When you look at the American Alligator, you see your imagination. The American Alligator’s public image as a terrible beast hungry for blood has largely been proven false by death statistics, yet the fear remains because mankind’s tendencies towards fear are caused by a variety of causes, not solely reality.
Alligators are feared largely because they have the look of a prehistoric monster. The bony protrusions on their back, known as osteoderms, and their paddle-like tail cause the mind to leap to thoughts of dinosaurs, dragons, and other long-dead, fantastical creatures that inspire much terror.
This mindset is somewhat true, as the alligator’s family of animals has remained largely unchanged for the past 85 million years. They evolved early on into an apex predator, and that is a key point. Human beings are traditionally the peak apex predator in our ecosystems, so when a threat to that standing is discovered, they have an ingrained psychological response of fear.
This is not to say that the alligator has always been feared. When the Native Americans and early Americans were coexisting with these creatures, they were largely deemed non-threatening, even docile. It is only in the last century that alligators have captured the cultural label of “Terrible Beast”.
Fear exists for a number of reasons, and this specimen serves to illustrate the many ways by which the alligator has become our horrifying creature of the swamps.
By Gavin McCaw