August 6, 2010 10:53:00 AM
Tim Pratt -
Visitors to the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge this summer might have a difficult time spotting alligators.
But the refuge''s alligator population didn''t die off due to the abnormally cold winter, during which Bluff Lake was nearly completely covered by ice at one point.
Refuge manager Henry Sansing said alligators haven''t been as visible this summer in Bluff Lake and its spillways because many have migrated back to nearby Lake Loakfoama, which had been drained to clear out invasive plant species. When Lake Loakfoama was drained, most of the alligators in it moved to Bluff Lake, Sansing said.
Now that Lake Loakfoama is full once again, many of its previous inhabitants have returned and Bluff Lake''s alligator population has decreased, Sansing said.
"They''re still around," Sansing said when asked where the alligators had gone. "We''ve got some monsters out there in (Lake) Loakfoama."
Sansing doesn''t believe the cold winter caused an alligator die-off this year like it did in 2001, when dead alligators began washing up on the banks of refuge waterways. If alligators have died this year, wildlife officials haven''t seen them, he said.
"We can''t attribute a die-off of any extent (this year) to cold weather," Sansing said. "We dodged a frozen bullet on this one."
A freeze-over of Bluff Lake in 2001 resulted in the deaths of at least 15 adult alligators, ranger Andrea Dunstan said this winter, including one named "Big Al," who measured 12 feet, 8 inches in length. Big Al and the rest of the 2001 group appeared to have died from respiratory infections, Sansing said.
During the winter, alligators go into a sort of hibernation called "torpor," which causes their metabolism and body temperatures to decrease, Dunstan said.
"It can get so cold that even their immune systems shut down and, at that point, if they have any bacteria, the bacteria keeps growing and they end up with these respiratory infections that could kill them when they come out of torpor," Dunstan said.
More than 70 adult alligators populate the refuge, plus their offspring, Sansing said. Wildlife officials are planning an official count later this month.