Friday, September 7, 2012

An Alligator Ate My Sunglasses!

On our last day in St. Augustine, we loaded up just my little family and headed to The Alligator Farm. Seriously, if you live or vacation within driving distance, it is worth it to go. We went when we were kids and while it is expensive, we enjoyed it so much that we'll definitely go again and again!

James had been looking forward to The Alligator Farm all summer but I have to admit that I was a little skeptical about how our time there would go. He's been to Zoo Atlanta twice and while he did fine, he did more people-watching than animal-watching. And then last year when we went to Chehaw Park it was not one of the best times he's had. But this time he was excellent and the whole experience was a real treat. Both boys were very well behaved! I was SO proud.

Forgive me for the almost fifty pictures I'm about to show you. If you know me in real life you know that I could visit a zoo every day and it wouldn't get old. I'm not sure why God didn't give me talent in the science department of my brain but He doesn't seem to agree that I would be perfectly suited as a large animal veterinarian. Top 10 on my dream jobs list for sure. :)

Sweet boy waiting for the rest of us to be ready to go!

Alligators as soon as we got there. These were teeny ones.

We brought the double stroller but you can see what rode next to Will almost the whole time - my purse. {Eddie did have it zipped and seatbelted in for me, though!}

Albino alligator.

In the center of the park is an alligator "pit" {for lack of a better word}. A lot of our pictures are taken here. Since it's in the center we walked past it several times. These gators are HUGE. There are currently 41 alligators living in this "pit." The largest is Bomber, a 13-foot alligator. Please note the placement of James' sunglasses in the picture above. That's about to play an important part of the story.

After we looked at the big guys, we wondered over to another "pit" that held smaller alligators. These were all between about 2-5 or so feet in length. We bought some food to feed to them for a quarter and Eddie held James up to start tossing it in. Remember those sunglasses? Yep, they fell right in. Eddie said a little alligator (he was probably 5 feet) snatched them right up. I later learned that alligators have sensors on their jaws that cause them to snap at anything that brushes against them. That little alligator snapped those sunglasses up and swam off quickly. James burst into tears.

It turned out to be pretty cool, though, because the alligator didn't swallow the sunglasses. One leg was in his mouth, the other leg was out and they were stuck. Eddie found someone who worked there and we told them what happened. Since you're looking down on the alligators like the picture below, I knew we weren't the first that this has happened to.

The lady assured us that it was no problem and that we'd done the right thing. The alligator, meanwhile, had swam up on shore and was trying {unsuccessfully} to shake the sunglasses out of his mouth. Two keepers came in, found him, and then had to sneak up on him with a rope to catch him before he got back into the water. {The danger was that he couldn't close his mouth so swimming was going to be an issue.}

Once the keepers came in, I stopped taking pictures. They were quietly sneaking around and I didn't want the clicks from my camera to cause him to dart back into the water. But the extra show that we got was so neat! After the rope was around his neck and they began to drag him away from the water he shook them out of his mouth on his own! He was fine and not at all harmed from the experience! They even gave James his glasses back to him. They aren't wearable anymore, but it is a fun souvenir!

James might tell you that his favorite part of the trip was the playground. We played for a bit and had to pull him away. We promised we'd go back and then we forgot. Whoops! Fortunately, he forgot as well.

Want to know what I learned about storks? They're one of the ugliest birds in the world! :)

Seriously. Yuck. They have two air pouches - one from their throats and one behind their necks - and their heads are bald and scabby. Guh-ross. They're also mean. They were bossing around the vultures in the enclosure with them.

And this was the ugliest crocodile! Strangest looking creature I've ever seen! This was a girl but the boys have these weird knots on their snouts.

We watched two shows in the big pit. They were interesting but so different from when we went as kids. I don't remember the keepers going into the pit with them, but they used to feed them chickens off a platform. This keeper {the same one who rescued the sunglasses} said they feed them these food bars now because it's a better diet for them. Interesting.

While we were there, this guy below started to bellow. Have you ever seen an alligator bellow? If not, I bet you can find some YouTube videos of it. It's the craziest thing. Especially if they're in the water because they make the water dance. They ALL started bellowing after this guy and the keeper said that they get started from all kinds of outside sources - the cannon at the fort in St. Augustine, Harley's driving down the road, lawn mowers, etc. It's contagious, though, so when one starts, everyone else follows.

Watch the succession of the next few photos of this one bellowing:

Water dancing below:

He was feeding the alligators as he was talking and a few got rowdy. This one decided she wasn't full and needed more food. :)

After that show we walked over to the area with the crocodiles. The Alligator Farm is the only place in the world that you can see all the different species (right?) of crocodilians in one place.

The one above had a few babies with her. I read online after we got home that usually when a female makes a nest and lays eggs that the keeper remove the eggs and put them in an incubator. They do it for a number of reasons - the nests dry out easily, the fire ants are a problem (they were everywhere!), and the daddies remain in the enclosures with the females and they often eat their young. A few years ago, though, they decided to just let a nest stay and see what would happen. Interestingly, the eggs survived. When they hatched she helped them all get down to the water. The daddy watched what she was doing. A few of the babies needed help so she pulled them out with her mouth (amazing!). There were a few eggs left that didn't mature so she put them in the water and left them. The daddy carefully lifted each of those eggs into his mouth and tried to help them hatch like the mother had done. Amazing! I wonder if these babies above where part of an experimental nest, too?

After the crocodiles it was over to the saltwater crocodile! They had two "salties" with the crocodiles that you can see pictured way above {James is looking in at two with his hands on the glass} but the one they have separate is MASSIVE. When I was younger they had one named Gomek. He was an impressive 17.8 feet in length. He died in 1997. They've replaced him with another big guy named Maximo. He's pretty small, though. Only 16 feet! :)

James with Gomek. I actually thought this was a replica but it says he's "tastefully preserved." Ha! Anyway, he's LARGE. You can tell by the above picture that James was DONE by this point. It was hot, humid, and almost naptime. Look at that hair.

At this point we left Gomek and ran quickly by Maximo back to the center for another feeding. Back to Maximo at the end!

Bomber is above. He's the largest alligator there. 13 feet.

On the menu this time? Rats. I am not kidding. See that white one in the picture above? Guh-ross. I was seriously concerned that the keeper might over throw and hit me with one. Gives me the heebie jeebies. {So maybe God did know what he was doing when he didn't gift me in the science area.}

Fight! Big guys above growling at one another.

Back to the "salties."

Sydney - Maximo's baby mama.


Last but not least we ventured into the reptile house where I saw a small version of what Hell might be like for me {a small, air conditioned version}. One of the enclosures had five types of LARGE snakes. One under a log, one along a wall, and THREE IN TREES. More heebie jeebies.

And finally, outside the reptile house were the Komodo Dragons. This one was huge and she's smaller than the male that's with her.

FANTASTIC time at the Alligator Farm. We highly recommend it and will probably venture back when Will is James' age. I have a feeling next year with him would be miserable for everyone. :)

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