It was March at Sweetwater Wetlands Park (Gainesville, FL), and bull alligators were defending their territories.
This bull alligator had just crossed the pond, where an even larger male sunned itself in the company of a much smaller female. He parked himself near the embankment, crossing the tip of his rival’s snout, which was pointed toward the water. All was still, and then a great splash. Both males disappeared beneath the surface of the pond.
After a few minutes, the challenging male reappeared and returned to his original spot among floating Pennywort mats.
As I cross a bridge, I spot him in the water. At first he ignores me.
As I continue taking pictures, he pushes his snout into the water and moves it back and forth. I realize now this is a first-level warning.
Next, he rolls his massive head to the side, exposing his teeth.
Then exposes his full, open mouth.
A raised head is a full territorial challenge. He has declared me an intruder and warns that he will defend this area. However, being a stupid human, I am too busy staring at the black screen on my camera to receive his message.
Soon another photographer joins me on the bridge, and the alligator leaves the conversation. He slips beneath one of the huge Pennywort mats and carries it on his back. With his body camouflaged, he drifts into the other mats and becomes nearly invisible.
The other photographer leaves, and I take a trail skirting the pond. As I walk past the Pennywort, the big bull drifts away from the field of vegetation. He still wears his Pennywort blanket, but his head sticks out and the mat floats toward me at a high rate of speed. This massive alligator is following me.
This time, I’m not tempted to take pictures. I’m a safe distance away and plan to keep it that way.
He continues to follow me until the trail turns and takes me away from the pond. But he’s doing his job, patrolling his territory and keeping an eye on interlopers—even strange, two-legged ones pointing cameras.