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Florida Keys News
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Yard-nesting crocodile's eggs not viable

None of the 27 eggs laid by a crocodile in a Lower Matecumbe Key yard last month will hatch, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's crocodile response coordinator said last week.

"There weren't any viable embryos in them," the FWC's Lindsey Hord said. He added that wildlife officers examined the eggs on April 29 by looking through them with a flashlight.

The 9-foot crocodile tagged Blue No. 9 by FWC made news on April 23 when it nested on the front edge of the Tollgate Shores yard of Elaine and Peter Vlaun, just a few feet from the roadway. The spectacle drew plenty of attention in the neighborhood, as well as from wildlife officers and Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputies.

The FWC waited for Blue No. 9 to lay her eggs, and then removed her from the yard at the Vlauns' request. Wildlife officers relocated her to undeveloped bayside waters 4 miles north, about Mile Marker 77. They also removed Blue No. 9's 27 eggs from the nest and placed them in a cooler. FWC agent William Billings had planned to tend to them during the 80- to 90-day gestation period.

Hord said last week's discovery that the eggs weren't viable wasn't especially unusual, though he couldn't be sure of the reason. It's possible the eggs were never fertilized by a male, or that Blue No. 9 had a reproductive mishap, he said. He added that chemical pollution in the ground has been known to cause problems for crocodile and alligator eggs, though that's much more likely on the mainland than in the Florida Keys.

The problems wasn't caused by transporting the eggs, said Hord, who explained that he and the FWC have collected hundreds of thousands of alligator eggs over the past four decades. Crocodile and alligator eggs require similar conditions for proper gestation.

"It's not uncommon with crocodilians for something to be wrong with the eggs," Hord said.

Scientists counted between 115 and 120 crocodile nests in southeast Florida and the Everglades in 2012, said Mike Cherkiss, a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist and crocodile expert.

Typically, he added, most of the eggs are viable, though more than 90 percent of hatchings die before they are a year old.

Cherkiss too said lack of fertilization or a reproductive problem with Blue No. 9 likely doomed her eggs. Moving eggs can also cause the failure.

"But I'm sure Lindsey's people handled it properly," he said.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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