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Great Dragons: The Alligator Totem

In honor of the New Year, and of the most wonderful and beautiful alligators, here’s a bit of history and symbolism associated with these critters.

In Ancient Egypt, alligators were identified with fury and ferocity. In medieval Europe and earlier, they were the symbol of the dragon; sometimes this association was positive, sometimes negative. The dragon could be the fierce guardian of treasure, or the keeper of great wisdom. But to encounter an alligator signified an opportunity to develop new wisdom — wisdom that must be used carefully.

[Below is a glimpse of the inhabitant alligators encountered on a hike in the Grassy Waters Preserve — specifically the SWA Trails within the Preserve, the Rookery Loop, and the outer Owahee Trail.]

Alligator in the Everglades, Florida

Dragon Tails/Tales: Smaug is present

As I like to constantly observe in my wanderings, alligators are excellent mothers. They will fiercely defend their nests, and when the young are ready to hatch, squeaking from inside their eggs — the mother answers, helping them hatch. She then gently carries them in her mouth to the water.

Alligators’ mothering energy and symbolism is potent:

Mother Alligator and Hatchling in the Florida Wetlands

Gentle and protective momma

Finally, alligators have a rapid growth rate — much more so than crocodiles, for example. They can grow as much as a foot each year, until reaching their final length of up to 16 feet, at 1,200 pounds. For those with an alligator totem, seek an opportunity for initiation and using new knowledge — but be careful to do so in a balanced manner. An alligator digests its food very slowly, and similarly you should digest this knowledge before moving on to the new.

If these wonderful creatures appear, look for opportunities to get in touch with primal energies, and take advantage of birthing and/or initiations that will spawn new knowledge and wisdom. And while some of you may not see these great dragons in your northern climes, may 2013 bring greater wisdom, new ventures, and opportunities galore via these lovely faces… and for those of us in the swamps, may the new year bring more lovely ALLIGATORS!

Sunning Alligator in the Everglades, Florida

Sunning with a crooked smile

For more information on alligator symbolism and totems, visit the iconic Animal Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small, by Ted Andrews.

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  1. As a Florida kayaker I’ve got a healthy respect for the gators we’ve encountered…There’s something very scary about seeing a “dragon” that’s bigger than your boat swim by just feet away…Thankfully they seem very unconcerned with us … Once again your photos are gorgeous

    January 2, 2013
    • Always! RESPECT is a great thing for wildlife, ESPECIALLY for these guys! There are some big’uns out there — bigger than the kayaks, for SURE! Very intimidating.

      One must know their temperament, their habits, their breeding and nesting seasons — but honestly, they want nothing to do with us silly hoomans. They just want a good meal and the sun. 🙂

      January 2, 2013
  2. jimbey #

    The Rookery and the outer Owahee – a GREAT place to get away and get down with nature. It provides a complete micro-version of the Everglades ecosystem, with grassy marsh, cypress swamp, hardwood and slash hammock, raptors, waders (by the ton), and GATORS GALORE! And doncha just love the lopsided grin on that last gator?
    You are our eyes on an amazing world. Keep up the GREAT work!

    January 2, 2013
    • I love love love that last gator’s lopsided grin! I have another angle of this guy, and you’ll see his bonnet. It’s just LOVELY.

      We’re so lucky they were able to preserve this area / ecosystem…. The fact that it was — this particular area — a key component of the Everglades watershed continues to amaze me, each time I leave it, and hit the Palm Beach traffic. Sigh. It’s always a shock to the system when I leave.

      Thanks so very much. You’re very kind… I explored a new natural area in Boca Raton yesterday — Pondhawk. Sad to see as much trash as I did (note to county: Put a trash can out for the idiots), but it’s a lovely area.

