Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gatorzilla

Here we'll examine commonly e-mailed pictures and text about giant alligators. Similar to my giant dead rattlesnake post, I'll add to this blog as more pictures are brought to my attention. Many of these e-mails have been going around for years. Have you recently received one that's not addressed below? Please send them to me, my contact information is on the right.

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1) "This picture below was taken by a KTBS helicopter flying over Lake Wiess about 90 miles north of Birmingham, Alabama! The helicopter pilot and the game warden were in communication via radios; here is a transcript of their conversation.

'Air1 have you a visual on the gator, over'
'Approaching inlet now, over'
'Roger Air1'
'Gator sighted.... Looks like it has a small animal in its mouth...moving in, over'
'Roger Air1'
'It's a Deer!'
'confirm Air1.. did you say Deer?, Over'
'Roger.. a Deer in its mouth.. Looks like a full sized buck..
That's a big gator, were gonna need more men, Over'
'Roger Air1.. Can you give me a idea on size of animal, over'
'Its big 25 feet at least, please advise Gator is heading to inlet..
do I pursue?, over'


That has to be a HUGE gator to have a whole deer in its mouth! The deer was later found to be a mature Stag and was measured at 11 feet!
"

This story about the alligator eating the deer has been discussed on Snopes.com, the myth busting site, and also by Dr. Whit Gibbons, a UGA professor. So, we won't go into much detail here.

As Snopes notes, the location associated with the e-mail often varies but may include 1) Cross Lake or Lake Conroe in Louisiana, 2) Lake Martin, Alabama, 3) South Carolina, 4) the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Or, as the latest version notes, Lake Weiss, north of Birmingham, Alabama. In addition, Dr. Gibbons notes in his description he has seen the pictures attributed to Ocala, Florida and Lake Conroe, Texas.

The truth is that the picture was taken by a United States Fish and Wildlife officer in March of 2004 south of Savannah, Georgia.

Alligators eat lots of different types of prey. When they're small, they often eat insects and amphibians. As they grow, they start feeding on larger fish and turtles. When they get larger they'll start preying on medium-sized mammals (like raccoons) and the biggest individuals can take large items, sometimes including deer. What's interesting about alligators is that even when they're as large as they come, they still eat a wide variety of other animals, including the ones they ate when they were small.

American Alligators, Alligator mississippiensis, do not reach 25 feet. The record, according to my reptiles and amphibians field guide, is under 20 feet long. But, an alligator this large would be exceptionally rare and old. And lucky enough to have escaped the rampant overexploitation that characterized their harvest for the skin trade in the first half of the 20th century. Before they were afforded federal protection in 1967, it looked like the alligator was on its way out, but since that time they've bounced back reasonably well. In some areas now, they alligator is thriving and protections have been rolled back. It's an Endangered Species Act success story.

Another red flag is the stated length of the deer, 11 feet long! Hopefully some hunters can weigh in below regarding their reaction if they were to ever bag a deer this large.

Large alligators today are typically 12-16 feet long and the alligator above falls within this range.

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2) "This alligator was found between Centre and Leesburg, Alabama near a house! Game wardens were forced to shoot the alligator, guess he wouldn't cooperate...

Anita and Charlie Rogers could hear the bellowing in the night. Their neighbors had been telling them that they had seen a mammoth alligator in the waterway that runs behind their house, but they dismissed the stories as exaggerations.

'I didn't believe it,' Charles Rogers said, but they realized the stories were, if anything, understated. Alabama Parks and Wildlife game wardens had to shoot the beast. Joe Goff, 6'5' tall, a game warden, walks past the 28-foot, 1-inch alligator 8.5 metres he shot and killed in their back yard."


This tale has also been torn to shreds on Snopes.com, so why spend much time on it here? The alligator looks a lot larger than 20 feet though and the text (completely bogus) doesn't help. Why does it look so large? Readers familiar with my take on "giant" rattlesnake pictures know all too well. By placing the alligator closer to the camera than anything else that might serve as a reference, it appears larger than life.

As Snopes notes, it's a 13 foot alligator from Texas. Not a 25 footer from Leesburg, Alabama, or Orlando, Florida. Both locations are commonly attributed to this picture.

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3) On several occasions, I've received e-mails about this giant "alligator" crossing the road with a hog in its mouth. One version states that the beast is from Mims, Florida. What's the biggest clue the story is fake? This is actually a crocodile. There are several ways to tell a crocodile apart from an alligator; although the traditional techniques are difficult to apply in this case, the color patterning is distinctive enough to allow a reliable identification. There are American Crocodiles, Crocodylus acutus, in Florida but this doesn't look like one; it appears as though its a Nile Crocodile from Africa or Saltwater Crocodile from Australia or Southeastern Asia.

1/4/10 Update: This picture is now circulating with the text, "HOG HUNTING PHOTO 
NEXT TO I-10 JUST NORTH OF  HENDERSON , LOUISIANA The trick is teaching your retriever to let go of the Hog once he has caught it!!"  There aren't any crocodiles in Louisiana, let alone Nile or Saltwater Crocodiles (the subject of the photo).  So, rest assured one of these guys won't be crawling into your parish anytime soon.



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4) "Be glad this isn't your job. Florida Power & Light working at Orlando International Airport. After seeing this I would definitely want hazardous duty pay!...The gator is/was 18' 2" long."

Snopes has already addressed this one as well. Although the gator looks large, we're all too familiar with the camera tricks.

3 comments:

Jeff Humphries said...

My parents sent me an email with a story about that first Gatorzilla photo, and the location was a lake in Michigan...

David Steen said...

I also read a version stating it was from Nebraska.

Anonymous said...

I received this in an email from some dear friends of mine and my late husband's. The email was sent to me on February 3, 2010.

Says photo was taken over Lake Weiss.

The communications dialog is a bit different from the one that you have but the meaning is the same.

My friend was a bit concerned because they live near the area. I told her I thought the photo didn't look quite right at the time. We decided that the alligator was closer to the cameras as well.

Glad to know we were not taken in by this.... We've been known to be quite gullible on a few occasions.