St. Johns River Basin and all the critters contained within. Except maybe hairy-legged spiders, but that’s a topic for another day!
#NotesFromTheRiver will be a way of sharing some of the beautiful sights and interesting facts I’ve discovered over the years, many while aboard the Naiad. My thanks goes out to Jeanne Bell and Doug Little for asking me to be part of their new blog, and my hope is that this weekly feature will be something everyone can enjoy, no matter their personal level of knowledge or experience about this part of our state.
Florida is famous for many things, some of which have nothing whatsoever to do with our well known tourist areas, as much fun as they may be. Take a cruise on the Naiad and you’ll see for yourself just how rich in beauty the St. Johns River is.
People come from all over the globe to admire and photograph our birds, reptiles, and other unique animals, but out of all our wildlife, nothing is more closely associated with Florida than the American alligator. (Alligator mississippiensis)
Courtship for Florida alligators begins in early April, with mating usually occurring in May or June. From mid-August through September, the yellow and black striped babies start hatching, and begin their perilous journey to adulthood, camouflaged by those very stripes.
Alligators lay their eggs in mounds of vegetation, and the heat from the decaying plant material is what incubates the eggs. Approximately one-third of all nests are ravaged by predators, raccoons chief among them, or destroyed by flooding. Of the clutches that survive those dangers, about 24 hatchlings will emerge alive, but only around 10 of those will survive their first year. Everything eats baby alligators—fish, turtles, egrets and herons, raccoons, and even other alligators!
Of the 10 babies that survive that first year, 8 might make it to 4’ in length to become sub-adults, and of those, only 5 are likely to survive to reach maturity at 6’. That’s 5 out of 24 hatchlings, so you can see that a perilous path does, indeed, lie in front of these babies.
This post is really just a teaser, but I hope it whets your appetite for more. Rest assured, alligators of all ages and sizes will be part of this feature in the weeks ahead, along with birds, manatees, black bears, and many, many other fascinating things seen along the St. Johns River.
Hope you’ll stay tuned to find out what beautiful or interesting subjects we’ll be featuring in next week’s #NotesFromTheRiver. Until then, here’s lookin’ at YOU!