From April 2012


Awhile back, I purchased a Groupon that got Travis and I into a tour of a alligator ranch on the Northshore (north shore of Lake Ponchatrain for my non-local buddies.) So, the Saturday we were leaving New Orleans, we got up early, packed, and headed across the lake. We got there a bit too early so we drove though nearby Abita Springs, LA. It is a fairly small town and so it didn’t take us long at all. πŸ™‚

Once our tour started, we met our tour guide- Jim. You could definitely tell he is used to giving tours to kids. He was highly entertaining and goofy.

From April 2012


He taught us a TON about alligators. I wish I had blogged this earlier while it was still fresh on my mind. However, life happened and so here is what I STILL remember…
1- There are more alligators in Louisiana than in the rest of the world combined! I think the estimate is there is an alligator for every 2 people that live in our state.
2- To tell the difference in boys and girls, you have to flip them over and look inside this hole on their belly. If you see a “boy part” (Jim’s words), it is a boy. If nothing is there, it is a girl.
3- It takes about 4-5 years for a gator to grow to 4 feet in the wild. It takes about a year at the ranch for them to get that big.
4- ALL alligator eggs hatch in August. I can’t remember the full explanation but I do remember that.
5- The sex of the alligator is determined by the temperature of the egg: 93 degrees- all boys, 86 degrees- all girls, 89 degrees- mixture of boys and girls. I am recalling those temperatures from memory so I might be off 1 degree. πŸ™‚
6- The difference between an alligator farm and an alligator ranch is the gene pool. πŸ™‚ Ranches collect their eggs from the wild and hatch them. Farms collect their eggs from the alligators they keep on their property. The guy on “Swamp People” who hunts gators with just himself and his dog, runs an alligator farm. Insta-Gator Ranch (where we were) is the oldest alligator ranch in Louisiana. Alligator ranches were created awhile back in order to help up the dwindling supply of alligators. Alligators help with population control by keeping other “pests” at bay (nutria, anyone?) and who wants an animal to become extinct (well, except for mosquitoes)? A ranch harvests, hatches, grows, and releases back into the wild the majority of the alligators they raise. They do sell some for meat, souvenirs, skins, etc. I don’t know how they decide which ones they do that to- maybe the weaker ones? Alligator farms, to my understanding, just grow alligators for tourists, meat, skins. They don’t do a lot of releasing back into the wild.
7- I already knew this but still think it is cool… Alligators have 3 eyelids. An upper and lower like people but then they have a third which opens/closes sideways and is kind of clear. This third one covers their eye when they are swimming under water in order to provide protection for the eye yet still allow the gator to see. Just another example of God’s majesty. πŸ™‚

The first thing we saw were life-size drawings of the average size male and female above the largest alligator ever caught. It was caught by Mr. McIlhenny down on Avery Island, LA. If this name doesn’t sound familiar- check out your Tabasco bottle. He was the creator of Tabasco. His alligator was 19’2″. WOW!! If you ever go tour the Tabasco plant, you can see a picture of him with his gator.

From April 2012


The tail on the bottom gator, is actually completed on two pieces of wood that swing out. It wasn’t open when I snapped this picture. It is HUGE!

Since this is an alligator ranch, that is the majority of what they have. However, so you can easily see the differences in alligators and crocodiles, they do have one crocodile. Jim said she is mean and they need a bigger tank. She was VERY active when the curtain was pulled back so we could see her.

From April 2012


Here she is up close. Note: her upper teeth show when her mouth is closed (gators show their bottom) and she has a pointy nose (gators are more flat/square)

From April 2012

When then watched a video of how they harvest the eggs. Basically, they have a little airplane fly over the marshes (gators nest in marshes not swamps) and when he spots a nest he drops a weighted bamboo stick with a flag on it and it ALWAYS sticks up in the air. Then there are guys in a boat who come by and harvest the eggs. They have to be careful though- momma gators aren’t protective of their eggs but they are protective of the nest. After the eggs are collected, the momma will come back and rebuild the nest- even though their are no eggs. If the eggs hatch in the nest though, THEN the momma becomes protective of her babies. While the guys are harvesting the eggs, they draw a line on the top of them so they know how the egg was laying in the nest. That way, when they get them back to the ranch, they place the egg “right side up” to finish incubating. If the egg is laid upside down, the gator actually drowns inside the egg!
Replica of a nest…

From April 2012


The next part of our tour, took place in one of the barns. First, we were given our gator food that we could feed to the alligators.

