Drifting, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Florida
Photograph by Nick Zantop
A young alligator drifts in the dark, slow moving water of a small canal in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Hunting and habitat loss decimated the alligator population in Florida and elsewhere throughout its range and in 1967 the alligator was listed as an endangered species, believed by biologists to be in danger of extinction in the wild.
With federal and state protection, alligators began to make a remarkable recovery and today there are more than one million wild alligators in the state of Florida alone. Able to live for 30 to 50 years in the wild, most adult males average about 11 feet in length, while females average about 8.5 feet. To calculate the length of an alligator like the one I photographed, the best method (short of jumping into the swamp with a tape measure) is to estimate the length of the snout, the distance between the nostrils and the front of the eyes. One inch of snout length can be translated into one foot of body length. This method is scientifically proven and used by biologists during population surveys, so we can estimate that this little fellow is about 3 feet in length. Big enough that you wouldn’t enjoy a bite from his powerful jaws lined with incredibly sharp, pointed teeth!