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What do alligators and the Honey Island Swamp have in common? They are both found in one of the most rural and picturesque counties in the state of Louisiana: St. Tammany Parish.
Nestled along the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, this area is teeming with wildlife including deer, feral hogs, and yes… alligators. While many are familiar with New Orleans, St. Tammany Parish is just a short drive away and well worth a visit. Those traveling with Cajun Encounters are able to experience Louisiana alligators first-hand and are able to see all of their characteristics up close.
The American alligator is a large reptile that is native to the southeastern United States. Adult alligators possess a broad, rounded snout, and when their mouths are closed, their lower teeth are no longer visible. Their heads are large and broad, with powerful jaws that can deliver a crushing bite. These reptiles grow to be around 10 and 15 feet in length, with some reaching over 20 feet. Female alligators are usually ten feet or less, while males have the ability to grow larger.
These apex predators are also excellent swimmers and can remain underwater for up to half an hour at a time. They are also proficient climbers and can often be seen basking on logs or other elevated surfaces. Although they are often feared, American alligators are generally shy creatures that pose little threat to humans.
Contrary to popular belief, Alligators are not green in color; they are often dark grey in color with a lighter-colored underside that is covered with small, raised bumps called scutes. This misconception stems from the environment alligators are found in, typically involving green algae and floating vegetation that can stick to their backs.
Being that they are typically found in marshes, many people believe the misconception that they are green. In reality, alligators can range in color from pale tan to almost black. The reason for this color variation is due to where they live and the lighting conditions where they reside.
Behavior & Diet
Alligators are typically opportunistic feeders, which means they’ll eat whatever prey is most abundant and available to them. Young alligators primarily feed on crabs, worms, small fish, snails, and other invertebrates. As they grow older and larger, they move on to bigger prey items such as frogs, turtles, birds, small mammals, and snakes.
Though alligators will eat just about anything they can catch and kill, they seem to prefer foods that are high in protein. When submerged, their mouths will open a bit while hunting for food in the water, utilizing their integumentary sensory organs to detect disturbances in the water caused by a moving creature. Their powerful jaws and sharp teeth will then aid in capturing prey.
Alligators are ectothermic, and hence regulate their body temperature by staying in sunny areas with warmer water. They are the most active in areas where the temperature reaches between 82 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature drops below 70 degrees, alligators stop feeding and become dormant. These ferocious animals are also nocturnal; hence they hunt mostly at night. If they catch something big, they pull it underwater, where it drowns and is eaten.
Today, alligators face many threats, the most significant being loss of habitat, illegal killing, destruction and degradation of wetland habitats. Historically, alligators were hunted extensively for their hides, but today this is no longer a major threat. Instead, the biggest threats come from human development and expansion. As more and more land is developed for housing and other purposes, alligator habitat is destroyed or fragmented. This can make it difficult for alligators to find mates, raise young and access the resources they need to survive.
Fortunately, there are conservation efforts in the Honey Island Swamp dedicated to ensuring that these Louisiana alligators may live freely and safely. Thanks to a government-regulated permanent and protected wildlife area, which has protected and preserved approximately 34,869 acres of the swamp’s 70,000 acres, the alligator population has stabilized in recent years.
Book a New Orleans Swamp Tour Today!
If you’re interested in seeing alligators up close (but not too close), consider taking a swamp tour! Luckily, Cajun Encounters Swamp Tours offers New Orleans alligator tour excursions. These tours are led by professionally skilled tour guides and provide a great opportunity to learn more about alligators, while also getting to enjoy the beauty of the Louisiana landscape.
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