People in Northern Minnesota – and I used to be one – can identify with Central Florida, particularly Polk County. A little bigger than Rhode Island, it’s got 554 lakes and the Minnesota-size mosquitoes to go with them.
Here, too, fishing is a passion. They even call this the “Bass Capital of the World.” I don’t think I would go that far, but it’s an American thing. In my 20 years of roaming this proud country, I have come to expect that every place is a capital of something.
I would have no qualms if the whole state wants to be called the “Alligator Capital.” The alligator is, after all, the state reptile – that should help cinch the world title. Think about it, every state has a fish – in Minnesota it’s the walleye – but how many have an official reptile?
The state legislature came up with giving the alligator official status in 1987. That was 16 years after Walt Disney had
turned a cow pasture in Central Florida into the home of a mouse with arguably the world’s most recognizable face. More theme parks were to follow. And we flocked to Florida to see what treasures awaited us behind the magic gates under a sun that’s warm almost every day.
I suspect it was around 1987 that many of the back-to-nature Floridians got fed up with seeing their bucolic pastures turned into pavement and their night sky into neon. Or maybe they saw that the plastic yard-flamingo was fast becoming the state bird, and thought it time to again shine the public spotlight on the everglades, the swamps and untamed
wilderness of this beautiful state. True or not, the alligator is the beneficiary. He lives well and is protected, even from harassment – the senior survivor of the dinosaur age.
“If there is water, there are alligators.” Touring the lake country, that was the response when I asked, “Are there alligators in there?” Repeating the question later, I got the look: “What about my earlier answer don’t you understand?” I learned, but not quickly: Alligators are everywhere.
A resident told me that at night when she shines a flashlight in her backyard that abuts a stream, she often sees the red eyes of alligators staring back. Asking her what alligators eat, she said, “Their favorite food is small dogs.”
Small animals do fall pray to the alligator – he’s got 80 teeth – but he is a sprinter, not a distance runner. Their diet is fish, turtles, snakes and maybe even a small deer if they surprise it. In their environment, they are the top-ranked predator in their food chain – he is the end of the line; nobody eats him.
The sex of an alligator – use this around a campfire sometime – is determined by the temperature at which it incubates as an egg. If it’s between 90 and 93 degrees F, the alligator crawls out of the nest a male. If it’s between 87 and 89 degrees F, the egg hatches a female. Put another way, the eggs on top of the pile, closest to the mother’s body heat are the males. Those at the bottom are the females.
I am staying at Camp Mack’s River Resort – a huge RV park here – that’s on the Kissimmee River that leads into several lakes. I spent some mornings with fishermen who gathered early at Camp Mack’s fish camp, where they launch their boats, drink coffee and await the sun. In a couple months when up north the snow flies, I know that some of my Minnesota brethren will be among them.
Welcome to America’s Outback.
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