One-day-old American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) photographed
in a custom field studio
Why do I love Florida summers? Well, besides the rolling thunderstorms, violent swarms of mosquitoes, and suffocating humidity, it's also crocodile nesting season! Federally listed as an endangered species, their numbers are believed to be between 2,000 and 3,000 individuals. Their range encompasses the southern tip of Florida, primarily within the southern Everglades. In fact, the Everglades is the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators co-habitate. To get the rare chance to handle and interact with these reptiles isn't something I would pass up.
Wildlife biologist Mario Aldecoa with a baby crocodile at Turkey Point
When hatchlings are out of the nest, it means mama crocs are on high alert and the normally casual swamp stomp can get a little hairy. Ever since I came down to the Keys, I've been salivating to accompany the crocodile research team at Turkey Point on one of their night missions to catch baby crocodiles. Finally late this July I got the much anticipated call from wildlife biologist Mario Aldecoa that a nest had hatched and the hunt was on.
Baby crocodiles have to learn to fend for themselves as soon as they hatch from the egg.
On closer inspection you can see all the small bumps surrounding the crocodile's
mouth which act as active sensors to aid in feeling for passing fish.
Normally, biologists go at night to catch the crocodiles because they're easier to see when using headlamps or spotlights. During the day their gray bodies and cryptic coloration help them blend into the surrounding vegetation making capture extremely difficult and time consuming. Once the crocodiles have been caught Mario brings them back to the lab to measure, weigh, identify, and mark each individual before releasing them back at the nest. Recapture will allow researchers to gain a better understanding of how these armored dragons survive in Florida's southernmost wilderness. Here's a short video of our airboat adventure late one night at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant.