There's sometime viscerally disconcerting about looking into the eyes of an alligator. Dark, non-blinking, but clearly focused on you, it sends a shiver up my spine. Something being tickled in the primitive parts of my brain -- prey intuitively recognizing a successful killing and eating machine that has survived for millions of years. They sure look menacing with those armored bodies, powerful tails and dozens of sharp teeth, like the apex predators they are.
My instincts make me back off and keep a good distance, and that's good advice for everyone -- stay at least 4 m (13 ft) from alligators (and crocodiles) because over a 2 meter distance there's no faster attack animal on the planet. You won't have a chance to evade them if you get too close and they decide to go after you. But fortunately alligator attacks against people are rare. Still, thank goodness for the telephoto lens and for Florida's Everglade, where you find these very interesting American Alligators in large numbers and where I snapped these picks a few months ago.
It's hard to believe that only a few decades ago the American alligator was in danger of extinction. Hunted for its hide (and to a lesser degree its flesh), populations rapidly declined. But today there are more than a million of them ranging from Florida to Louisiana. While seeming awkward on land, they're amazingly fast on a short distance attack and great swimmers. Their diet mostly consists of fish, birds, turtles -- rarely larger prey. Alligators can measure up to 15 feet (4.5 m) and can weigh 1,000 pounds (450 kg); females are shorter and smaller, growing up to 9.8 feet (3 m). They may live 50 years in the wild.
We saw dozens of alligators when in Florida, and here are some of my favorite photos of them.