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Its critter craziness in the lake!
Lanier has seen its share of unusual animals, both real and made-up
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Alligators in the wild are something to be afraid of, but Lake Lanier's current resident is small and underweight, officials say. It's about 3 feet long, 10 pounds and it's mouth only opens to 2 1/2 inches wide. It was recently seen in the Flat Creek area.

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Darcie Holcomb talks about seeing the alligator on Lake Lanier.

Years ago, Junior Samples told a tall tale to folks at a race track about a big catfish he caught at the bottom of Lake Lanier. Whether there is a giant catfish swimming deep in the lake, nobody knows for sure.

But we can confirm the existence of a resident alligator, an osprey and armadillos.

And that's where tall tales and legends are born.

"Animals for whatever reason change their ranges," said Peter Gordon, education director at Elachee Nature Science Center in Gainesville. "We could say a change in climate, we could say just a natural tendency for very adaptive animals to move into new areas."

So, that must be a factor in why an armadillo was spotted a few years back.

"A couple years ago Rick Aiken from the Humane Society spotted an armadillo on Thompson Bridge Road," Gordon said. "We received a call about three weeks ago ... that (someone) spotted a dead one in the Candler community off of Ga. 60. So the armadillos are moving into the area as well, and of course people are spotting coyotes."

Gordon added that loons and many species of gulls call the lake home in the winter.

But alligators, like the one in Flat Creek, don't venture our way very often.

Darcie Holcomb, director of headwaters conservation of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper in Gainesville, was the lucky person to snap the shot of the alligator late in the afternoon on July 17 in the Flat Creek area.

But she says that find was the strangest in her seven years on Lanier.

"Actually it was our boat captain (Rick Martin) that had seen it before," Holcomb said. "We kept hearing about it ... so when we were out monitoring that day we looked to see if we could find it and we did, so I took a picture of it.

"He's cute and he's little - of course, that bothers people that there's an alligator in the lake."

Holcomb said she hopes the gator is caught before winter hits and it's too cold for the reptile.

"In a way I wish they would trap it and put it back in South Georgia," she said. "It will be where it should be and won't freeze during the winter and he'll have other little alligators to hang around with."

And capturing that little alligator is what Scott Frazier with the Department of Natural Resources said they are trying to do.

"We have a trap set out there, said Frazier, natural resources biologist with DNR. "It is a live trap, so we are hoping to capture it. It's been out a couple of nights, the trap was sprung but we haven't actually seen the gator in or around the trap.

"We are considering potentially going out at night in a more traditional fashion with a light and see if we can see this thing ... if the trap doesn't pay off in the next couple of days."

DNR is using chicken for bait and the office is checking the trap every day for the gator. But Frazier said he just doesn't understand why locals are so interested in the small alligator.

"It really baffles me somewhat," he said. "I think it is the strong juxtaposition of potentially a species that is kept and can potentially be dangerous ... and the high recreational use of the lake. There are alligators in all the lakes in South Georgia; I mean, people wouldn't even notice one like this."

C.W. Wathen, manager of the Chestatee Wildlife Preserve, said the alligator probably only weighs about 10 pounds and the jaw would only open about 2 1/2 inches.

"This size of a gator, wouldn't hurt you; he's not big enough," Wathen said.

But Wathen, who has six alligators at the preserve, did say the alligator would have problems if left in Flat Creek when winter comes.

"All of ours have heated areas in the winter here at the preserve," he said. "A lot of times (in the wild) they will go to the lowest part of the water, where it's warmer."

Heading north from where the alligator was last seen at Flat Creek to the bridge that heads into Forsyth County on Dawsonville Highway, you will spot an osprey nest on top of the green bridge.

"We started getting calls a couple years ago about it and it's a fish hawk, an osprey," Gordon said. "You'll see them, especially on the coast on bridges. Typically hawks are one of the first nesters ... having them nest this late would be a little bit odd, I think."

Some locals thought the bird might be a bald eagle, which are around during nesting season, but the osprey has different characteristics.

"(The osprey has) bigger wings than the average hawk," he said. "Very strong feet, it glides above the water and then dives into the water and at the last minute begins to back peddle with it's wings a little bit and then it hits the water with its talons and grabs the fish."

To spot other fish hawks, Gordon suggests looking around Clark's Bridge or Wahoo Creek because "they like shallow water."

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