Herpetology

Pet alligator seems heaven-sent

July 21, 2006|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

SALEM, Wis. -- Michael Wilk was tossing back a few beers with friends when he saw God on the side of his 4-foot-long pet alligator. The white markings popped out against a backdrop of black scales to form the letters G-O-D.

"When I first saw it, my jaw dropped," said Wilk, 25. "It's just sort of like a phenomenon on it."

Wilk, a home remodeler who wants to start an alligator farm, didn't notice the gator's unusual markings when he got it in December from another Wisconsin man who could no longer care for it.

A couple of weeks later, when he and a friend were hanging out in Wilk's basement, the letters jumped out at them. "I was thinking when the guy gave him to us that he was trying to hoax us," Wilk said. "But it's not Wite-Out or anything - it's real." Alligators have naturally occurring, unique striping patterns that help camouflage them in the wild, said Harry Dutton, an alligator biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The markings on Wilk's gator appear to be legitimate, and not made with a marker or by scratching the hide, Dutton said.

Dutton said the striping probably will fade over time, or the gator's overall color may get darker as it grows larger. The gator's home is a 450-gallon artificial pond where it feeds on raw chicken, steak and frozen mice.

The Rev. Philip Wilde, a pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in nearby Bristol, called the markings as a coincidence of nature. "Obviously it's there because God wanted it to be that way," he said. "But I don't see any special message in that."

Wilk, who was raised Roman Catholic but does not attend a church, said the creature hasn't affected him spiritually: "We don't sit around with candles worshiping this animal, if that's what you mean."

Chicago Tribune

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