Benefits of Alligators to the Florida Ecosystem

This past Thanksgiving there was an amusing story about an alligator in Fort Myers “knocking” on a woman’s door. She joked with reporters that he must have smelled the turkey. Stories like this of close human and alligator interaction pose a serious threat for these beautiful reptiles. Most alligators don’t just venture up to a neighborhood. They have to feel comfortable with humans and that usually comes from prolonged exposure to them.


But while people may think it’s fun to feed or tease the alligators, most of them don’t want to find alligators in their pool or knocking on their doors. When an alligator encroaches upon residential areas, people often react quickly and without thought to the animal. When the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is called in they will relocate the animal to a safe area away from homes.


Some people prefer the animals are destroyed, especially if they’re very large. If we reacted this way every time an alligator encroaches on a residential area, they would be placed back on the endangered list. If alligators became endangered it would negatively impact our delicately balanced Florida ecosystem.


Here’s what we could expect to lose with the eradication of alligators:


Alligators Impact on the Florida Ecosystem: 4 problems we’d face without them

  1. Small animals would outbreed the food supply. Alligators are apex predators. An apex predator is a term for animals that sit at the top of the food chain. They have few natural enemies. Because of this, they keep smaller animal populations in check. Most small animals breed quickly and without apex predators, their numbers can outpace the food supply.
  2. Some fish and birds would lose their homes. Alligators make nests in the soft mud. This creates holes and large depressions that become filled with water. These large alligator-created “puddles” become home to all sorts of small reptiles and fish and become birdbaths and drinking spots as well.
  3. There would be fewer birds and more insects. A main food source for alligators is the raccoon that hunts along the water’s edge. These raccoons often eat bird eggs and hatchlings. With the alligators there to eat the raccoons or keep them at bay, there are fewer raccoons to eat the young birds. If they weren’t there and the bird population dropped, there would be fewer animals eating the insects as well.
  4. There would be fewer links in marine estuaries. Alligators tend to be in freshwater. However, they occasionally move into brackish water, where saltwater and freshwater mix like where rivers lead out to oceans. These “commuting” alligators tie together two different marine areas. Their commute transfers nutrients from one system to the other, which can be beneficial to plants and organisms. Without this back and forth this exchange would not occur, at least not as efficiently.


In addition to these things that we would not have if we didn’t have alligators, it’s important to remember that most female alligators do not reach breeding maturity until they are 10 to 12 years old. That means the reptile must live for a decade before it can begin adding to the alligator population. When an alligator reaches maturity, she can lay an average of 90 eggs at a time. However, most of those reptiles become prey for other animals before they reach their first birthday.


Because it takes alligators so long to reach maturity and they are born relatively helpless against other predators, if we begin kill off large ones, we are killing off the mature reptiles that breed and defend their areas from predators. Without these larger creatures, more animals would move in and pose a larger threat to the young.


When thinking about ecosystems we need to remember that it’s all a very delicate balance. If you remove one component–or introduce one that’s not supposed to be there–it throws off the balance.


Interacting with alligators in the wild is one of the reasons that alligators feel comfortable knocking on doors at Thanksgiving. While education and teaching on conservation is so important, interacting with wild animals must be kept to a minimum.


However, without interaction people often fail to understand the importance of these creatures. That’s why wildlife education centers like Alligator Attraction are so critical to the protection efforts of alligators and other animals. Here you can interact with alligators without danger to yourself or the reptiles. You can learn about them and get to know them without causing them any harm. Alligator Attraction is the perfect solution for helping make the next generation more conservation-focused. Come see us today.


And for those of you wondering…


Most of our reptiles come from alligator farms. We’re not stealing them from the wild. We’re ensuring they live a long and healthy life, which they would not have the opportunity to do at those skin farms.

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