My wife and I took an out of town guest to Brooker Creek Preserve in Pinellas County FL for a late afternoon walk several weekends ago. Our guest wanted a sense of natural Florida and this preserve offers hiking trails through several representative Florida ecological zones, including forested wetlands, pine flatwoods, cypress domes, and oak hammocks. The preserve provides habitat to a wide variety of wildlife, including an American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) I observed while photographing earlier that morning.
One end of the Ed Loop Trail passes over a gator hole in Brooker Creek. Over my years of photographing at Brooker Creek, I’ve seen alligators in this hole from small hatchlings to 6 footers. I believe females migrate upstream to areas like this gator hole to hatch and raise their young in relative safety. When ready, they move back downstream to Lake Tarpon. The behavior we observed this afternoon, however, was unique to my experience.
When we first arrived, we found the alligator just below the bridge a few feet from shore with only a bit of its head showing.
We also heard and watched a Nine-Banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcintus) armadillo foraging in the brush below us. At first, we did not connect the two. Soon, however, we realized the alligator was stalking the armadillo. As the armadillo moved, perhaps oblivious to the threat, the alligator would sink below the surface, reappear a few seconds later closer to armadillo’s direction of movement…and wait. As the armadillo moved, the alligator moved. At one point, the alligator launched itself onto the shore, and waited for the armadillo to move closer…which, intentionally or unintentionally, it did not.
After a minute or so of waiting, the alligator sunk back into the water and reassumed a more stealthy posture in hopes of the armadillo moving into striking distance. This pattern by the alligator of waiting, sinking underwater, and moving along shore in advance of the armadillo continued for about an hour of our observation until the armadillo moved out of site in the brush further away from the bridge.