Sunday, January 9, 2011

Orange You Glad That This Is A Perfectly Normal Alligator?

   The internet is abuzz with news of an orange alligator spotted in Venice, Florida.  News stories are popping up not just in Florida but everywhere from Los Angeles to the United Kingdom.  Nameless experts explain the beast is nearly an albino and extremely rare, other outlets breathlessly exclaimed we could be watching evolution in action.

  Fortunately, there were voices of reason at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; they explained the animal's color was likely due to something in the water.  Maybe it was clay or mud.  When I was trapping turtles in New York years ago, I would occasionally visit ponds with water stained from naturally occurring sediment. As you might expect, the turtles I caught in these ponds were colored differently from those I caught elsewhere.  I remember one even appeared red.  It didn't occur to me at the time to call the newspaper (although I certainly don't fault the average interested citizen from doing so, an alligator that appears orange isn't something you see every day)!

 Alligators often swim with the top of their snout above water.  In the first picture you can clearly see this part of the animal's body isn't as "orange" as the rest.  The lower portion of the tail also appears more normally colored, perhaps this is because alligators often swim using their powerful tail muscles and this part of the body comes into more frequent contact with rocks, logs, and vegetation.  This would have wiped off the orange-causing culprit.

  The color became more pronounced because the alligator was basking to raise its body temperature and its skin dried.  In the second picture you may notice it doesn't look so strange where it is wet (the back half of the body).

 Evolution in action?  I don't think so.  Sounds more like a slow news day made more interesting by inserting sensational headlines.  The story may not be as outrageous as other tales you may find of alligators online but it does seem silly to make such a fuss about a tinted alligator.  There are enough fascinating biological attributes of alligators that are actually true to make for a good story without resorting to observations of odd colors.  Let's hope this alligator's newfound celebrity doesn't lead to anyone trying to feed it, or it is likely its 15 minutes of fame will be up very soon.


Anonymous said...

I've seen orange tinted turtles, snakes and gators before. Didn't realize it was such a big deal...I too attributed to the environment

MattK said...

Orange-ish/brick coloured iron (I think) deposits often show up on turtles, and are especially noticeable on the plastron. In one nesting area I know it is possible to distinguish which wetland of two wetlands the females originate from because of this.

Joy K. said...

I rolled my eyes and laughed at "evolution in action."

This post is part of the House of Herps carnival at The Little House in the Not-So-Big-Woods. I hope you visit and see the other entries. It's a pretty varied group.

JSK said...

Looks like it went on vacation in Georgia and came back with a thin coating of clay.

Elizabeth | The Natural Capital said...

Can't image what survival advantage being orange would confer on an alligator...but it might make it easier on those of us who like to spot them in the water. :)

There's not a lot of clay in FL so I can imagine this isn't that common a sight. But that's sure what it looked like to me, before I even read the text of your post.