Is that a rock or a 12-foot alligator? How to tell the difference

John Ruggeri’s office is unlike most others.

It does not have traditional air conditioning. But it does have a massive fan.

That fan pushes him and his guests through a massive lake surrounded by alligators.

He is a captain at Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures and has been taking people on tours of Lake Tohopekaliga for the past 15 years.

Florida Fish and Wildlife recently reported Lake Toho, as the locals call it, has 6,316 gators in it.

That’s the 11th most of any body of water in the state of Florida.

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With so many, you might think it would be easy to spot an alligator, but Ruggeri told Matt Austin and Ginger Gadsden on Florida’s Fourth Estate, that spotting one during the late spring and summer months is harder because it’s hot and the gators are doing everything they can to stay cool.

That includes camping out under lily pads in the shallow area of the lake.

So when you think you are looking at a rock, it may just be a 12-foot alligator.

Ruggieri, who has been piloting airboats since 2008 said, “It’s not so much by training your eye as it is training your brain. Once you can lock in and learn what those signatures are it becomes second nature after that.”

Ruggie said his passion for taking pictures of wildlife has also trained him to spot the small eyes and tip of the alligator’s nose poking out among the plants in the water.

If you hop aboard a ride with Ruggieri you may not come out an expert, but he will use his expert skills to help you spot the wildlife in their natural territory.

Don’t be surprised when you hear him shouting out, “Hey guys look over here to your right,” “It looks like a rock with eyeballs,” and “That’s a gator’s head right there” much like he did when he took Matt and Ginger on a ride into natural Florida.

You can learn more about Ruggieri, how he went from the Bronx to the Sunshine State, and how he accidentally became an airboat captain when he got here, on Florida’s Fourth Estate.

You can download the podcast from wherever you listen to podcasts or watch any time on News 6+.

You can listen to every episode of Florida’s Fourth Estate in the media player below:

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