(Alligator mississippiensis) With all the time I spend in the wetlands, around the Everglades, and near bodies of freshwater, it is not a surprise that these leathery beasts and I cross paths with some frequency. I enjoy finding them silently watching me- it keeps me on my toes. They play several important parts in the health of the overall ecosystem. In the dry season, they wallow out "water holes" that provide habitat for other animals during droughts. In Spring, birds roost and raise their young over gator-filled swamps. The gators provide security for the nests while enjoying a hearty diet of the would-be predators, like raccoons and opossums. Alligators are the top predator keeping smaller animals, fish, snails, turtles and etc. in check by removing the weak or dead.
This remarkable species has made a comeback from the brink of extinction, a real American success story! State and federal protections, habitat preservation efforts, and reduced demand for alligator products have improved the species' wild population to more than one million and growing. Scientists say this species is more than 150 million years old, they managed to avoid extinction 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs died off.