The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is home to a great diversity of creatures. As you browse through its miles of unspoiled natural habitat you can see animals and birds that aren't to be found anywhere else. As you are slowly driving the blacktop road that winds through the park, you are treated to the sight of an American Alligator floating serenely in the lake. There in the foreground you see a log piled high with something... on closer inspection you see a mass of Suwannee Cooters sunning themselves. You have to be fast, they startle easily and leave the log for the safety of the water in a hurry. At the picnic area you notice a small shape moving through the grass and find a Gopher Tortoise making his ambling way towards the marshes and his succulent dinner. If you have the luck of the Irish and quick eyes, you might spot a Sherman's Fox Squirrel . You continue on through the park, finding areas where you can overlook the water and perhaps you'll see a slow moving West Indian Manatee . Butterflies migrate through the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge in September and October. While the butterflies aren't endangered, they are certainly an interesting sight to see.
The entire coastal region on the southern shores of Wakulla is known as the Coastal Marsh Belt. Saltwater marshes are the transitional waters between the fresh water of the rivers and the salt water of the sea. Saltwater marshes are characterized by grassy plants such as cordgrass and needlerush. Freshwater marshes, found up river from saltwater marshes are characterized by sawgrass, bulrush and pickerel weed.
Marshes are important protectors of the natural environment. They function as natural sponges in times of floods. They absorb and hold water, then release it slowly, which helps prevent severe flood damage. Marshes help protect the coastline from storng storm winds and waves which cause coastal erosion. Marshes also act as natural filters for pollutants carried by storm water runoff. Coastal marshes serve as protective nursery areas for most fish and shellfish of commercial and recreational importance. Without an abundance of healthy coastal marshes we would not enjoy the abundance of fresh seafood available in the area.
Marshes offer feeding and nesting habitat for large numbers of wildlife Beautiful herons and egrets are often seen stalking their prey in roadside marshes.
he American Alligator is found in freshwater throughout the state. It has a large 10 to 19 foot long black body with a broad, rounded snout and lives an average of 40 years. It has excellent eyesight even at night.
Its jaws hold 70-80 pointed teeth. If a tooth is lost, a new one grows in its place. An alligator can go through 2,000 to 3,000 teeth in a lifetime. The ears and nostrils automatically close as the gator slides underwater. A transparent third eyelid, or nictitating membrane, covers the eyes as the reptile's powerful tail propels its streamlined body easily through the water. It feeds on fish, turtles, water birds, snakes, frogs, small mammals, carrion and sometimes other alligators. To find alligators you can scan the surface of a lake at night with a strong flashlight. A red glow is the light reflected from an alligator's eyes. A green or yellow glow indicates a frog or water spider.
The alligator swims by tucking its legs against its body and sweeping its tail from side to side. It is capable of sudden bursts of speed in the water and on land. Alligators construct "gator holes" with their large sweeping tails that retain water during periods of drought. This provides water and foraging space for many other species such as wading birds. In turn, alligators may forage on the species attracted to the "hole." Paths used by alligators in sawgrasses widen to form creeks which in turn help to flood marshes during rainy seasons. Active during warmer months, alligators may stay secluded underwater or in shoreline dens during colder months. If resting, they can stay underwater for an hour or even several hours. They tend to wander during droughts and mating season.
Alligators bellow, loudly! Apparently gators bellow for the sheer sake of bellowing -- it hasn't been linked to hostile or mating behavior. Just before a male bellows, he performs a "water dance", vibrating his whole torso. At the same time, he issues low notes, too low to be heard by humans, that can be heard by other alligators at long distances. Females bellow but not as loudly. Females grunt to call their young. All alligators hiss.
Spring courtship usually takes place in early April. In June or July, the female builds a nest of dirt and plant debris 2-3 feet high near water. Other species, like the red bellied slider, use alligator nests for their own egg deposition. The female alligator hollows out a cavity, lays the eggs (30-50), and covers them up. She aggressively guards the nest, often resting her chin on top of it. About 70 days later, the broods hatch, usually emerging from the nest with the help of the mother, and head straight for the water. Black with yellow bands, the hatchlings are 8-9 inches long. They stick together, forming a "pod", for at least a year. Females will protect their young for up to two years. Like crocodiles and most turtles, alligators lack sex chromosomes. The sex of the offspring is determined by the incubation temperature of the eggs. Alligator eggs that incubate at 82-86°F become females and those at 90-93°F become males. Eggs that incubate in the middle range result in an equal number of males and females.
Alligators are also featured in gator wrestling shows. If you do happen to see one of these, note that the human wrestler quickly clamps the gator's mouth shut (easy to do, it takes very little pressure) and flips him on his back (which impedes blood flow to his brain and he becomes immobile). Rubbing his belly to lull him to sleep once the blood flow to his brain is so reduced is just show. Hunted almost to extinction, alligator hunting was banned in the early 1960's, and is now strictly regulated. Alligator farming now accounts for most of the hides and meat on the market. Alligators are still listed as a threatened species by the USFWS due to the similarity in appearance to the American Crocodile.
State Parks in Wakulla County
Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad Trail
National Park s
MAIN WALKING TRAILS INCLUDE
County and City Parks
Camp Indian Springs
Mash Island Park
Medart Recreation Park
Myron B. Hodge City Park
Panacea Mineral Springs
Panacea Women's Club
Coming Soon: Wakulla Equestrian Center, Wakulla Wildlife Sanctuary, Pioneer Village, Ochlockonee