A city kid in the swamp
By Allen Lam | Conservancy of Southwest Florida Education Intern
One of the most recognizable animals in Florida is the American alligator. Alligators are known as a “keystone” or an “indicator” species. They are symbols of a healthy ecosystem and their existence is crucial to their habitat as well as the other animals that live around them.
During the wet season, alligators will use their powerful tails to create large depressions known as a “gator hole” where they cool off from the heat, hunt, and even nest and lay their eggs. These large pockets of water will remain filled even during the dry season. This provides birds, mammals, other reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates with a source of freshwater for food, shelter, and reproduction they would otherwise lack in the dry season.
My fellow interns and I were fortunate enough to see a gator hole, and many of the large reptiles, first hand at Big Cypress National Preserve. After passing through dwarf cypress in the plains, we entered the bald cypress dome.
As we continued further and further into the swamp, the water got higher and higher. It had rained several days prior to our arrival, so the water was higher than normal as January is usually the driest month in Southwest Florida.
As the mullet popped out of the water around us, we saw alligators in the distance along with several species of bird. We were even lucky enough to see an elusive roseate spoonbill incredibly close before it flew off. Finally, we made it to a large clearing of open water; the gator hole.
As a Philadelphia resident, being waist high in a pond made by an alligator was so surreal.
For those that would like to see an example of a gator hole without getting quite as wet, the Conservancy has an exhibit simulating one in The Dalton Discovery Center.
The exhibit features three live baby alligators, two turtles, and a variety of fish very similar to species found in Big Cypress. The exhibit features replicas of other animals and plant that can be seen throughout swamp such as wood storks, American bullfrogs and the rare ghost orchid.