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Monthly Archives: June 2014

Ask Gator Guru

Ask Gator Guru

Question: So all alligators are found in America?

Answer: Almost. The only other alligators in the world are a small species found in China’s Yangtze River valley. However, it is severely endangered with only a few dozen left in the wild. In G.G.’s opinion, poachers would receive hopefully indescribable punishment.

Question: Hi Gator Guru. I see gators while I’m on the golf course. Are they dangerous?
Answer: Alligators aren’t usually aggressive unless provoked. Crocodiles on the other hand are very aggressive.

Question: When alligators are removed from our golf course, are they released into the Everglades?
Answer: No. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife, they are taken away and destroyed.

Question: How does one tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?
Answer: A side-by-side comparison of the gator’s u-shaped snout can easily be distinguished from the croc’s v-shaped snout. However, lacking the side-by-side opportunity the astute golfer will know that the croc’s bottom 4th tooth is visible when its mouth is shut. The alligator’s bottom 4th tooth is not. Thus by today’s social standards, the gator is much more attractive.

Question: If alligators aren’t usually aggressive, can I show off for my golfing buddies?
Answer: That depends upon your behavior and the gator’s mood. For example, the most recent alligator related fatality in Palm Beach County was a 27-year-old man who was showing off by harassing some young gators. The mother gator, who watches out for her kids for about a year after they hatch, asserted her natural protective instincts and attacked the predator. He lost.

Question: Couldn’t he have outrun her?
Answer: Only if he was faster than a horse. Think of alligators as large lizards. They aren’t distance runners, but they can sprint faster than a horse at takeoff.

Question: Could zig-zag running help? I’ve read that’s a good idea.
Answer: I’d personally prefer to get as much distance between the alligator and me as possible. But if you like the zig-zag idea, let us know how that works out for you.

Question: But what if my golf ball is near the gator?
Answer: Even the persnickety Rules of Golf provide relief, a free drop – no closer to the hole. (Gator Guru finds your questions tedious. Let’s move on to another reader.)

Question: Hi Gator Guru. How big are alligators?
Answer: A fully grown adult male is about 13 feet long and weighs about 790 pounds.Largest on record was over 19 feet long and tipped the scales at more than 1,000 pounds.

Question: How old are alligators?
Answer: This “living fossil” has been around for 65 million years. The gator seems to be an adaptable and efficient eating machine. (Like some people I know.)

Question: I meant their life span.
Answer: Oh, that’s typically 30 to 50 years. There is one old codger in a zoo in Serbia who is 78.

Question: What do alligators eat?
Answer: Pretty much anything they want. They are carnivorous, although they will eat vegetarians. (A little G.G. humor there.) Small gators eat fish, insects and small turtles. As they grow so does their appetite which then includes birds, other reptiles, rodents and the occasional dog, cat or deer that wonders too close.

Question: How do they eat?
Answer: In one gulp. They have no ability to chew their food so they just swallow it whole. If it’s too large, they shake it (referred to as a “death roll”) until bite-sized chunks fall off. Think chicken nuggets alligator style. Any larger prey gets drowned, and then left underwater until it starts to decompose. Gators find that yummy. Now aren’t you sorry you asked?

Question: Hi Gator Guru. Are gators gregarious?
Answer: Not after they are grown. Small gators tolerate others while they are maturing, but once they are grown they become solitary and territorial. A large gator, male or female (no discrimination here), will stake out a pond and attack any gator who wants a share. Should s/he be removed, another always seems to be in line to take over the pond.

Question: Speaking of gender, how does that happen?
Answer: The female has control of that, like so many things in nature. When she builds her nest of vegetation and mud, she selects a place which will be warmer or cooler to produce the hatchling’s sex. Cooler temperatures produce females; warmer temperatures produce males. (Note that G.G. is diplomatically passing on the humor here.)

Question: Hi Gator Guru. How do alligator wrestlers avoid getting eaten?
Answer: The gator’s jaw is designed to have crushing strength while closing, but minimal strength to open. If you watch the wrestler, you’ll see he holds the gator’s jaw closed at the snout. Then he tries to keep the tail from thrashing him off. Once victory is declared, he runs away quickly. (See above comments re alligators’ speed.)

Question: Do you own an alligator belt?
Answer: Yes. It’s beautiful – made in Italy.

Photo provided by BallenIsles resident Paul Goldstein

Article written by Cy Hornsby




Woodpeckers can peck holes in wooden house siding, gutters, drainpipes, and chimney and exhaust vents. The noise and damage from this pecking activity sometimes is annoying.

Pileated woodpeckers

There are three reasons why woodpeckers peck on houses. The first and most common is to establish territories and attract mates. This predominantly springtime behavior, called drumming, generally is done in rapid succession on resonant dead tree trunks or limbs. However, buildings and utility poles, when available, are often alternatives. Drumming may occur a number of times during a single day and may last for some days or months. The second reason woodpeckers attack our houses is to feed on insects that may have infested our siding. They naturally search vertical surfaces of tree trunks and branches for wood-boring beetles, carpenter ants, and other insects. The pecking style used for feeding is much different than drumming. Only a few pecks are made and then the resulting hole is explored with the bird’s bill and tongue. This behavior will continue until an insect is found or the bird is satisfied that one is not there. Then the woodpecker may hop a few inches away and peck at another place. The damage from this feeding activity usually occurs in horizontal lines that follow tunnels made by the insects. The third reason for woodpecker damage occurs when they excavate nesting cavities through house siding. Cedar siding is fairly soft and particularly vulnerable to woodpecker attacks of this nature. Fortunately, this attack is not very common.

