They still pack a nasty bite, though, and our expedition into gator country begins just before dark with a tongue-in-cheek admonition to avoid their "snapping end" at all costs. Ken Rice, the USGS fish and wildlife specialist in charge of the survey, guides our boat through the endless sea of saw grass with a powerful floodlight, sweeping it in wide arcs in search of the telltale amber eyes of an alligator. Once one is spotted, Rice banks sharply towards our quarry, keeping the reptile mesmerized with the light just long enough for Mike Cherkiss, a wildlife biologist with the University of Florida, to slip a metal noose around its neck. The gator, furious at being snared, twists and thrashes beside the boat as it struggles to break free. This is a critical part of the capture, allowing the gator to wear itself out through several cycles of futile resistance (you simply do not want a well-rested gator on your exam table).