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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/349

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OUR FLORIDA ALLIGATOR.

South that the creature has an especial liking for a "darkey steak," and for this reason he is feared by the negroes. That he becomes carnivorous to a dangerous extent when pressed by hunger, there is no doubt, for, the supply of fish exhausted, he must look for larger game.

Partially concealed by rubbish, or floating idly close to the bank—always only a short distance from his retreat—he so closely resembles an old and weather-worn log that no suspicion is aroused. Presently a razorback comes down the narrow trail that meanders through the scrub and passes close to the reptile. Let it pass between the alligator and the water—that is, between the creature and his cave—and the end has come. An alligator seldom misses, and one spring, leap, or plunge, or whatever the swift, clumsy movement may be called, and the wretched animal is seized and held fast, either by the nose or leg, as a rule. Then the struggle begins, for the razorback loves its life, despised pig of the Florida flatwoods though it is.

Alligators drown their prey. Their own nostrils and throats are so arranged that they themselves can sink to the bottom without danger of suffocation, although their mouths, or rather their jaws, may be widely stretched with the body of their victim. Indeed, they can reascend to the surface to breathe without releasing the prize; and, as this power is so closely connected with their method of killing the larger animals, a description of the latter, repulsive though it is, may not be out of place.

The teeth of an alligator are better adapted for crushing and crunching than for biting. Therefore, for him to eat a struggling animal would be difficult. Instinct teaches him that it must first be killed.

To dispose of a dog or a chicken is a small matter, for when the alligator meets it upon the bank one strong, far-reaching sweep of the powerful tail tosses it far out upon the lake. The alligator simply follows, grasps the half-stunned creature in his jaws, and disappears beneath the surface, where he remains until all is quiet. With a larger animal, however, he proceeds differently, for the reason that a yearling, a colt, or a razorback is not so easily handled. First, therefore, a description of an alligator's cave must be given, since it is to this grewsome retreat that the hideous brute takes his booty.

Selecting some spot where the water is deep—usually beneath some overhanging bank—an alligator excavates what is called a "cave." Any one, standing upon the border of a lake or swamp in Florida, may, all unconsciously, be directly over one of these places. He makes it sufficiently large to accommodate one or more of his kind, by dragging out the mud and roots with the strong claws or nails that arm his fore paws or legs. These "caves" serve in winter