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Beaver footprints found along Allegheny River bank, not gator

| Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, 8:11 a.m.
Wildlife experts say beavers have large rear feet and footprints, such as this one found along the Allegheny River bank in Cheswick, likely aren't from an alligator. Friday, Sept. 19, 2014.
Wildlife experts say beavers have large rear feet and footprints, such as this one found along the Allegheny River bank in Cheswick, likely aren't from an alligator. Friday, Sept. 19, 2014.
Tracks along the Allegheny River bank in Cheswick from what was thought to be an alligator more likely come from a beaver. Friday, Sept. 19, 2014.
Tracks along the Allegheny River bank in Cheswick from what was thought to be an alligator more likely come from a beaver. Friday, Sept. 19, 2014.
Cheswick business owner Dan Gerhard took this photo of what he thought were alligator tracks left in the mud along the Allegheny River shoreline this week. Wildlife experts say the tracks likely are from a beaver.
Courtesy of DAN GERHARD
Cheswick business owner Dan Gerhard took this photo of what he thought were alligator tracks left in the mud along the Allegheny River shoreline this week. Wildlife experts say the tracks likely are from a beaver.

What has big hind feet and leaves a trail into the river that can be mistaken for an alligator slide?

A beaver.

That's the consensus among wildlife experts and trappers about tracks found on Thursday on the Allegheny River bank in Cheswick.

“Beavers will do that, they'll make a ‘beaver slide,' ” said Tom Fazi, information and education supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Southwest Region. “A beaver's hind foot is about 7 inches long and in mud it would look even bigger.”

Cheswick police alerted the public to a possible alligator in the area when a local contractor, Dan Gerhard of Lower Burrell, called.

Gerhard, who operates Gerhard Contracting on Watercrest Way in Cheswick, said he saw the tracks and marks on Thursday afternoon. The sighting was about a week after he was on his boat and saw something floating in the water with its eyes just above the water. The creature opened its mouth and Gerhard said he saw a bottom and upper jaw that were 8 to 9 inches long.

“The tracks were just icing on the cake,” he said.

Gerhard is convinced he saw an alligator in the water, but is willing to accept that something else might have made the tracks.

“I do know there is a beaver in the area,” he said.

Fazi said he doubts an alligator made the tracks. That's because the reptile generally walks with its body off the ground and tail dragging so the track will look like a thin line with foot tracks on either side.

He said he wouldn't expect an alligator to leave a “trough” 3 to 4 inches deep like Gerhard described.

To leave a track that big the alligator would have to be very large, which means it likely would have been raised then released as an adult because a juvenile wouldn't survive our winters.

The other telltale sign is that a close-up photograph that Gerhard took of one of the tracks shows three toes and a rear foot pad.

It more closely resembles a beaver track, rather than that of an alligator, which has more toes.

Alligators have webbed feet with five toes on the front and four toes on the rear, said Kirk White, who has 20 years of experience working with reptiles from all over world and is owner of Extreme Reptiles, a traveling reptile exhibit that includes alligators.

“As they push themselves, they dig into the mud so it's going to be a wider footprint,” he said. “I would tell everyone not to worry; it's not an alligator.”

Herpitolgists at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium said they were unable to say definitively what made the tracks based solely on the photos Gerhard took.

Cheswick police Chief Robert Scott said he's no expert, but wanted to get the word out to residents about the possibility of an alligator in the area.

“My concern is that our residents and community know that we got a report on this and to take precautions,” he said.

Scott said he was concerned because of a report last month about an alligator seen in Indiana Township.

It was never found nor spotted again.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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