Saturday, October 3, 2015

An Alligator Swimming Through a South Carolina Neighborhood? Definitely Not.

   Hurricane Joaquin is dropping a lot of rain on the East Coast; so much rain fell in South Carolina that a state of emergency was just declared

    With the rain comes a lot of nonsense. A lot of folks are sending this story around about an alligator swimming through a South Carolina neighborhood following a flash flood.

    Do not believe it. First of all, the article is from August. So, that should be enough to convince people that it is not about rain associated with Hurricane Joaquin. It is October now, after all.

    Second of all, this is not an alligator.

    But don't just take my word for it. I contacted two folks I know that are alligator experts: Abby Lawson, a Ph.D. student at Clemson University that studies the population biology of alligators, and Dr. Adam Rosenblatt, a Postdoctoral Associate at Yale with lots of experience studying alligators in the Everglades.

According to Abby:

"It looks like an alligator-like log to me. The dead giveaway is the distance from the head portion to the snout tip. This distance in inches roughly correlates to total body length in feet. Based on my experience conducting alligator population surveys for several years, I would place this "alligator" in the 18-foot+ size class. For reference, the current body length record for harvested alligators is 14' 9.25", set by a hunter in Alabama several years ago."

Adam agrees:

"This is definitely not an alligator. The 'eyes' are way too far away from the 'neck' and the 'torso' is really narrow. If it was an actual alligator the torso would be much broader and the photographer would have been able to see more of it, especially since the water appears to be not terribly deep. This is a case of mistaken identity for sure." 

    Although this is not an alligator in the picture, South Carolina is within the geographic range of alligators and these large reptiles can be found near where this picture was taken. Abby explained:

"Alligators are known to occasionally wander into neighborhoods, even in urban areas like Charleston. Given this neighborhood's close proximity to the Ashley River, which is well within the alligator's South Carolina distribution, it is certainly possible for an alligator to swim into an adjacent neighborhood, especially if high water levels from a hurricane or tropical depression allowed for easier access. However, like all living things, alligators require food and shelter. Flooded, paved, suburban neighborhoods are not ideal alligator habitat, so it is unlikely that a wandering alligator would stick around for very long".

    So we know this article was published over a month before Hurricane Joaquin came anywhere near South Carolina, it is just being circulated now because "dangerous weather is bringing out dangerous reptiles" hoaxes are par for the course. But, it is harder to understand why a CBS-affiliate and supposedly reputable news organization would not have done any basic research on their scoop before scaring people with warnings about large alligators swimming through neighborhoods. It was relatively easy to get two alligator researchers to debunk this nonsense. Don't believe the hype!

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