Dos and Don’ts of Alligator Safety

If you live in Florida or have spent time here, then you have probably already seen an alligator or two, though mostly likely in a zoo or park and from the safety of a fence. While you are far less likely to encounter an alligator in the wild, it’s always good to be prepared, just in case.

To avoid coming across an alligator in the wild:

Don’t swim at night, and especially at dusk or dawn, when alligators are known to feed. Stay out of any body of water unless you are completely certain that it’s safe.
Do pay attention to any posted warning signs of alligators in the water and avoid swimming where there is a known danger. If you are unfamiliar with the area, ask locals and residents who are familiar to guide you to safe, heavily populated swimming zones.

Don’t feed alligators, as it teaches alligators to associate human beings with food and grow increasingly comfortable in human environments. If that doesn’t scare you, it’s also illegal and can earn you a hefty fine.
Do respect boundaries between wildlife and human beings. Observe and enjoy alligators from a safe distance, but avoid any interactions that can be potentially dangerous for either of you.

Don’t attempt to move or catch an alligator on your own. Alligators become dangerous when 4 feet or more in length, and you could be putting yourself right in the line of danger.
Do report a wild alligator siting to the proper authorities if it is posing a potential threat. This generally means contacting your local Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission office.

If you do come across an alligator in the wild:

Don’t approach the alligator. If there are any pets or small children in the area, place them inside if possible or keep a close eye on them.
Do keep within a safe distance from the alligator. Alligators can run very fast for short distances, so it’s wise to stay at least 30 feet away.

Don’t run away in zig zags if an alligator is chasing you. This is a myth and running this way will likely only wear you out faster, not the alligator.
Do back away from an alligator slowly if you find yourself close to one. For the most part, alligators are more scared of humans than we are scared of them, and are very unlikely to chase you.

Don’t ever get in the water with an alligator, even a small one. Alligators are at their strongest when in the water, and you increase your chances of attack greatly if you join them on their turf.
Do keep a close eye on any alligators you come across, and watch for any warning signs of aggression. If an alligator hisses at you, then an attack may follow shortly.

South Florida is a beautiful place, and part of what makes it beautiful is all of the unique and interesting animals that share the area with us. While some animals, like alligators, can be dangerous in certain situations, as long as we respect them and their territory, we can all live together in harmony. If you’d like to view alligators and other fascinating creatures in an exciting, yet perfectly safe, environment, consider an airboat tour through the Everglades. Airboat rides are safe for the whole family, and are sure to leave you with a memory of Florida that you never forget.

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Why Do Snakes Shed Their Skin?

Everyone knows that snakes shed their skin, and while they are not the only type of animal to participate in some type of shedding or moulting of skin or body parts, they are certainly the most well known. Perhaps it is the snake’s seemingly sly and sneaky nature that is so fascinating to people of all ages and makes their behavior especially interesting. One thing is for certain, a snake who has recently shed his skin is truly a sight to behold, as this is when snakes are at their most vibrant and beautiful.

The first question you are probably asking yourself is why do snakes shed their skin in the first place? The simple answer is that snakeskin is not like human skin – as humans age and grow from infancy, our skin expands along with us. Snakeskin does not expand as a baby snake grows into adulthood, so from time to time a snake must shed its skin in order to allow for new growth. It’s all part of a natural process called moulting, which although it is practiced in various forms by many members of the animal kingdom, snakes are perhaps the most notable, with their skin often even picked up by collectors.

It’s important to note that during the process of shedding, a snake is only actually shedding the outermost layer of its skin. Furthermore, while snakes do tend to grow at faster rates when they are young, just like humans, unlike humans, they never stop growing, even after they reach adulthood. For this reason, a snake will continue to shed its skin until the day it dies, although with much less frequency than when it was young. The average adult snake will shed its skin approximately once every 30-45 days.

In order for a snake to shed its skin properly, some level of humidity must be present. This is especially true of tropical snakes, who would likely have trouble surviving in drier climates. If a snake lacks proper moisture or is dehydrated, it may have trouble shedding its skin, and sheds may accumulate uncomfortably over time. While this may not seem like a serious problem initially, for a snake, it definitely is. The biggest problem arises when skin accumulation leads to multiple caps over the eyes, which can lead to blindness and ultimately to death. Furthermore, healthy snakes will generally shed their skin in one piece, and a broken or incomplete shed can also be a sign of a snake in poor health.

While snakes are terrifying to some people, no one can deny that they are incredibly fascinating creatures, whether or not each person’s fascination leans towards love or hate. If your personal fascination draws you to observe snakes in their natural habitats, then a Florida Everglades tour is an excellent place to start. From the safety of an airboat ride, you can view snakes, alligators, and plenty of fish and birds while zipping across the water at top speeds, all the while getting up close and personal with some of Florida’s most interesting wildlife.

