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Stumpy the alligator hanging out in the borrow pits by Limestone Creek near Mooresville on Thursday. Alligator tail may be good to eat, but it apparently doesn't freeze well.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Stumpy the alligator hanging out in the borrow pits by Limestone Creek near Mooresville on Thursday. Alligator tail may be good to eat, but it apparently doesn't freeze well.

Stumpy, the bob-tailed alligator near you
10-foot reptile lives near Limestone Creek; why he's not longer is a tale of frozen tail

By Seth Burkett
sburkett@decaturdaily.com 340-2355

A big alligator living in the borrow pits near Limestone Creek has an unusual feature.

Bill "Gator" Gates, a biologist with Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, estimates the gator is about 10 feet long, but would be about 11 feet long if he weren't missing the tip of his tail.

Gates speculates that "Stumpy," as he affectionately calls the massive reptile, may have lost the appendage to frostbite.

"This is pretty far north for them, so I wouldn't be surprised that something like that would happen. They dig holes in the banks there and crawl down in there on cold days, and maybe his tail was sticking out of there," Gates said.

Or, Stumpy could have been stuck outside in the cold.

"These cold-blooded creatures, as the temperature starts to go down, they can't move as quickly. Maybe there was an evening where the temperature dropped too quickly and he couldn't get back to his burrow," he said.

Gates said he doesn't think the injury could have come from another alligator, but it's possible

Stumpy suffered some wound when he was young and the scarring wore down over time to take on the look of melted plastic.

Gates said that according to Dr. Robert Mount, the expert on reptiles and amphibians who wrote "Reptiles and Amphibians of Alabama," alligators do not naturally live this far north.

Wildlife officials released more than 50 into the refuge in 1979 in an effort to help the endangered species recover and simultaneously control problematic beavers.

An effort shortly thereafter to remove the alligators resulted in only a few being caught. Gates said earlier alligator sightings were probably due to people releasing pets into the wild.

"This release was probably outside their geographic range, but they seem to be hanging on," Gates said.

'Borrowed' pits

The borrow pits — named for the gravelly soil "borrowed" to construct local roads — are filled with snakes, turtles and fish and therefore are a popular hangout for alligators. Gators also enjoy basking in the sun on small islands in the pits.

Stumpy used to be a regular there. After disappearing for a while and possibly being caught on camera in Limestone Creek, he's back to his old stomping grounds, Gates said.

Stumpy is not the only alligator potentially affected by the North Alabama cold. In 2001, Gates found a hatchling that appeared to have frozen to death.

Gates suspects the little alligator was the offspring of Stumpy and a 9-foot female sometimes seen in the borrow pits.

Gates marked the hatchling after finding a large nest with 22 babies that the female had been guarding.

When he found the hatchling dead several days later, he knew it by the notch he placed in a scale on its tail.

"He didn't have any other injuries, and it had been a cold evening, so I assumed he froze. They had hatched very late, in October, and there were some cold evenings around then," Gates said.

The alligators at the refuge are shy and usually hide from humans. Gates said he and a Daily photographer had to do a little bushwhacking to catch a glimpse of Stumpy on Thursday.

Photogenic reptile

"Stumpy makes a good photograph," Gates said. "I'm a member of the Huntsville Photographic Society, and I take them out there on my personal time to take pictures of Stumpy. He's photogenic. The fisherman we ran into (Thursday) started showing us pictures on a little point-and-shoot digital that they had, so he was taking pictures of Stumpy, too.

"I have a lot more people interesting in taking pictures of the alligators than I do people complaining about them. Most of the comments I get are from people who are glad the alligators are here," he said.

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