Gator of my Dreams
by Robert W. Bly, founder, AquariumDetective.com
When I was a boy of about 10 in 1967, there was one thing I wanted more than anything else: for my mother to buy me a baby alligator.
Baby alligators were sold in some pet stores back then as a novelty, and I could not think of anything cooler. The stores sold hatchlings ranging from 6 to 8 inches in length. They were kind of cute.
We'd go to the pet store, and the tanks with the baby alligators attracted me like a magnetic. But my mother had no intention of having an alligator in our home, and so we never got one.
There were rumors, of course, about what people did with the baby alligators when they grew too large for their tank to hold them.
The most common was that the baby alligators were either flushed down the toilet or dumped into the sewer system through a grate.
Rumors and jokes - all unconfirmed - persist to this day about these babies growing up into giant alligators roaming the sewer tunnels underneath our street. Several movies about killer giant alligators have been made.
Baby alligators soon became illegal to sell in many states, including New Jersey, and I never saw them offered in pet stores again. And that's a good thing, because having an alligator as a pet is not really a good idea.
For one thing, they get too big - 10 to 12 feet or even longer. Where are you going to keep your alligator?
As apex predators at the top of the food chain, alligators are dangerous - aggressive and strong. And if you own one, you are likely to be stuck with it for a long time, since lifespan can be as long as half a century.
If an alligator clamps down on you, it's difficult to get free. The can bite down with a force of 3,000 pounds of pressure per square inch - enough to break your bone and, if they worry your limb back and forth or roll you in the water, to sever it.
My mother spends winter in Florida, and so last Christmas break we visited her and took a tour of the Everglades, where we saw enough alligators - baby and adult - to give us our "gator fix."
The Everglades is not a swamp, though it appears to be so. It is actually a shallow, wide flowing river. And it is loaded with gators, as is much of the rest of Florida.
My oldest son, when I wasn't looking, sneaked up on a 6-foot gator and touches its tale. Fortunately for him, the gator didn't notice, or if it did, didn't care. Gators can move with unexpected speed on land and in the water.
When I yelled at him for pulling this stunt, he said he'd stick with touching smaller gators. That's also stupid: a park ranger explained that the bite of even a foot-long gator could sever your finger.
Pet owners in Florida have been dumping pythons and boa constrictors in the Everglades, and they have become the arch enemy of the alligator. Days before our visit, a 12-foot python had swallowed whole a 6-foot alligator, which proceeded to claw its way out from inside the snake's body, killing the python in the process.
Decades after my first encounter with an alligator hatchling in a pet store, I'm still fascinated by them. But I would not buy one to keep under any circumstance, because I like my fingers, toes, arms, legs, children, cat, and dog better than I like keeping exotic pets.