      January 2, 2013
      • jimbey #

        Never been to the Pondhawk area … it seemed so far to go for such a little park. Also, I tend to prefer marsh and swamp over hammocks. I look forward to any blog posts you do about what you found there.
        Again, great shot of the gator with the goofy grin. I think I know the guy. Every time I try to get that close to him, he sticks his head in the water. Just his head – not the rest of his VERY long and fat body. He has become one of my favorite “locals” that I look for everytime I’m in the area. He is also the guy that you can see in Google Maps.

        January 2, 2013
      • It’s not worth a long drive, for sure…. Nope. And I FAR PREFER marsh and swamp over the hammocks — especially when the land is buffered by….errr…Military Trail and other busy roads. Sad. I was keeping my eyes peeled for fox, apparently there are a lot in the area, but it was daytime, so a no-go.

        Haaaa! You think you recognize Mr. Smiles? Wait till I post a better angle of him and his bonnet…. You’ll love it. Then you might be able to make a more definitive decision!

        January 2, 2013
      • jimbey #

        You ran across about 50 gators? What did you do … wiggle you feet in the water while tooting a duck call? You must be a quiet hiker. The really big gators will usually stay still as you approach; otherwise you have to sneak up on a gator to get a good dry shot. If they have enough warning, they exit stage wet before you get there.
        Ever notice how the bigger the gator is, the quieter they hit the water? Little guys jump out from the bank with an awesome reptilian belly flop – PaLOOooosh! For me, I hear the splash (almost underfoot) before I’m even aware that a gator was there. Scares the heck out of me! But the big ones ease into the water with barely a ripple – a crucial hunting skill learned with experience.

        January 2, 2013
      • Nah, about 40. I don’t want to exaggerate. 🙂

        I stopped counting at 30, and there were several more… I’m counting the insane splashers, by the way!!

        You’re exactly right. The older, bigger and more experienced gents gently glide into the water, able to perfectly sneak up on anything they desire. The younger, smaller ones? HOLY COW. The noise! The chaos! On an earlier hike on the outer loop (I was more prepared on this one — I had NEVER encountered so many at one time in my life!!) — I jumped 5 feet off the ground, with such a commotion within inches of my boots. It’s happened so many times; you’d think I’d learn by now. I obviously startled him, but he gave me a @#(@ coronary. Honestly…. Like I said, you’d think I’d learn. But sheesh, they’re so incredibly LOUD in the silence of the swamp / marsh!!

        January 2, 2013
      • I have this visual of that fellow wearing the sort of cotton sunbonnet my grandma used to wear in the garden. I’m assuming you mean something quite different. I will wait with anticipation!

        By the way – I’d completely forgotten I have a photo of an alligator part… Lookie here! A friend in Louisiana showed it to me and asked me to figure out what it was. I never did. She had to tell me!

        January 3, 2013
      • Hahahha! Unless it becomes a bit of a twisted fairytale, we have another story… I’ll be sure to post it soon. 🙂

        Oh my. What is it? I’m used to seeing these lovelies intact!!

        January 4, 2013
      • It’s an alligator scute – the bony plate under the skin that gives them those characteristic protuberances! One function is to increase the amount of skin capable of absorbing sunlight, by raising it up!

        January 4, 2013
      • AHHH! Yes!! I have seen them… So fascinating. All those working parts. They’re so completely and utterly intriguing!

        January 4, 2013
  3. Wow – great shots. Thanks for the background, it’s fascinating!

    January 2, 2013
    • Thanks so very much!! I love learning about this kind of stuff… These mythical beasts came from somewhere, eh?

      January 2, 2013
  4. So ancient and utterly magnificent! Awesome shots too.

    January 2, 2013
    • VERY ancient — at least 50 million years ancient, surviving the dinosaurs’ extinction! They really are amazing and magnificent creatures. Thanks so very much!! 🙂

      January 2, 2013
  5. I enjoyed all the gator info and your photos. People commit animal atrocities partly due to lack of information and understanding of a species different from themselves. There is, sadly, also the more complicated aspects of the human involving mind ‘stuff.’ That’s another story and one not easily handled. But education does help and hopefully more will see that creatures have just as much right to breathe air as ourselves. I have a new respect for the alligator thanks to your posts. Thanks, Gretchen

    January 2, 2013
    • What a wonderful compliment, thanks so very much…. And you’re absolutely right. I have seen and learned that many — most — of atrocities committed towards the innocent animals are done so in ignorance. From a lack of respect. But with knowledge, with education… Comes respect for these most amazing creatures. Even for what some may deem the “frightening” ones — which of course aren’t really frightening at all, but simply deserve the respect that ALL wildlife deserves!

