Reprinted from The EnvironMentor, vol. 9, no. 5, pp. 15-16
Story: “Counting Alligators”
There was once a rabbit who looked across a broad swamp and saw an island where many rabbits were romping and playing happily. Rabbit wanted to join them but couldn't swim. Besides, the swamp was home to many hungry-looking alligators!
Rabbit came up with a tricky plan. He went down to the edge of the water and called to the nearest alligator, “Hey! How many alligators live in this swamp?”
Alligator was puzzled. “How many? Why do you want to know?”
Rabbit replied, “I'll bet there are more rabbits in my family than alligators in yours! We are the most numerous animals in the swamp!”
“I don't think so!” said Alligator, who didn't want to admit that she didn't know how to count. Alligators, you know, originated so long ago that nobody had invented numbers yet. “We got lots, lots, lots of alligators.”
“Not as many as us rabbits! Nyah nyah, nyah nyah,” Rabbit teased.
Sure enough, Alligator got angry. “We got as many alligators as you got rabbits!”
“Prove it!” challenged Rabbit. “Get all the alligators lined up between here and that island, and I'll count you!”
“Yeah, sure,” agreed Alligator, glad to let someone else do the counting. So she swam around the swamp gathering all her relatives, and lined them up from where Rabbit waited to the island in the middle of the swamp. “There, we're ready!”
So Rabbit jumped from the back of one alligator to the back of the next, counting as he went. “One, two, three, fifteen, ninety-five, twelve...” You see, Rabbit couldn't count very well himself. But the alligators didn't know the difference.
Finally Rabbit was almost all the way across. “Seven, leventy-leven..” Rabbit called out. And as he reached the last one, he shouted, “Fooled you! Fooled you! I just wanted a bridge to the island!”
But that last alligator had fast reflexes. She reached up and CHOMP! bit off a chunk of Rabbit's fur.
“Yow!” screeched Rabbit, and dashed into the bushes.
The other rabbits took care of him, and his skin healed. But he never tried counting alligators again. And you won't see alligators lining up to make a bridge across a swamp.
But they still haven't learned how to count.
Alligators in Oklahoma?
We may think of alligators in tropical places, but the southeast corner of our state is warm and wet enough to harbor a few. Most of them live in the swamps of the Red Slough Wildlife Management Area near Idabel, OK, in McCurtain County.
After spending a chilly winter buried in hibernation chambers, or lurking under a skim of ice with just their nostrils peeking out, they emerge in spring to bask in the sun and hunt fish, rodents, snakes, and turtles.
In summer, mother alligators lay their eggs in nests built from sticks, leaves, and mud on a mound of earth above water. Temperature is important: if the eggs incubate below 85F, the hatchlings will be female; above 91F, male; between, a mix of sexes. In September when the eggs hatch, Mama Gator hears her babies calling and digs them out. She continues to guard them until they're a year or two old.
The babies eat frogs, worms, and crickets until they're big enough to catch larger prey. By the next summer, 2 foot long yearlings can catch mice or baby rabbits. But I don't think a rabbit could really trick them into lining up to be counted, serving as a bridge from one island to another in Red Slough!
Alligators use their teeth to hold and disable prey, not to chew: they swallow everything whole. They can see and hear even when almost completely under water, because their eyes and ears are on top of their heads. When they duck completely under, special flaps keep swamp water out of their eyes and ears. Although they seem ungainly on land, they can sprint up to 20mph. In the water, they are strong, graceful swimmers. They have remained almost unchanged for 65 million years, descended from dinosaurs back in the Triassic era.
Every now and then the news reports sightings of an alligator in other parts of Oklahoma, lurking in a pond or park. Game wardens suggest these are most likely pets purchased as cute little babies, that were turned out when they got too big to handle – or to feed...
[Note: Alligators are protected in Oklahoma. Killing them is illegal.}
My tale of “Rabbit Tricks the Alligators” was inspired by an ancient Japanese legend, “The Hare of Inaba,” in which a hare tricks sharks into lining up. This story appears in the Kojiki ("Records of Ancient Matters"), a collection of Japanese myths, legends, and semi-historical accounts recorded in the early 8th century. Similar myths about Rabbit come from Java, India, and Sri Lanka. I took the liberty of replacing Hare with Rabbit, and sharks with alligators.