Back from vacation
We went on vacation on a cold, deserted beach last week. It was lovely. We didn’t go in the water, but we walked many kilometers, picking up shells. The shells are a different color there because of the oil platforms nearby; the shells take up the minute oil particles in the water, and turn black. Our shells at home are beige and yellow and white, so we collected lots of black ones to use in decorating.
We found a nearly-new iPhone in the sand at the base of the stairs from our hotel. We tinkered with it, since it wasn’t secured. We found no useful information on it, and because it was an AT&T phone (and because it was an Apple product), we had no real use for it. We turned it in to the hotel front desk. Presumably its owner recovered it there.
We visited an alligator farm, where they grow hundreds of alligators in a swamp. It’s a cross between a farm and a petting zoo. I held a baby alligator and learned:
- In cold climates, they hibernate when the temperature falls to 13 Centigrade or below. I have been told that they can lie underwater without coming up for air for at least 5 months, according to a Colorado farmer who had one hiding in a frozen-over pond. They may be able to freeze solid, like some frogs, yet thaw out without ill effects.
- If they don’t actually go to sleep, they lay around and don’t eat in the winter, for months at a time.
- They can’t digest food when their body temperature falls below 21 Centigrade, so the food rots in their gut and can kill them. Ergo, they don’t eat in cool weather.
- To help them digest large meals, they divert carbon-dioxide-rich blood to their stomach through an auxiliary aorta, where the carbonic acid helps break down their meal more quickly.
- They are not solid muscle with a taut skin, like I had thought when I handled other alligators in years past. If they haven’t eaten in awhile, their skin becomes loose and slides over their muscles. The skin of a juvenile is quite soft and pliable.
- Juveniles chirp when they are frightened, and hiss when they want you to go away. The one I held hissed a bit, then relaxed into me and absorbed my heat. My body runs quite hot, so he limbered up quickly and began thrashing vigorously when it was time to give him back to his handler.
- Even if a juvenile bites you, they cannot inflict much damage. They only begin to develop serious biting power when their bodies reach a length of more than a meter. A large adult usually has a bite pressure of more than a ton. Their teeth are dull, so they tear and crush their prey more than they bite through it.
- The alligator farmers lose alligators every year to fights, cannibalism or freezing, or sometimes old age (often they can live to more than 100 years old). Alligators have no real known diseases or parasites. Their deadliest predators are, of course, humans. The handler told me that a local alligator killed in the wild had been shot and wounded multiple times over the course of its life, with the oldest bullets appearing to be Minié balls from the Civil War, more than 140 years ago.
- The farmers replenish their stock by retrieving eggs from alligator nests in the swamp and incubating them until they hatch in about two months. If they have too many alligators, they simply don’t gather the eggs, and natural predation winnows down the eggs and hatchlings to a much smaller number. About two-thirds of eggs hatch; one-quarter of eggs become one-year-old hatchlings; one-eighth of eggs survive to adulthood.
At some point, I will post pictures.