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Posts Tagged ‘alligator

“ALLIGATOR, n. The crocodile of America, superior in every detail to the crocodile of the effete monarchies of the Old World”*…

 

LA-Farm-3-600x467

Lunch at the California Alligator Farm, Los Angeles

 

Judging by the popularity of the Jurassic Park franchise—five feature films, with a sixth blockbuster scheduled for 2021, three “Lego” Jurassic Park shorts, various theme-park attractions, some forty-six theme-related video games, even a Jurassic Park Crunch Yogurt—dinosaurs (once the province of paleontologists and children) have had a stranglehold on our collective imagination for more than a quarter century. Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel sold more than nine million copies; three years later, the first mega-film, directed by Steven Spielberg, became the second highest-grossing film of all time, earning over $1 billion worldwide.

Though less enormous, less voracious, and lacking dramatic soundtracks to pave their entrances and exits, formidable flesh-and-blood, non-animatronic prehistorics do actually walk among us.

Alligators have been around for some 200 million years, which is 135 million years longer than their dino contemporaries. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that that extraordinary longevity was threatened. Pretty impressive, given all the environmental changes that have ensued in the interim, and the fact that their brains are about the size of a walnut…

Biologically, Crocodilia (alligators, crocodiles, caimans, gharials) are closer to birds, dinosaurs to snakes and lizards, but they share a common ancestry. Fossils reveal that back in the day, some alligators grew to nearly forty feet in length, weighing in at 8.5 tons. Simply put, Crocodilia are the closest living examples of the Jurassic’s ancient denizens.

“Dinosaurs and man, two species separated by 65 million years of evolution, have just been suddenly thrown back into the mix together,” notes Jeff Goldblum’s character, Alan Grant, in the 1993 film. “How can we possibly have the slightest idea what to expect?”

In the case of their alligator cousins, it wasn’t just suddenly. Throughout the American south, they’ve always been pretty much unavoidable.

On the big screen, our relationship to Crichton’s creatures is set and predictable. We enjoy the terror they inspire from the dark safety of our upholstered seats. Alligators, in cinema, have always been as dependable in their villainy as Nazis. What better way to dispose of pesky early Christians or enemy Russian spies?

In the real world, the relationship of humans to ancient apex predators is far more complex

Hermes handbags, roadside attractions, carwash poachers, mail-order pets, “The Florida Smile”– B. Alexandra Szerlip on the contradictory dance between gators and men: “21st Century Prehistoric.”

* Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

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As we ruminate on the reptilian, we might spare a thought for Warder Clyde Allee; he died on this date in 1955.  A zoologist and ecologist who researched the social behavior, aggregations, and distribution of both land and sea animals, he discovered that cooperation is both beneficial and essential in nature. The “Allee effect,” as it came to be known, describes the positive correlation between population density and individual fitness of a population or species.  While his findings are in tension with those of another  another ecologist, George C. Williams who stressed the importance of individual selection, Allee’s emphasis on groups and cooperation remains influential.

90px-Warder_Clyde_Allee source

 

Written by LW

March 18, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable”*…

 

… but happily, progress is made.

As we fight hangovers (both from New Years festivities and from the slow-motion train wreck that was 2016), Max Roser reminds us that in many critical dimensions life has gotten better- much better– around the world… and he reminds us why it’s so very important that we understand this

A history of global living conditions in 5 charts.”

* “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”   ― Martin Luther King, Jr.

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As we look on the bright side, we might that it was on this date in 1890 that E.A. McIlhenny, the son of Tabasco brand pepper sauce inventor Edmund McIlhenny and manager of the family condiment empire, shot and killed a 19′ 1″ long alligator, reputedly the longest American alligator ever recorded.  McIlhenny, who was an amateur naturalist and conservationist, made the claim in one of his four books, The Alligator’s Life History.

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Written by LW

January 2, 2017 at 1:01 am

Life imitating Art…

… imitating life (readers will recall Thurber’s “cast-iron lawn dog”).

Your correspondent’s daughter, exercising caution

Officers in Independence [MO], a Kansas City suburb, responded to a call on a Saturday evening about a large alligator lurking on the embankment of a pond, police spokesman Tom Gentry said Thursday.

An officer called a state conservation agent, who advised him to shoot the alligator because there was little that conservation officials could do at that time, Gentry said.

As instructed an officer shot the alligator, not once but twice, but both times the bullets bounced off — because the alligator was made of cement.

[Reuters, June 3, 2011]

As we get in touch with our inner Pygmalion, we might light animal-shaped birthday candles for zoologist and ecologist Warder Clyde Allee; he was born on this date in 1885.  Allee is best remembered for his research on animal behavior, protocooperation– he’s considered by many to be the “Father of Animal Ecology”– and for identifying what is now known as “the Allee effect”: a positive correlation between population density and the per capita population growth rate in very small populations… an effect that might well impact the seemingly-frozen alligator population in Missouri.

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