The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) released information regarding the death of more than two dozen reptiles found floating in Orange Lake last Thursday.
“Biologists responded to reports of a mortality event involving alligators and turtles on Orange Lake that had been reported to our agency by concerned members of the public” said Kelly Richmond, an FWC Research Institute communications director, in an email to Mainstreet Daily News.
Richmond said staff collected and processed three alligators, 12 red-bellied cooters, one peninsula cooter, four softshell turtles, one cottonmouth snake, and one banded water snake from the lake.
“Major findings indicate evidence of external and internal trauma such as lacerations, bruising on the skin, internal bleeding, and organ damage,” Richmond said. “There was no evidence of infectious disease or toxins, but samples were collected and sent for pathogen and toxin screening. Those results may not be available for some time.”
Richmond pointed to the most likely cause of this event to be an impact with an aquatic vegetation shredder.
“As reptiles are ‘cold-blooded’ they likely took shelter under a floating mat of vegetation during a recent cold snap,” she said. “During cold temperatures, reptiles move more slowly and were likely unable to get out of the way of the shredder as would normally be the case if shredding had taken place during warmer weather.”
According to Richmond, the FWC uses an integrated approach to invasive plant management that incorporates herbicides, mechanical harvesting, and biological controls, saying that each of these control strategies has benefits and drawbacks.
“Staff and contractors work to avoid the potential for adverse impacts to wildlife whatever the control strategy being used,” she said. “Biologists believe the elevated wildlife mortality occurred because a recent cold front coincided with this project. While this project is now complete, the FWC will incorporate temperature-related requirements into our Best Management Practices to minimize future mortality of wildlife.”