One aspect of alligator season that biologist Ricky Flynt enjoys is the capture of gators that have previously been caught, measured, tagged and released.
That was true this year, when Flynt found evidence that ties growth rates directly to habitat and available food sources.
One alligator captured Sept. 3 in the Forest Home Chute of the Mississippi River south of Eagle Lake measured 12-foot-1. It had been captured and tagged in 2011 at nearby Halpino Lake (less than a mile away) measuring 76.38 inches (6-foot-4.38). Adding an average of 8.6 inches every year, it had nearly doubled in size.
Rarely, Flynt said, will you see that kind of growth. It is rare, he said, to document alligators of that size with that size of average annual growth rates. When one is close, it usually comes from a place with perfect habitat and food sources.
By contrast, an alligator captured and tagged on June 14 2007, was harvested at 11-foot-1 by hunter Cory Stewart on Aug. 29, 2020. That gator grew only 24.75 inches over 13 years, an average of 1.9 inches per year. It was harvested only .72 miles from its original capture location, in the middle of the densest population of gators in the state.
The difference is obvious: the vastness of the Mississippi River backwaters offers plenty of room per gator. Less pressure on a food source produces more food for each alligator.
Flynt feels there’s a strong likelihood it proves alligators are feasting on the abundant and rapidly growing number of Asian silver (flying) carp in the river system. In the past 15 years, the number of these nuisance fish have exploded. The MDWFP has documented alligators feeding on carp, and people have reported seeing gators feeding on the carcasses of carp after a die-off, as well as feeding on live carp.
That neither the Forest Home Chute gator nor the Barnett Reservoir gator had traveled very far between tagging and recapture was offset by one of the other 12 tagged gators taken this season. A group of hunters along the Mississippi River took a gator with a Louisiana tag, meaning it had crossed Big Muddy. Flynt wants to get the tag info to find out where it was tagged.
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