From April 2012


Yes, those are marshmallows. The first time I experienced feeding gators marshmallows was on a swamp tour back in seminary and I thought that was the crazies thing ever. Apparently, it is a popular snack for alligators. HA HA!

One of the barns…

From April 2012


The first “pen” we saw- the whitest alligator they’ve ever raised lives in this one. She is in the middle of the picture.

From April 2012


From April 2012


They were all of varying sizes…

From April 2012


From April 2012


From April 2012


While we were in there, Jim actually tossed a mouse into one of the tanks. See the little gray thing swimming in the middle of the picture below? That is the mouse.

From April 2012


The alligator that caught the mouse, dunked the mouse under water…

From April 2012


Then it took the mouse over to a corner away from all the other gators…

From April 2012


Then it changed its mind and went to a different corner…

From April 2012


and then it finally swallowed the mouse.

Meanwhile, Jim had climbed into the pen across from us in order to catch a 4 four foot gator.

From April 2012


Then he shows us the throat of an alligator. Normally, when an alligator opens his mouth you can’t see down their throat. That is because they have a flap there to prevent water from going in while they swim and subsequently drowning themselves. However, he was able to pull on the gator’s mouth/throat/skin and get the flap to open for us. Very neat!

From April 2012


Then he held the gators mouth closed while a little boy in our group taped the mouth shut. Please know that if Sam had been with us he would’ve been denied this “opportunity”. πŸ™‚

From April 2012


Travis made a movie, while in the barn, of the mouse hunt and the gator being caught. It is below…

I really wish the video had “smell-o-vision” capabilities. That barn STUNK! It was rough.

By this time, it was time for us to continue on our tour and leave the barns. However, our taped gator made the trip with us.
Jim brought him around and showed us their 3rd eyelid (I took the picture right after he closed his entire eye though) 😦

From April 2012


and their ears… (not a very clear shot but it is that diagonal slant near his finger)

From April 2012


Then our gator was placed on the grass so Jim could demonstrate how well they jump. Our guy didn’t like jumping and so the only time he jumped, I missed the picture.

From April 2012


Then Jim picked the gator back up and showed us how to put a gator to sleep- you flip them upside down!

From April 2012


Apparently, that does something to them and makes them disoriented so they go to sleep. Crazy!

Part of our group on package included the chance to hold a gator. So, after Jim woke the gator back up (flipped him right side up again), we got to hold the gator. I failed to get a picture of Travis holding the gator because I was trying to get my phone to take a picture. HA HA! However, the ranch had a guy there taking pictures of us and so I scanned his picture of Travis.

From April 2012


Travis did manage to get a picture of me holding the gator though. He is such a good husband. πŸ™‚

From April 2012


After everyone who wanted to got their picture made with the gator, we moved on to our next “activity”- catching gators!!

They have a fairly small pool where baby gators live and we learned how to catch and release gators. It was so much fun! Yes, their mouths were taped shut while we were doing this.

From April 2012


Since we could do this at our own pace, we were able to take pictures and videos of each of us catching gators. Travis went first…

From April 2012


Isn’t his gator cute?

From April 2012


Here is a video of Travis catching a gator…

Next was my turn…

From April 2012


Video of me catching the gator…

After those initial pictures we both just enjoyed catching and releasing gators. It was fun and they feel so neat- dry and smooth. It is really cool. Once our catching time was up, our tour was over so we headed inside to pick up the pictures of us holding the gator and then hopped in the car to meet some friends for lunch before getting back to MS to my parents, grandma AND SAM!

This was a very fun event and I would DEFINITELY like to take Sam when he gets a bit older. I think he would definitely enjoy it.

πŸ™‚
Steph