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Wild Turkey

Most people have probably heard of both domestic turkeys and wild turkeys, though you may be surprised to find out that these are actually one and the same species. However, far fewer people are likely to have encountered turkeys in the wild than they are to have encountered them each year on their Thanksgiving table, and if you’ve ever seen a group of turkeys crossing the road in front of your car, you may not be likely to associate them with your favorite holiday meal.

While domestic turkeys and wild turkeys are the same species, domestic turkeys are raised specifically for their poultry and other uses while wild turkeys are able to take their chances in the open, though they still risk being hunted for their game meat. Because of the differences in their environments, domestic turkeys tend to reach sizes of almost double that of wild turkeys, though collectively they are the largest species of the Galliformes. The average adult male turkey (called a “tom”) weighs between 20 and 25 pounds, though males weighing in at over 30 pounds are not rare.

Wild turkeys have proven to be highly adaptable to most environments that provide both a dense plant community and a scattering of openings such as fields and marshes. Temperature doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue, and for this reason, wild turkeys can be found as far north as Michigan and as far south as Florida and even into Central America. In Florida, wild turkeys most enjoy the bald cypress swamps of south Florida and the hardwood hammocks of northern and central Florida.

While there are a few natural predators of wild turkeys in and around south Florida, such as panthers and great horned owls, human beings are, not surprisingly, the wild turkey’s greatest predator. And although wild turkeys are game hunted throughout Florida and much of the United States, this does not mean that they all go down without a fight. While not aggressive in most situations, adult turkeys can act aggressively towards humans in self-defense or when their habitat is threatened.

Surprisingly, wild turkeys have very powerful legs and can chase at up to 25 miles per hour, in addition to being powerful fliers. One of the major differences between domestic turkeys and wild turkeys, is that although they are the same species, only wild turkeys have retained the ability to fly. Domestic turkeys are bred to be meaty and fat, and the additional weight prevents them from taking flight. Additionally, wild turkeys have excellent eye sight that is estimated to be three times better than human eyesight, and wild turkeys, though omnivores, are excellent hunters by land or air.

For the possibility of seeing wild turkeys in their native environment, take an airboat ride through the Florida Everglades this summer. Not only can you see many of the Everglades’ winged and feathered residents from an airboat tour, but you can see many of the fish, lizards, and amphibians that make their home here too.

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Can an Animal’s Diet Affect Its Coloring?

Between all of the birds, fish, and reptiles that can be found within the Florida Everglades, it is certainly a very colorful place. But have you ever wondered why some species are more colorful than others, or why there is so much variation within species sometimes? For instance, have you ever wondered why some flamingoes are a pale, soothing shade of pink while others are bright and in-your-face magenta? While genetics and certain hereditary factors certainly come into play within species, surprisingly, so can something as simple as an animal’s diet.

While flamingoes might be the most notable creature that gets coloring from its diet, certain fish, like salmon and koi, are also affected. What causes this phenomenon in certain animals is the presence of something called carotenoids, which are pigments found in plants and other photosynthetic organisms. When certain birds and fish eat plants and algae that contain these carotenoids, although the plant matter itself is blue-green, it is broken down into orange and pink pigments inside of the animal’s liver, thus giving the animal a bold and pink hue as the more carotenoids it consumes.

Along with the carotenoids, animals tend to absorb the coloring of whatever foods are consumed along with the algae – flamingoes turn such a vibrant pink because they eat shrimp and other crustaceans, for example. This can actually occur in humans as well. You may have seen people who develop a slight orange tint to their skin after consuming large amounts of carrots and sweet potatoes for long periods of time – this is especially common in newborns and young babies as their skin is lighter and thinner. Some people even swear that eating certain foods can, over time, change their eye color or make their current eye color stand out more brightly.

Unlike plants, animals do not photosynthesize and do not produce carotenoids and must instead obtain them strictly from their diets. Because vibrantly colored animals and food products are more appealing to consumers, some animals, such as koi fish on display or flamingoes kept in zoos, are actually given carotenoid supplements in order to enhance their coloring. You’ll find the same processes performed with farm-raised salmon, in order to get the fish colorful and pink so that they can compete with their wild-caught counterparts in the seafood markets.

Can you imagine a flamingo that was perfectly white instead of a beautiful pink? It’s difficult to picture, but this would be the case if flamingoes simply had different diets or lived in different habitats that had limited access to food high in carotenoids. One thing is for sure – the Florida Everglades would certainly be a different place without all the beautiful and colorful creatures that live there.

To experience the beauty of an Everglades swamp tour for yourself, take an airboat ride through the mangroves with the original airboat tour family. You’ll see animals and plants that you’ll never forget and in every color of the rainbow!

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