      January 2, 2013
  6. Wow! Are you using a lot of zoom? Cool photos! Happy New Year! 🙂

    January 2, 2013
    • Thanks so much!

      Heh heh… I don’t have TOO much on a zoom on these guys, believe it or not. They rest right at the water’s edge, and you’re walking / hiking alongside them. I respect these guys, though.

      My telephoto is a retractable 70-300 — definitely decent, but there are certainly bigger…. 🙂 I’m sure my mother would appreciate a much bigger zoom. Hah!

      January 2, 2013
      • You’re loving the excitement of the danger! 🙂

        January 2, 2013
      • Oh believe me… If it were a species I didn’t know? Like a bear? I’d be yelping like a little girl!!!

        January 2, 2013
      • I think you’re wearing fast shoes, just in case!

        January 2, 2013
      • I always have that runner’s pose… Gators can be VERY quick. 🙂

        January 3, 2013
  7. Dragons – a great and interesting animal, they figure so prominently in both western and eastern lore you have to wonder what animal was the inspiration. Perhaps indeed it was the alligator…good thing they don’t really fly and breathe fire, then I think I’d be pretty intimidated by them.Happy New Year to you and thanks for all of your amazing work

    January 2, 2013
    • I’ve always wondered HOW many animals were the inspiration for the dragon — since there are so many types! The phoenix, the Eastern dragons, etc…. But one look at the gator’s tail and those jaws, and it’s easy to see how the Medieval Europeans incorporated them into their mythology.

      Thanks so very much… And a very happy happy New Year to you, as well! 🙂

      January 2, 2013
  8. Great close up shots! I love these guys but I usually give them wide berth.

    January 2, 2013
    • Thanks so much! On this particular hike, I probably saw about 40 of ’em…! LOVE them. They’re so fascinating. I definitely give them the respect they’re due — but they want nothing to do with me, just like any wildlife. 🙂

      January 2, 2013
  9. hannekekoop #

    Wonderful post and photos 🙂 . I love the way they take care of their young ones too.

    January 2, 2013
    • Thanks so much! They’re AMAZING mothers. I’ve seen one poor momma fight near the death for her EGGS. She then moved all of them — individually, about 50 — TWICE, in a futile attempt to save them. These are devoted, protective creatures.

      January 2, 2013
  10. The photo is so clear I had never seen the scales from so close and with such precision!

    January 2, 2013
    • It’s powerful armor, isn’t it? No wonder they survived the extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs….! The scales differ throughout the body, too. I’ll try to get other shots of them later!

      January 2, 2013
      • That’s very courageous! Is it not a ” bit ” risky?

        January 3, 2013
      • I do have a 70-300 telephoto; it’s not uber-strong, but decent. But I’ve been hiking around these guys for a LONG time. I know their seasons (nesting / breeding), their behaviors — and I would NEVER put myself or them in any danger if I saw the least bit of of it. Gads, no! There’s far too much hiking to be done! 🙂

        January 3, 2013
      • I love photography and love a quality shot but don’t know much about the technicalities. I do understand you have a very good lens which you can adjust from far right?
        I can’t wait for the next lot you are going to post 🙂

        January 3, 2013
      • The technicalities are definitely an always-learning process for me, since I’m not a techie at heart. 🙂 And these cameras are technological monsters! Their capabilities are insane — I’m not using it to its full capability.

