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Gator gazing a gasp in Ned

It was a program you could really put your teeth in.

Watchful eyes filled with wonder and gapping mouths with echoed gasps gave their full attention as Texas Parks and Wildlife gator guru Amos Cooper pulled a 2-year-old alligator from a blue traveling bag.

“There are only two kinds of alligators in the world,” Cooper explained as he held the mouth bound creature in two hands during a special presentation at the Marion and Ed Hughes Public Library. “There is the American Alligator and the Chinese Alligator. And Jefferson County has more American Alligators than any other county in the state.”

Cooper delighted the 110 plus children who joined in on the gator program Thursday with tales and facts about the true mascot of the Gulf Coast

“Alligators have two sets of eyelids,” Cooper said as some of the onlookers checked their own peepers to ensure they had not grown a second set. “Something else you might not know is that an alligator’s average life span is 45 years in the wild and 60 years in captivity.”

Also surprising to most of the youngsters and even some of their parents was the growth timeline for a gator. Cooper said alligators grow anywhere from six to eight inches a year.

“It takes an alligator anywhere from 12 to 15 years to reach maturity,” he said. “So those 10 foot gators you may see are usually more than 25 years old.”

Cooper added that Internet junkies should not be fooled by those giant gator photos floating around the Web.

“Most male alligators only get as big as 14-feet-long and females top out at about 8-10 feet,” he said. “The largest alligator on record was 19 feet long and that was in the 1890’s.”

Other interesting gator facts shared by Cooper included the fact that most alligators mate in late March or early April and the females lay their eggs in June.

A critter educator, Cooper also encouraged the children to keep their distance from all alligators, but especially the larger creatures.

“This guy is pretty small and could puncture the skin,” Cooper said as he held his 12-inch-long program prop. “It is when the alligator gets about six to seven-feet-long that they start to get really dangerous. People can lose limbs with the larger alligators because they have the weight to spin around and twist the arm or leg off. This little guy you can tackle and get away from.”

Cooper encouraged all of the children to notify an adult and the Texas Parks and Wildlife if they come across an alligator near their homes.

Despite the stern warning, Cooper gave the children the opportunity to touch one of the wild creatures in the safety of a controlled environment. Each child was most eager to run their fingers along the long tail of the young reptile — some were even bold enough to hold the gator in their arms.

“It’s tail was softer than my hands,” Gage Neal, 4, said after his turn to touch the gator.

Older brother Devon Neal confirmed his brother’s sentiments saying the alligator was “real soft.”

“They are so cool,” Orion Carr, 7, said after the program. “I want to pet him.”

For more information on alligators and outdoor learning events, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife website http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us.

Contact this reporter at asanders@panews.com or (409) 721-2427.