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Outreach

Animal Ambassadors Help Educate Public About Alligators and Crocodiles in Florida


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Hannah Hamilton holds Sam, an American crocodile.
Above: Hannah Hamilton holds Sam, an American crocodile. [larger version]

Herpetologist Margaret Gunzburger holds Sam, an American crocodile.
Above: Herpetologist Margaret Gunzburger holds Sam, an American crocodile. [larger version]

Margaret Gunzburger holds Sam, an American crocodile, and booth visitor Ann Foster holds Georgina, an American alligator.
Above: Margaret Gunzburger holds Sam, an American crocodile, and booth visitor Ann Foster holds Georgina, an American alligator. The crocodile has a longer, more pointed snout than the alligator, one of the differences between these closely related animals. [larger version]

Thousands of visitors to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) exhibitor booth at the 15th annual Kanapaha Botanical Gardens' Spring Garden Festival, held in Gainesville, FL, on March 19 and 20, had an opportunity to meet representatives of two of Florida's native species: the American alligator and the American crocodile.

These animal ambassadors for the USGS Florida Integrated Science Center (FISC) introduce children and adults to USGS environmental research on endangered species, alligator-habitat use as it pertains to Everglades restoration, and contaminant studies in the Everglades and other freshwater bodies of Florida.

Well known throughout the State, the American alligator is Florida's top aquatic predator and an almost-routine sight in Florida's rivers, lakes, swamps, and ponds. The American crocodile, in contrast, is rarer in Florida and much less well known than its more common cousin. American alligators live in freshwater over a range that extends from East Texas to North Carolina and from Florida to Arkansas. American crocodiles, though found in parts of Central and South America, have only a small population and a limited range in the United States, where they live in the southernmost part of Florida, in both fresh and brackish waters. Other differences between these animals can be seen in their:

  • Heads: viewed from above, the American alligator has a snout that is more U-shaped, like a shovel, whereas the crocodile has a longer, more pointed nose.
  • Teeth: the lower fourth tooth on each side of the jaw of the American crocodile is visible even with the mouth closed.
  • Coloration: American alligators are mostly black, whereas American crocodiles are brownish gray.

A three-year-old crocodile nicknamed "Sam" by the FISC contaminants-research group represents the Federally listed endangered species studied by FISC scientists. Some of these endangered species, such as the West Indian manatee and the Gulf sturgeon, are better known than others, such as the Okaloosa darter (a small fish) and the purple bankclimber (a freshwater mussel). All are Federally protected species that play key roles in the ecosystems they inhabit. USGS scientists are working to better understand the impacts of changing ecosystem health and stability on these and other species that share their waters.

"Georgina," an American alligator, helps FISC educate the public about environmental contaminants, a category that includes any physical, chemical, biological, or radiological substance which adversely affects air, water, soil, or living organisms. Thus, three-year-old Georgina serves as a reminder that the waters alligators inhabit also support Florida's growing human population and its pursuit of recreational activities.

FISC researchers study alligators to determine the effects that bioaccumulation of contaminants has on their reproductive health. Some compounds can mimic natural hormones and alter the normal biological functions of the endocrine, reproductive, and immune systems in wildlife. Although many of the observed effects are sublethal, such problems as impaired hormone production or activity, modified adult sexual behavior, and reduced fertility, hatchability of eggs, and survival of offspring can result in substantial losses in wildlife populations.


Related Web Sites
FISC Center for Aquatic Resource Studies
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

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in this issue: Fieldwork cover story:
Deep Diving at the Shelf Edge

Research Introduced Foxes Transformed Vegetation

Outreach Animal Ambassadors Help Educate Public

Scientist Shares USGS Work Experience with Students

USGS Oceanographer Interviewed About Erosion by Hurricanes

Meetings Knowledge Management for Coastal and Marine Geology

Awards National Wetlands Research Center's Staff Receive Awards

Employee Recognized for Providing Maps to Police

Staff & Center News In Memoriam: Polly Hastings

Mendenhall Fellows Join Western Coastal and Marine Geology Team

Operations Assistant Joins Western Coastal and Marine Geology Team

Publications New Book on Coral Reefs of the Virgin Islands

May Publications List


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