        I have a Canon 7D, and the lens I use on hikes is a retractable (for WEIGHT, sheesh — on hours-long hikes!) 70-300 zoom / telephoto lens. Of course, I always wish I had a stronger lens when I’m out there, so I can get closer to the subject!

        January 3, 2013
      • Wow! Valuable information. Thanks a bunch 🙂

        January 3, 2013
      • Absolutely! It’s a constant learning process for me…. 🙂

        January 3, 2013
  11. That tail shot is impressive. Then again all of them are impressive since alligators and snow don’t seem to mix too well.

    January 2, 2013
    • Hahah! Very, very true… I love this angle, just because of his great and powerful tail. But their scales are really fascinating — different in each part of the body.

      January 2, 2013
  12. Such a fantastic post to start of the new year. Your dragon photos are absolutely amazing and I feel I can just reach out and touch them.Thankfully the mouth is on the other side. And look at you ! Over 1000 followers? You’re in the big leagues now!

    January 2, 2013
    • Hahaha! Thanks lady… I love this shot; it may be one of my favorites of the gators. This was the day that I saw ~40 of ’em, too. It was like my Disney!

      Yeh, exciting, eh? But like you, the numbers are deceptive… I actually have 1,080 total! Woo-hoo! I guess the email subscribers don’t show up on the tally.

      January 3, 2013
      • That’s amazing ! And it happened quickly. So very proud of you.

        January 3, 2013
      • you’re so sweet… ditto, for all that you’re doing! i’m crazy-envious. i don’t know why your comment was spammed, but it was – grrrr!

        January 10, 2013
  13. i

    January 2, 2013
  14. Oh my… I’m having technical difficulties. Sorry about the previous post.

    Anyway it was interesting learning about the symbolism associated with alligators. As always I loved your series of alligator photos. They are definitely amazing creatures.

    Hope you had a nice trip up north!

    January 2, 2013
    • Hahah! I’ve done that… I’ve wondered why WP doesn’t have a feature to edit / delete comments.

      Thanks so very much — I really do love the first angle / shot, it may be one of my favorites. And there are a LOT of gator images, hah! They have a fascinating history in human culture — far too expansive to go into here, but I always thought the symbolism aspect was intriguing.

      Ah, and thanks — as I was literally heading into the airport, in snowed. Sigh. The first and only snow… I was a bit sad. Big, beautiful flakes!

      January 3, 2013
      • I would love to be able to delete/edit comments. I was blogging over at my.opera.com, and they would let you have a limited time to edit or delete a comment… maybe a day, then it was no longer editable. I like that policy because all of my glaring typos and bizarre auto-correct substitutions are not glaring until after I’ve hit “submit”. 😀

        The first gator photo on this post was my favorite, too.

        January 3, 2013
  15. I love the shot of the alligator’s back and tail. Beautiful photos.

    January 2, 2013
    • Thanks so very much!! I can honestly say, out of all of the gator shots that are loading my poor computer (and the back-up drive, hah!), that this may be one of my personal favorites.

      January 3, 2013
  16. Fey Girl, I will start following you. I really like this post about alligators. They have been stigmatised for so long. I also travel to Florida a lot (i’m in P.R. right now), I discovered your website through Ron Dudley’s “Feathered Photography”.
    Maria

    January 3, 2013
    • Ah, I’m so glad you stumbled across me! I adore your blog…. What gorgeous captures! Just stunning. And ditto, I’m now following you (was there a doubt??). My good friend’s from P.R., her father owns a former coffee farm in the mountains. I keep threatening to move in. 🙂

      I’ve written so much on how alligators have been demonized, stigmatized…and this, after being nearly completely wiped out at the hands of human vanity! They want nothing to do with us, they’ve never bothered me — and I’ve seen hundreds. Thousands? On my hikes. The most I can honestly say that they’ve bothered me, is by their raucous splashing when I’ve startled them….

      January 3, 2013
  17. Super back story… great shot of the tail fading into the body.

    January 3, 2013
    • Thanks so much….!! Out of all my gator pics (and believe me, my poor computer is weeping with their weight), I think this is my favorite.

