Top predators on Jekyll Island are alligators, rattlesnakes and bobcats, according to a Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) presentation. JIA staff made the case to the Jekyll Island Citizens Association for understanding and welcoming predators on the island. Four habitats, forest, marsh, dunes, and ponds, are homes to Jekyll’s predators. Because they needs multiple habitats, these animals often move among them in search of food. And the habitats on the southern end of the island are growing.
Predators are vital to the health of Jekyll’s ecosystem. Having too many herbivores, for example, kills off certain plants. And because a predator covers a relatively large area, killing one can have a significant impact. Loss of plant life to herbivore overfeeding hurts not only the plant life but also the other animals that depend on it. So the JIA has several dedicated wildlife staff studying our carnivores, trying to maintain a healthy population of them.
Jekyll Sandpiper visitors will have a hard time viewing a bobcat or a rattlesnake, but if you look in the right places, you can more easily find an alligator to view.
A family of bobcats roams across the entire island. They most likely came to the island several years ago, either by using the causeway or via swimming. The JIA wildlife team named the four of them after Rocky and Bullwinkle characters, and they worked with Jacksonville Zoo personnel to cure one of them, Bullwinkle, of tick paralysis. A tracker subsequently fitted to Bullwinkle helped monitor his movements until it malfunctioned. Because there are so few bobcats on Jekyll, they do not have a significant impact on the herbivore population.
An alligator’s diet includes other alligators. So having a few big guys keeps the young population in check. There are about 60 – 80 alligators on the island. They occasionally use the beach as a means of moving to different areas of the island but don’t stay there. The wildlife specialists have allowed more large alligators to live in the past few years, and this change has reduced the total number of alligators on the island. Since the small and medium alligators are more likely to beg for food, they can cause problems with people.
A rattlesnake establishes and then maintains its own neighborhood. It might overlap with another snake’s territory, but that neighborhood stays the same over the snake’s lifetime. JIA has studied Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes for several years with a tracking system. They fit some adult snakes with a tracking system. Then they track the locations and record them about twice a week. The tracking data show that the rattlesnakes are amazingly leaving the developed areas of the island untouched, only using it occasionally as a transit mechanism.
In addition, JIA maintains data about mating, weight, and meals. Rattlesnakes are shy creatures that avoid people, eating rabbits, an occasional raccoon, and smaller prey. A rattlesnake might typically eat one big prey a year. The females give birth to live babies.
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