This Is a Dinosaur, and You Can't Convince Us Otherwise

Daisy Hernandez
·3-min read
Photo credit: Jeff Jones/WINK News/Twitter/@MattDevittWINK
Photo credit: Jeff Jones/WINK News/Twitter/@MattDevittWINK

From Popular Mechanics

An American alligator that took a stroll through Valencia Golf and Club in Naples, Florida has captivated the internet for one obvious reason: He's f@*#-ing huge.

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Naturally, we had some questions when we first laid eyes on this thing, so we fired 'em off to gator guru James Nifong, a zoologist and data management analyst at the University of Florida-Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center.

To our disappointment, Nifong confirms the creature is not, in fact, a dinosaur. But to our surprise and mild horror, he says this isn't even the biggest gator he's ever seen.

"They can grow even larger," Nifong tells Popular Mechanics. "The record length for alligators is just shy of 15 feet—much larger than the alligator in the photo."

Nifong doesn't quite know the exact size of the viral gator, but reveals that gators actually never stop growing; the bigger they are, the older they are. “Crocodilians (including alligators) display indeterminate growth and keep growing throughout their entire life," he says. "So, for an alligator to reach that size it must have lived for a long time."

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The catch, of course, is if an alligator wants to keep growing, it'll need access to a ton of food. And though it looks like our gator subsists on a nonstop diet of burritos and beer, an alligator's menu depends on the prey that's available. A big boy like the one in the photo may consume mammals, birds, reptiles like snakes and turtles, fish, and sometimes even smaller prey, like crayfish and snails.

Other factors like gender influence growth rates, too. Female gators are typically the smaller sex, Nifong says.

And why do gators love golf courses, besides wanting to work on their short game? Easy: "the abundance of aquatic habitats," he says. Golf courses almost always have water features like ponds, which are "typically stocked with fish and offer great food resources."

So what do you do if you find yourself suddenly staring down a gator, whether it be on a golf course or elsewhere?

Leave it alone, plain and simple. "[Gators] are powerful animals that can pose a threat to humans, especially when they associate food with [us]," Nifong says. "This is why wild alligators should never be fed. However, in general, alligators do not want anything to do with humans and will keep their distance.”

Alligators typically don’t give chase, but in the odd event you are being pursued by one, “run away in a straight line,” he advises. Because their bodies are designed to move quickly over short distances in small bursts, gators can’t really travel too far or too fast while on land. “This makes them effective ambush predators, but poor runners.”

And in the extremely unlikely case that you get bitten by a gator and dragged into water, try to carefully poke the sucker in the eye and swim away, says Nifong. "However," he says, "the best safeguard against being bitten by an alligator is to pay attention to your surroundings."

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