When you take one of our thrilling airboat rides just outside of Orlando; one animal you will see is the American alligator. The American alligator is also known as Mississippi Alligator. It is one of only two living species of alligator. Our airboat rides take place on Lake Jesup – known for hosting the largest population of American alligators in all of Florida! The other type of alligator is the Chinese alligator located in Eastern China.
The word alligator is derived from the Spanish ‘el lagarto’, which means lizard. According to scientific estimation, this species is more than 150 million years old. It is largely found in freshwater environment like the swamps, rivers, lakes and marshes of Southeastern United States.
On your airboat ride you will see alligators of many sizes. The average male American alligator grows to a length of around 13 to 17 feet long, while the length of the average female is 9 to 11 feet long. Before or after your airboat ride you are welcome to check out our free wildlife exhibit which includes males and females of many sizes. One in particular is “Hammy” our resident 12′ male alligator, weighing over 800 pounds.
Your airboat captain will point out the alligators to you. As your airboat ride nears the alligators you will see they have a large, slightly rounded body covered with coarse scales. Its head is large with striking eyes and nostrils, and has powerful jaws with pointed teeth. The huge tail accounts for nearly half of its length, which it uses to defend itself from other animals and to float in water.
The color of the skin is generally olive, brown, gray or nearly black, while its ventral surface is pale. Sometimes it may be hard to spot an alligator, but your experienced airboat captain will be happy to point them out to you! The skin of the young alligators (known as hatchlings) typically are black with yellow stripes. Depending on the season you will see many young alligators on your airboat ride or even basking on the shore of the Black Hammock peninsula!
Food and Habitat
Alligators are carnivorous, and they mainly eat fish, birds, snakes, mammals, turtles and sometimes even dead animals. Hatchlings or young alligators mainly eat insects, tadpoles, frogs and small fish. You may even see an alligator with it’s prey on your airboat ride!
Like any other alligator, it is also a freshwater animal. Alligators thrive in wetlands like swamps, marshes, bogs, lakes and rivers. Although it can withstand saline water to some degree and hence, can sometimes be seen near brackish water like mangrove swamps, the wetlands are crucial for the existence of American alligator. It constructs burrows in the wetlands for shelter and hibernate during winter. Our airboat rides are located on Lake Jesup; which is just north of Orlando and is an ideal home for an alligator as it has everything it needs to thrive.
Alligators reach the reproduction stage at 8 to 13 years of age and spring (April and May) is the time when they mate. We at the Black Hammock highly recommend taking an airboat ride during this time. If you take an airboat ride, chances are you will see how male alligators attract females by bellowing. As alligators do not have vocal cords; this is done by sucking in air into their lungs and blowing it out at intervals, making low rumbling roars. The average number of eggs laid by female alligators vary between 25 to 60. After mating, they build nests by using vegetation, mud and leaves for laying eggs. After laying the eggs, mother alligators cover the eggs under more mulch, which helps to keep them warm to facilitate their hatching. Your captain will be quick to point out nests during your airboat ride, and you may even be lucky enough to see a female alligator guarding her young.The temperature at which the eggs are hatched, plays an important role in determining the sex of the young alligators. The eggs that are hatched at temperatures between 90 to 93 degree Fahrenheit turn out to be males, while those hatched between 82 to 86 degree Fahrenheit turn out to be females. However, intermediate temperature ranges are found to produce a mix of male and female alligators. The young alligators are generally 6 to 8 inches in length and they become independent almost immediately, in finding their food, but stay with their mothers for about two years, for their safety. At the Black Hammock you will often see baby alligators basking on our shores before boarding for an airboat ride. The average life span of an American alligator is about 30-35 years, but they can live up to more than 50 years in captivity.
Recovery from Extinction
It was generally hunted for their skins, as it was used in making leather. It was also poached for the flesh. Large-scale poaching coupled with loss of habitat had reduced its population to such an extent that it was on the brink of extinction.In 1967, the American alligator was classified as an endangered species. The government took measures to preserve them by declaring alligator hunting as an unlawful activity and creating large commercial farms for alligator breeding. These measures have succeeded in not only saving them from extinction but also in increasing its population. Depending on the season, you can witness the alligator population increase yourself when you take an airboat ride on Lake Jesup!Though alligators are no longer an endangered animal; they are listed as a threatened species. This points to the fact that it needs constant protection, not only for its own survival but also for maintaining balance in the ecosystem.
Black Hammock airboat rides are an ideal way to travel through Lake Jesup and witness Florida’s Wildlife in it’s natural habitat without interfering with the Central Florida ecosystem