Learning How Not to Get Eaten by Everglades Alligators
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Florida Everglades. In my head, I pictured the Everglades to be green and lush with thick trees and spindly branches curving their way above swampy water.
In reality, the Florida Everglades are green and wheat-colored grass-like stalks growing out of the water, so thick in patches that you can barely even see the water on a boat ride through it. This stretches on for miles and miles.
If you fall into the Everglades it’s just you, a lot of water stalks, and…a bunch of alligators – with no tree in sight to climb your way out of danger from long, snapping jaws. And Everglades alligators are not something you want to tempt.
There are around 250 thousand alligators in the Everglades and – as the guide on the Sawgrass Recreation Park airboat ride I was on quick to inform – they will eat you. (Airboats that hover over the water are needed due to how shallow the Everglades gets in part – they are very loud; be prepared to wear earplugs.)
The guide went on with some truly gruesome tales about a boy in a lake and a woman runner dangling her feet into the water to cool them off “who are no longer with us” as the guide delicately put it, before going on about numbers of body parts found in multiple alligators. Those on the edges of the boat started to scoot in closer to the middle as these stories wore on.
Alligators will also eat each other, the guide told us. Daddy alligators are especially notorious for eating their offspring, or any smaller ‘gator that mistakenly swims by their larger jaws. Baby alligators live with their moms for the first couple years of their life to increase their likelihood of not getting eaten by some big, hungry male.
It was quickly clear that no one should go swimming in the Everglades. Ever. Or swim in any type of body of water in Florida for that matter. Or leave your dogs chained up in the backyard if you live in Florida. Or…
You get the point.
In addition to making us never want to go in fresh water again (not sure if this was a scare tactic to keep people from being too lackadaisical about their safety on the boat or if the tour company has found that gore sells), the guide also told us some interesting information about alligators that didn’t involve them eating something or someone. Babies are only 6-8 inches when they’re born and as alligators mature, they never stop growing – ever. The guide told us the biggest one he’d seen in the Everglades was a 12-14 footer.
The tour also taught me that the Everglades are actually a river – a very, very slow moving river. Everglades actually comes from an old Native American term meaning “river of grass”. The masses of algae floating on top of the water has a sludgy brown color because it absorbs chemicals that come down the river. Besides swimming in the Everglades, you also don’t want to eat much that comes out of them as there is a lot of mercury in the fish that populate the Everglades.
All of this was quite interesting and entertaining, but the most important part of what the guide said during the tour was: “Look to your left!”
And sure enough, there was an alligator, still as a statue sunbathing right next to us. The driver slowed the loud engines of the boat and we coasted by, all of watching silently in awe.
I was actually lucky to see an alligator during a morning tour outing, it turned out. The morning outings are pretty hit or miss (which they don’t advertise in the brochures), particularly if it’s windy or rainy – the alligators don’t like that and look for shelter, which often hides them from site. However, we were told the night Everglade boat rides are brimming with alligators. Beady eyes caught in the light staring back at you from all around the boat. Creepy, but pretty cool sounding. So the moral of that tip is that if you’re ever in the Everglades, opt for the night tour.
Oh, and on the off chance that you do get attacked by an alligator while in the Everglades and live to tell the tale, but are a bloody mess, the guide gave us one more piece of advice. With some deft tricks of a pocket knife, you can turn one of the cattail stalks growing all over the Everglades into gauze to wrap your mangled body parts in.
Overall, the Everglades tour wasn’t quite as cool as I thought it was going to be, but to be fair, I had Amazon-proportion expectations in my mind, and it was really neat to finally understand the scope and layout of the Everglades.
However, if I ever make it back to the Everglades, I will definitely do the night ride – and that is one time I probably won’t mind a middle seat while traveling.
Have you ever visited the Everglades? Did it match what you had in mind?