Prevention and Control Methods

One of the most effective methods of excluding woodpeckers from damaging wood siding is to cover the siding with lightweight mesh nylon or plastic netting hung from the eaves. The netting should be kept at least 3 in out from the siding. Another exclusion technique is to cover the siding with sheets of plastic. Woodpeckers will not be able to perch on this smooth surface. Limited success can be obtained in some situations by using model owl or hawk silhouettes or various noise-making devices. Woodpeckers can be very persistent and are not easily driven from their territories or selected pecking sites. For this reason, visual or sound types of repellents should be employed as soon as the problem is identified and before territories are well established.

Photo taken by BIWF board member Mary Kirby

Cited by University of Florida Florida Wildlife Extension

Attention Pet Owners: Beware of Bufo Toads

Attention Pet Owners:  Beware of Bufo Toads

Bufo Toads in South Florida: a Threat to Your Pet      by Dr. Mary C. Fondren

bufo400x400The bufo toad (Bufo marinus) (also known as marine toad , giant toad, cane toad) is a huge brown to grayish-brown toad with a creamy yellow belly and deeply-pitted parotoid glands extending down the back (1). Adult giant toads generally range in size from 6 to 9 in (15 to 23 cm) but may get larger ( 1). They are replacing the native southern toad (Bufo terrestris) in the cities of southern Florida (2).


The first attempted introduction of this toad was in 1936 when the Agricultural Experimental Station of the University of Florida imported 200 marine toads from Puerto Rico and released them at Canal Point and Belle Glade in Palm Beach County Florida to control sugar cane pests (2). The current population was released before May 1955 near Miami airport (2). It is a relatively long-lived toad reaching ages up to 10 years (3).

The bufo toad sits in an upright position when it moves and hops in short fast hops (3). When confronted by a predator, it is able to “shoot” bufo toxin from the parotoid and other glands on the back in the form of white viscous venom (3). These secretions are highly toxic to dogs, cats, and other animals and can cause skin irritation in humans (1). These marine toads are most frequently seen under the street lights of the suburbs (2).


To avoid attracting toads to areas where pets are, do not leave pet food in open dishes in the yard. Bufos are attracted to watering dishes and may sit in the rim long enough to leave enough toxin to make a dog ill. Dogs that mouth bufo toads can get a large dose of the bufo’s toxins, secreted from the skin and parotoid glands. Symptoms generally include profuse foamy salivation that looks like shaving cream, difficulty breathing, brick red gums, convulsions, paralysis, ventricular fibrillation, vomiting, and uncoordinated staggering. Untreated, the pet death rate from Bufo marinus poisoning may approach 100% (4).

Keeping your dog on a leash and well supervised when outdoors should be sufficient to prevent bufo toad toxicity. We suggest you carry a flashlight at night, so that if the dog seems overly curious about something you can check it out. These toads don’t actually attack, but a curious dog sniffing or licking the toad can get poisoned as a result.

Bufo toads (actually that’s redundant as bufo is latin for toad) are seen mostly during the rainy season (late May to mid October) and most often at night near lighted areas as they are attracted by the bugs. They are seen much less frequently during daylight hours but can be found hiding under vegetation.  One of the ways to reduce toads in your yard is to eliminate potential food sources. Leaving uneaten pet food  or water bowls out in the yard can attract toads.

At Fondren Pet Care Center we see only a few cases of bufo toad toxicity each year. By educating our clients about the potential hazards we’ve reduced the incidence of encounters with toads. The Pet Emergency Clinic sees about a half dozen cases monthly with higher rates during the rainy season.

First Aid
Immediately rinse out the pet’s mouth with a drippy wet wash cloth several times to remove any toxin from the mouth. Do not use a hose to rinse the mouth as water can easily be forced into the lungs causing more problems. Proceed to the nearest veterinary clinic or emergency clinic as time is of the essence. The smaller the pet or the larger the toad, the greater there is a risk of toxicity.   Do not attempt to treat this at home.  Untreated, the death rate for Bufo marinus might approach 100%

These toads are a non-native species and are not protected. They can be removed and disposed of humanely by placing them in a plastic container (or bag) in the freezer for three days and then burying the carcasses. If you do not wish to handle the toads, contact a local nuisance animal trapper (4).

The native Southern Toad (Bufo terrestris) is sometimes mistaken for the Giant Toad. Here are a few ways to tell these toads apart:  While the Giant (Bufo) Toad has very large parotid glands, the Southern Toad has smaller kidney-shaped parotoid glands, which secrete a substance that may be irritating to mucous membranes but is not toxic. The Southern Toad has two ridges on its head that end in knobs. The Giant Toad does not have these. The adult Southern Toad ranges in length from 1.75 to 4.5 inches. The adult Giant Toad ranges in length from 4 – 6 inches.


Photos provided by: University of Florida, Florida Wildlife Extension Service web site
(1). This document is WEC-11, one of a series of the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Published: June, 1990. Reviewed: September, 2002.
(2). McCann Book Chapter 7, [email protected]
(3). Bufo Marinas Cane toad, Giant Toad written by Ryan Hilgris, Michigan State University student
(4). Poisoned!, John Cargill & Susan Thorpe-Varg