LUSBY, Md. — After TheBayNet.com broke the news of an alligator caught in Southern Maryland on Father’s Day, stories began to emerge of previous sightings of the reptile from as early as 2015.
But with these rumors came some additional questions: How could an alligator have survived in Maryland for so long? Could it have repopulated? How did it get so big? And how did it get here in the first place?
“It really doesn’t seem to be that unusual that these alligators show up sometimes way outside of their natural range(of North Carolina and south),” Rowe said. “Very frequently, they’ve been transplanted by people, and that is probably what was the case here. I mean, it’s really unlikely that they could travel up here on their own from down where they naturally occur.”
How Did It Survive Here?
Just because seeing a gator in Maryland is unusual does not mean that it couldn’t survive here. To optimize its chances of living, the cold-blooded animal likely took advantage of its physiological features.
“With cold-blooded animals, their body temperature reflects the temperature of their surroundings,” Rowe explained. “Cold-blooded animals only burn a lot of energy when it is warm. And then when it cools off, they need less, and so it’s a little more efficient for them to live essentially. And so the big difference then is given a certain amount of food, an alligator could probably live for five or 10 times longer than a person could on the same amount of food.”
Rowe said that the thickest barrier the reptile would likely have faced in surviving would be ice covering the bodies of water it was inhabiting.
“Even some of the real northern populations, northern North Carolina, they get a little bit of ice sometimes in the winter,” Rowe said. “But it’s seen, the alligators can sit there and leave their nose stick above the water so they can still breathe… So like this individual, once placed here, they can probably hang around for a while because it doesn’t get that cold.”
Alligators have reportedly survived even more north than Maryland in some instances, facing even colder temperatures.
Another barrier the reptile likely faced besides water temperature would be the water’s salinity.
“We typically associate alligators with freshwater habitats, but they actually are fairly commonly found in brackish water,” Rowe remarked. “And they can actually tolerate seawater for a short period of time… But the type of salinities that we have up here in this part of the Bay, you know, as long as they have access to fresh water now and then, they can handle it, and it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.”
Could It Have Repopulated?
Although the alligator was a female, Rowe wanted to remind community members who were concerned about reproduction that “It takes two to tango, and as far as we know, this is the only one that was there.”
Even if it had managed to lay some eggs, the likelihood of a baby gator surviving here is even less than this one.
“Really frequently with animals, the younger animals are much more sensitive to environmental conditions than are the adults,” Rowe said. “So you can end up with situations like this where you have introduced animals that are put into a system and they can exist there as adults, but they can never establish a population because reproduction doesn’t occur.”
How Did It Get So Big?
Any alligator in Maryland is a shock, but with a size of roughly 7’6”, many start to wonder how it got that big without being noticed more frequently. Although many could speculate what filled the brunt of the diet, nobody knows what it was eating. But it was finding enough food.
“I think the other issue with it reaching that size is that if it came into the system as a very small animal, and it grew rapidly… that would mean that it was obviously eating a lot,” Rowe said. “But I guess, one of the parts of the puzzle that we don’t know is what was going on there with what it eats.”
Obviously, without more concrete facts about the alligator and seeing it live in Maryland, it is tough to tell what really happened. But it certainly has neighbors talking about what could be lurking in the water the next time they get in.
“I really never thought that I’d have one this close to my house here in Maryland,” Rowe laughed. “It’s an unusual thing. Nobody will probably ever known the real answers, but you know, it’s cool observation.”
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