      January 3, 2013
  18. I never even have words to describe your pictures. They are always so breathtaking! You make me want to be a photographer. 😉

    January 3, 2013
    • How incredibly kind of you!!! THANK you!

      Believe me, it’s just a lot of dragging the camera around, learning the thing (still in process — always with me, since I’m REALLY not a techie), and practice, practice, practice! It helps having an art background, which I do…. But for me, it definitely makes my hiking SO much more fun. Always learning! 🙂

      January 3, 2013
  19. Reblogged this on albertgenau.

    January 3, 2013
  20. Val #

    That tail is amazing – almost like the fortifications of an old castle!

    January 3, 2013
    • Aren’t they amazing? I love your comparison… It always reminds me of armor.

      January 4, 2013
  21. Love that first ‘butt shot’! Great post about my favorite reptile friends! 😀

    January 3, 2013
    • Thanks so much! I really think this particular shot may be one of my favorites of our lovely guys… 🙂

      January 4, 2013
  22. Blimey, makes my strolls in the Cambridgeshire countryside seem a little tame. The most dangerous creature I may encounter is a slightly agitated shrew 😉

    Great shots though. That tail looks as though it’s made out of cast iron. Awesome creatures.

    January 3, 2013
    • I was thinking that about the tail, too! It just doesn’t seem like it could possibly be organic, until you trace it up to the rest of the body.

      Lovely post, as always. I hope to get to see some alligators in 2013–it’s been two years since my last trip to Everglades National Park, and I’m operating on an alligator deficit!

      January 3, 2013
      • That’s a great way to look at it… Almost “inorganic”! I keep saying “armor,” but you say it more clearly.

        Ah, wonderful! I hope you see some — that it’s not too cool when you visit! Where I saw these dozens was actually in an Everglades watershed, in northern Palm Beach county. They managed to protect it, YAY! An amazing place.

        January 4, 2013
    • Hahahah! I don’t know. I personally wouldn’t know what to do with a slightly agitated shrew!!

      Aren’t their bodies amazing? This may be one of my favorite captures of gators, out of all the shots I have (and there are MANY weighing down my poor computer!). I love the tail, the angle… It looks, like you say, like ARMOR. They’re amazing creatures. No wonder they survived that extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs!

      January 4, 2013
  23. You have again done a wonderful job of educating and helping to take a animal that is feared and making us see the good qualities that we can relate to. It is about respect and knowing that we aren’t do different from other species. I love this post and I have linked you into this week’s Nature Notes… Happy 2013…Michelle

    January 3, 2013
    • Thanks so very much — and for all the kind words and sensitive insight! You’re absolutely right; there’s no need to stigmatize or demonize these amazing creatures. With a bit of knowledge, every critter can be understood and respected…. And honestly, looked at in awe.

      January 4, 2013
  24. Nicely written… they are part of nature and should be respected 🙂
    Happy New Year to you & your loved ones.

    January 4, 2013
    • Thanks so much! Very well put…. They’ve been part of nature for a VERY LONG TIME! 🙂 As long as the dinosaurs, having survived their extinction! We should be giving them some major respect, hahah!

      Happy New Year to you and your loved ones as well, many thanks!

      January 5, 2013
  25. Reblogged this on 2012 Spirit In Action and commented:
    I love alligators and I love this post! I don’t get out to “real nature” nearly as often as I would prefer, but I love that living in Florida I can see something as amazing as an alligator in my own neighborhood. We had one swimming around the Bayou for a few months, then it took up residence in a neighbors very green pool for a bit. I miss snow and autumn a lot, but what a tradeoff!;-)

    January 7, 2013
  26. Loved the tail shot. It’s art. Always fascinating to see different perspectives.

    January 7, 2013
    • Thanks so much — I think this is one of my all-time favorite shots of these guys… And there are MANY weighing down my poor computer, hahah!

      January 9, 2013

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