Alligator errors

Just sent the following letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail about this article about the comeback of the American alligator, which I would have enjoyed more if it had been a bit more accurate.

William Illsey Atkinson’s article about the comeback of the American alligator (“He’s Back,” July 3) contains two statements of fact that require correction and clarification.
First, to say that alligators consider their own offspring a delicacy, or that they practice cannibalism as a form of crocodilian birth control, is not quite accurate. Alligator mothers guard their nests and protect their young for the first year; the young alligators will call for their mother when they feel threatened. Crocodilians are among the few reptiles that show parental care. Alligator males, on the other hand, have no such compunctions, and will certainly prey on younger, smaller alligators if they are abundant, even if they are blood relations — and that might serve, indirectly and unintentionally, as population control. Perhaps that is what Mr. Atkinson meant, but the article may leave a different impression.
Second, calling alligators omnivores is at the very least ambiguous: they are omnivores in the gustatory sense (in that they will eat all manner of animals, including fish, molluscs, reptiles, birds and mammals), but they are not omnivores in the strict biological sense. Like all modern crocodilians, they are decidedly carnivorous.

Atkinson is apparently a technology consultant; what’s he doing writing about alligators? (Then again: what’s an historian like me doing messing around with snakes? Fair enough.)

More on the American alligator.