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Dr. Jim Nichols Dr. Jim Nichols

One of my more interesting experiences occurred while working on a project on a big lake in central Florida that required collecting alligator eggs. I worked with a group of scientists with several airboats (two scientists per airboat) and a helicopter. The operation worked like this: The helicopter would fly over the marshland and swampland surrounding the lake. Whenever the people in the helicopter spotted an alligator nest, they would hover over the nest. One of the airboats would speed over to the nearest shoreline (riding on an airboat is a lot of fun!). After arriving on the shore, the people from the boat would look around for an alligator “run” (a small ditch leading from the lake to the alligator nest, used by the female alligator to go to and from the lake). The people from the boat would then walk up the run to the nest. (This method was a lot easier than trying to walk through all the dense marsh vegetation.) While working on a two-person airboat team, I began walking behind my partner up an alligator run to the nest. Suddenly, my partner began moving through the water without moving his legs—he looked exactly like he was surfing! He yelled something and jumped off to the side of the ditch. It turns out that he had accidentally stepped right on the female alligator in the run, and she moved very quickly, taking him with her for a short ride! It was an experience that I will never forget because it was exciting and no one was hurt. We completed our mission, which was to collect a nest full of eggs for the purpose of studying alligator hatching and growth.