Turtle or Gator?

Well. I could not let the turtle/alligator question go (May 27). I’ve done a lot of reading and looked at a lot of pictures to convince myself that I saw the shell of a turtle, not the back of an alligator, sinking into the darkness.

North Carolina’s Outer Banks are well within the northernmost habitats of the American Alligator and even though reportedly intolerant of saltwater in general, they will move through brackish water while relocating and take up temporary residence if food is plentiful. Although I am certain that everything I read on the web is true, I called the Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh, NC and spoke with Adrian Cull. He confirmed my information and referred me to biologist Dennis Stewart with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Working at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Manteo, NC, Dennis listened to my story with complete non-surprise. He told me that they have removed alligators from as far north as the Albemarle Sound which is considered outside of their normal range. While they regularly get reports of alligators in the fresh water pools around the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, he said reports from sound-side marshes are infrequent but increasing. He once personally saw one in the ocean surf in Buxton! So much for the salinity issue.

He is of the opinion that global warming, whatever the reason, is causing population shifts and alligators are just following the food (remember the nutria?). Tam calls it the “Need for feed.” A critter may not like the water or the area, but they like eating more. Of course, if it swims or floats in front of their mouths, it’s mealtime.

So, I saw something in the water and the educated side of my brain knew that alligators were fresh water animals. Trying to match something up, it pulled “turtle” out of the files. Even though the water was dark with tannin, what I remember seeing fits “back of alligator” better then “turtle shell.” I’ve seen them before on a paddle through the refuge and, although I will never be one hundred percent certain, I am going to chalk it up to Alligator mississippiensis.

That’s my story folks, and I’m sticking to it.


~ by Rick on June 6, 2008.

One Response to “Turtle or Gator?”

  1. I was stationed on Hatteras, and Ocracoke for several years; fished and hunted every inch of those islands. I have seen alligators several times in the ponds on Hatteras Island, including little striped babies basking in the pond by the lighthouse. You easily could have seen one. There are ponds with drum and largemouth swimming together with nutria and blue crabs too; leapord frogs and fiddler crabs, NASCAR rednecks, French Canadians, and Jersey attorneys. All kinds of invasive species live on those barrier islands together.

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