Albino American Alligator
A baby alligator is only 7 inches long; many predators can get them as a baby: snakes, fish, turtles, and even other alligators. Adult females have 40 or 50 offspring because very few -- about one out of 100 -- will make it to maturity. When alligators reach maturity, they don't have predators -- but it can take six to 10 years for them to get to a size where they're out of harm's way. The first four or five years of their life are spent hiding. Albino American alligators lack a pigment called melanin, and their eyes appear reddish because of the blood vessels underneath. Of the millions of alligators in the wild, there are only about 10 albino American alligators; there are less than five in captivity.
Gila monsters are one of only two types of poisonous lizards; the other is the Mexican beaded lizard. Found in the southwestern United States, they are the largest species of lizard in North America. Although the gila monster isn't aggressive, its venom is harmful to anything it sets its teeth into; and although humans are unlikely to die from the venom, there is no cure for the poison and it's an excruciating bite. The gila monster has dozens of sharp teeth and when it bites, there's no getting it off you. It will only let go when it's ready.
Its colors and marble pattern on its basketball-like skin are designed to warn would-be predators not to get too close. Gila monsters have a very good sense of taste and smell and can pick up the trace left by prey up to a mile away. The lizard also uses its tail for fat storage; during times of extreme draught, it can depend on energy reserves there.
Gopher tortoises, which are primarily herbivorous, dig burrows that are essential to the lives of many other animals. These animals, called commensals, take advantage of the tortoise's burrow but neither help nor harm the tortoise. One of the gopher tortoise's important roles in the ecosystem is to spread the seeds of many plants in its droppings.
Protecting the Ecosystem
The most important thing to do to protect the ecosystem is to recognize that we all have an impact --everyone has an obligation and has to be accountable for environmental stewardship. It might be simple, like turning off a light when you leave a room, but it could begin in your backyard. When you create a habitat, you create an opportunity for other earthlings to have a life. Research which plants to put in your garden, get out there with your kids, and study nature and wildlife.
Special thanks to Jeff Corwin, host of Animal Planet's "The Jeff Corwin Experience."
The Year of the Frog
The world's leading conservationists, including Jeff Corwin, have joined together to name 2008 the Year of the Frog in hopes of raising both awareness and funding needed to mitigate the amphibian extinction crisis.