Jul 30, 2014
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It's Not an Alligator, It's—Wait, It IS an Alligator

And county officials are relieved it was removed from Cooper River prior to the IRA Regatta last Saturday.

It's Not an Alligator, It's—Wait, It IS an Alligator It's Not an Alligator, It's—Wait, It IS an Alligator It's Not an Alligator, It's—Wait, It IS an Alligator It's Not an Alligator, It's—Wait, It IS an Alligator It's Not an Alligator, It's—Wait, It IS an Alligator

Sometimes a gator is just a gator after all.

Several Patch readers—including those of you from sunnier climes—pointed out correctly that we had misidentified the reptile local resident Glenn Hudson plucked from the Cooper River last weekend.

We asked for some scientific referral on this point, and got a lengthy response from Greg Lepera of St. Augustine, FL, a former curator of herpetology at the Jacksonville Zoo.

Lepera also spent 10 years as the curator of reptiles at the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm, “where we put together a collection of all the world's species of crocodilians,” he wrote.

This, we knew, was the guy to settle the matter.

Most caiman have slightly tapered snouts, giving their heads and snouts “a slight triangular appearance,” Lepera wrote. Comparatively, alligators’ snouts are essentially parallel, and seem "blunt" and "shovel-like."

“All members of the genus Caiman have a curved ridge of bone on the snout in front of the eyes,” Lepera wrote, which “resembles the nose bridge on a set of eyeglasses."

Caiman also possess "a raised tubercle on the skin at the peak of the eyelid, which gives the top of the eyelid a pointed appearance,” he wrote.

The confusion could have come from the immaturity of the specimen found in Cooper River. Lepera pointed out that young alligators are black with yellow cross bands, but often lose those bands as they mature.

Caiman, however, are “tan or olive brown to darker brown with black speckling,” which sometimes forms bands crossing the back and tail.

Under normal growth conditions in its natural environment, Lepera wrote, an animal the size of that collared by Hudson could be anywhere from 2 to 3 years old.

“Conditions in captivity vary considerably, and depending upon the quality of care, can either greatly increase or decrease growth rates,” Lepera wrote. “An animal raised in a cool cellar with no UV lighting in sub-optimum temperatures on a poor diet would grow quite slowly, for instance.”

Hudson also messaged Patch with a mea culpa for misidentifying the animal (and its eventual destination).

“Thanks to the readers who realized my mistake,” Hudson wrote. “The true identity was confirmed when I delivered the gator to the gentleman taking it to the reptile sanctuary on Sunday. It will be on its way to Catoctin Wildlife Preserve in Maryland later this week.

“I would like to thank everyone for their interest and enthusiasm with this event and hope it sparks some continuing interest in this great iconic American reptile,” Hudson wrote.

The Camden County Parks Department issued a statement today, assuring residents that the Cooper River waterway and park are “safe…open to the public … (and) not restricted in any way because of this incident.”

Officials expressed concerns in their statement that they had not known about the presence of the alligator in advance of the IRA Championship Regatta last weekend, which “saw more than 20,000 rowers and spectators in the park.”

According to county spokesman Dan Keashen, the New Jersey State Division of Fish and Wildlife will investigate the matter. Keashen says officials from the agency told him that in many instances, alligators captured in New Jersey came there with students who purchased them as pets while attending college in Florida.

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