So you’re in town from Ohio, quietly enjoying your week on the beach and devouring page after page of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” when you glance up to see a GIANT GATOR emerging from the ocean. This, most likely, was not in the brochure. Luckily, Clemson associate professor Richard Blob can help.
Alligator sightings are hardly a rarity around here, but the emergence of a 9-foot-long minidinosaur on a busy day at Coligny Beach this summer caused quite the stir among beachgoers; pictures of a wrangler removing the beast even went viral online. To find out more about unusual places that alligators have come out of, we spoke to Richard Blob, an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Clemson who studies gators — specifically, how their bodies handle movements:
Q. How could a gator have gotten into the ocean?
A. One, he walked. Two, water letting out into the ocean went into the coast. He was coming downstream, probably chasing food. They can walk over land, but it’s not their favorite thing to do. Once he got out there, it would have been difficult to get back in.
Q. What do they usually eat?
A. They’re carnivores, so in the water they’ll eat fish. They will take turtles. But in the lab, I’ll tell you, they love hot dogs. I wouldn’t recommend giving anything hot dogs on a regular basis, but that was their favorite.
Q. If you’re curious, where can you safely see a gator?
A: You want some quiet waters. They hang out on the golf courses. The best way to see them is to go at night, shine a flashlight and look for eye shine.
Q. What are the current trends in alligator research?
A. People are most interested in paleontology — the evolution of dinosaurs and birds — because alligators, as part of the crocodile group, are closely related to modern birds, with many of the dinosaur groups somewhere in between. You understand more about the biology of dinosaurs if you look at what crocodiles do, look at what birds do. People look at alligators and think they’re like the land-animal version of sharks. They think they’re these brainless killers. But having worked with them, having compared them with some of the lizards I’ve worked with, I have a lot of respect for alligators. If you’re the person who regularly comes in to feed the alligators, they respond to you when you enter the room. If someone else comes in, they won’t necessarily give a rip. I’ve had friends who have had dogs that are dumber than some of the alligators that I’ve worked with.
Q. Do you think a reality show about alligator wranglers would be a hit?
A. You see some of these videos where people are sticking their head and their arms in there. It’s like, “C’mon! No!” I would not advocate a reality show about alligator wranglers. That’s something that should not be encouraged in any way. Maybe like one episode of “Dirty Jobs” might be enough.
Q. The alligator came ashore near the Tiki Hut, home to a number of summery drinks, including the Frozen Alligator. As an expert, what would you guess is in a Frozen Alligator?
A. I hope they’d put some kind of tropical fruit or something in there. Because otherwise, if it tastes like gator, it’s going to taste like swamp. And I don’t like to drink swamp.