An alligator was photographed with a football in its mouth in South Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve, sparking an online debate as to whether it was playing with the ball or trying to eat it.
Both ideas are equally absurd, but that didn’t stop social media from making countless references to the University of Florida Gators, and crafting puns about the “most valuable predator” and “first pond draft pick.”
The photo was taken this year at Monument Lake Campground by nature enthusiast Sandra Rayman Harrison, who shared it March 11 with the Alligators of Florida Facebook group.
“We were trying to determine what the gator was eating — when we discovered it was a football,” Harrison told McClatchy News.
“At first, it was amusing. We were laughing about how the football must have been mistaken for a turtle. But as we watched it swimming to the shore we realized there was cause to be worried, as the gator did not seem to be moving the jaws the way they do when they are eating something.”
Harrison is no stranger to alligators, as a Florida horticulturist and owner of Fernview Farm in Summerfield, which is about 60 miles northwest of Orlando. So her concern was heightened when she returned to the next day and saw the 6-foot alligator still had the football in its mouth.
“My concern is that somehow the football was wedged in such a way that the gator could not apply pressure to pop it,” she said. “The concern was also if the ball did pop, would it get lodged and kill the gator?”
Harrison posted the photo on the Alligators of Florida page in hopes others may have seen the alligator and knew if it was rescued.
Many of those who responded noted alligators rarely get things stuck in their jaws, due to a bite force measured at 2,980 pounds. Several joked the alligator appeared to be treating the ball “like a trophy,” while a few said they were more worried about the people who had been playing with the ball.
“That gator is having fun and will pop that ball like a balloon when it is ready,” Janice Robinson-Celeste wrote. “They have swallowed worse.”
“That ball would be toast if he wanted to close his mouth,” Rich Timmons said.
“They can crush a turtle’s shell. I think it could handle a football!” Brent Rosenthal posted.
However, none said they had seen the alligator or knew its fate.
Harrison still wonders what happened to it, and she says the incident made her more “aware that our interactions with wildlife have a huge impact on (their) health and behavior.”
Florida is home to an estimated 1.3 million American alligators and they are found in all 67 of the state’s counties, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.