Thursday, February 27, 2014

Alligator Eyes

We saw alligator eyes in the beams of our flashlights reflect yellow and orange back at us last night. It changed my mind about doing a night snorkel. So today, in full sunlight I am feeling a little nervous as I creep toward the spot where those glowing yellow marbles were last night. That gator had to go somewhere. I had one growl at me a few years ago. They are ambush predators and where I carelessly swam through, over, and around thick emergent lily beds yesterday, today I feel anxious, stick to open water, and scan the bottom for a pair of eyes peering back at me. Intellectually I understand that the chances of me getting bitten by an alligator are extremely remote. Instinctually I feel like I’m being watched. It makes me feel vulnerable, and that’s an uncomfortable place. I am not the top of the food chain here, and in some primal way it feels like this the correct order of things. It reminds me of my place as a part of this system, not apart from it. I check over my shoulder frequently which makes no sense since an alligator isn’t going to get me from behind. I can’t shake the feeling that I am being watched. Part of me really hoped to sight an alligator. I would love to get an underwater shot of one of these amazing animals. I think like most things that can cause us harm, they are misunderstood and maligned. An Atlantic needle fish comes in close for a better view of me from out of nowhere. It just seemed to appear, and its teeth didn’t fit in its beaked mouth. The silver thin tube of a fish disappears as fast as it arrived. I keep watching the bottom and finally see two unblinking black eyes staring up at me from under the blanket of green algae. They intently watch my every move but never shift. I surface dive to the bottom and come face to face with this ambush predator of Alexander Spring: large mouth bass. I view this fish head on. Its eyes are set to look forward, in addition to a wide field of vision to the sides, which gives the bass depth perception thanks to binocular vision. It is an ominous looking creature but doesn’t seem interested in me out of aggression or fear and doesn’t seem to care that I am sharing the bottom with it. I see bass regularly and often pass them up in my quest to get a shot of a more elusive fish. They are abundant in Alexander Springs and I am intrigued by their behavior. I saw a large lunker well camouflaged under a floating mat of lilies that took off as soon as it realized I was able to differentiate it from the well matched background. But a bunch of the bass here really don’t seem to care there are humans around them. They have their safe distance limits and I can only get so close before the fish isn’t comfortable with my approach anymore and takes off with a single flick of its tail. The bass in front of me must think his camouflage under the algal mat is effective because it doesn’t budge even when I get within a foot. Its cold black eyes face forward and look through me, its large downturned mouth waits for the opportunity to open on some unsuspecting prey. If a gator were to reach up and grab me, there is no malice in its bite, just like this bass waiting to snatch one of these cute baby somethings that flit along the top of the algal fluff in large shoals. Nothing personal, just ecological business. They aren’t quite alligator eyes, but they are close, and I’m glad I’m not a smaller fish.

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