A sprawling lake in northern Florida has long been popular for its recreational opportunities. But kayakers, canoeists, and anglers might be troubled to learn that Lake Talquin also is gaining notoriety for what lurks in the shadows: truly enormous alligators.
Lane Stephens, a trapper with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), recently captured a 14-foot American alligator, which was just shy of the Florida record for the species. It becomes the fourth alligator he has removed from the lake measuring 11 feet or more, in just the past few months.
The latest, caught with a baited hook, had crawled onto a lakeside homeowner’s property and was determined to have represented a threat to people and pets. Stephens was called into action and said he was shocked by what he found.
“I knew it was an extremely large gator because the complainant had told me it was an extremely large alligator,” he told Tallassee.com. “I didn’t know exactly how big until we got him back to the boat landing and started trying to load him in my truck.”
Female alligators rarely exceed nine feet but males can be larger. The Florida record for length is 14-feet, 3-inches. That specimen was caught at Lake Washington in Brevard County. The heaviest was a 1,043-pound gator caught in Orange Lake in Alachua County. (The 14-footer captured by Stephens did set a state record for largest gator head, with a skull measuring 23 3/4 inches long.)
Lake Talquin spans 10,000 acres and its size and prolific bounty of fish, small mammals, snakes, and birds helps explain why gators in the lake are capable of growing to such immense sizes.
Florida boasts about 1.3 million alligators, so Stephens is kept busy. The reptiles can be deemed nuisance animals after they surpass four feet in length if they are deemed to pose a threat. Nuisance gators that are trapped generally are killed because there are no suitable relocation spots for such large gators.
Most are processed for their meat and hides.
Stan Kirkland, a regional spokesman for the FWC, said about 20,000 gators are harvested in Florida each year, some through a public hunting program.
When asked what his reaction might be if he encountered a 14-foot gator, Kirkland told Tallahassee.com: “Hopefully you’re in a boat if you see a gator like that. I mean you don’t want to swim in a place that has large gators. That’s just inviting trouble.”
–Images showing Lane Stephens with 14-foot alligator are courtesy of Stephens
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