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SC Press: 'Orange' gators stir interest, memories


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Posted by W von Papinešu on March 26, 2003 at 09:17:18:

ISLAND PACKET (Hilton Head Island, S Carolina) 24 March 03 'Orange' gators stir interest, memories (David Lauderdale)
Photo: An orange alligator in Hilton Head Plantation was front-page news in The Packet on Jan. 25, 1990. http://www.islandpacket.com/features/v-photo/story/2361138p-2202715c.html
Thanks to Joe Levy of Hilton Head Island for e-mailing us a photograph of an unusual alligator sunning in his back yard.
The gator has splotches of orange on it. It reminds us of the day in January 1990 when a woman said "I swear I'm not drunk" when she reported seeing a solid orange alligator beside a Hilton Head Plantation lagoon.
Her story and a picture of the orange gator made the front page of The Packet. But that was before the newspaper was printed in full color, so the black-and-white photo of the orange gator left a wee bit to our readers' imaginations.
And for a while, the woman who first spotted the orange gator stretched the imaginations of fellow islanders.
She saw the rusty-orange reptile sunning itself by the lagoon at the intersection of Whooping Crane Way and Seabrook Drive. That's not far from where Joe and Ruth Levy have lived since moving to the Bear Creek neighborhood from Boston about a year and a half ago.
In black and white, the orange gator appeared to be grinning and grooving in sunglasses, its black eyes standing out against a creamy-colored body.
According to then-Packet reporter Gwen Czura's account, Leah Arthur was driving home from a golf game at Dolphin Head when the orange gator caught her eye. Workers hammering on a home nearby didn't get a bit excited by her report, so she dashed over to the Hilton Head Plantation House. She zoomed up to Arlene Reisner, plantation activities director, and said, "Arlene, I swear I'm not drunk, but there's an orange alligator out there, and you have to see this."
Arlene -- joined by the late Buzz Carota and two security officers -- took off for the lagoon. Arthur was relieved when they found not one, but two orange alligators. She worried about what people would have thought if there were no orange alligators to be found.
Island naturalist Todd Ballantine was called to the scene. Ballantine, author of the popular "Tideland Treasures" book about local natural wonders, said there was a perfectly logical explanation for orange alligators.
He told Gwen the gators probably burrowed in a layer of "Ridgeland fine sand," a type of soil abundant on the north end of the island. The sand layer, between 15 inches and 30 inches deep, is exactly the same color as the two orange gators, he said.
Since alligators make their dens 2 to 3 feet deep, that puts them right in the heart of the Ridgeland fine sand.
But Ballantine said he'd never seen an orange alligator until then.
He said the gators probably would stay orange until spring if they kept returning to their dens during cold snaps.
"They grovel around quite a bit; they give themselves real mud baths," Ballantine said. He likened it to smearing a leather coat with mud, which also does not come clean easily.
But the Levys were more enamored with a 7-foot alligator being in their yard than they were with its rusty splotches.
"It loves to sun itself in the same spot," Joe said. "It had been in hiding most of the winter, but the sunny weather (on Saturday, March 8) seemed to bring him out."
Joe said he and Ruth grew up in the New York area and they find themselves curious about reptiles in the yard.
"Quite frankly, I'm fascinated by alligators because they're like prehistoric monsters," said Joe, a retired general systems engineer.
Joe has spent a good bit of time capturing the gator on his Olympus C-3030 digital camera, quite a switch from his more traditional pictures of the grandchildren. For the picture he sent us, Joe said he used a zoom lens and quietly creeped closer and closer to the sleeping giant.
"I got as close as I could," Joe said, "but eventually lost my nerve due to the way he kept staring at me through that left eye."
Photo: Islander Joe Levy used a zoom lens to get a sharp image of a gator with orange splotches in his Hilton Head Plantation yard. (Joe Levy) http://www.islandpacket.com/features/v-photo/story/2361138p-2202714c.html



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