In South Florida, surprise visitors can crawl on their bellies.
And wear out their welcome.
Naval Air Station Key West had to remove a stubborn crocodile from its airfield on Boca Chica Key so planes could take off and land. The croc was photographed basking in the spring sunshine with a Super Hornet fighter jet in the background.
“This airfield resident was soaking up some sun on one of our runways recently and didn’t want to budge,” NAS announced in a statement posted Monday on Facebook.
The crocodile made its appearance on March 10, said air station spokeswoman Danette Baso Silvers.
Navy officials knew what to do. The air station, at mile marker 8, off the Overseas Highway, is located within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
NAS resident wildlife biologist Rosa Gonzales, who snapped the croc’s photo, called in reinforcements from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to move the reptile beyond the fence line.
The state’s trapper went out to take care of the croc, a female, and she was released in another spot on the Navy base, said Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jason Rafter.
“We believe she is a local crocodile,” Rafter said. “She has been tagged about four years before in that area. She’s got a new tag on her now. That way we can identify her from a distance.”
The croc, seven feet long and 110 pounds, according to the base, has a yellow tag marked with the number 33.
Crocs on the Key West base aren’t anything new.
“We have crocs that live on our airfield and every once in a while they find themselves on the runway,” Baso Silvers said. “Usually they can make them scurry away. But this one was stubborn.”
The Naval Air Station had to change runways because the crocodile refused to budge, she said.
NAS and the University of Florida wrapped up a survey of crocodile life on the base in January.
“We have six or seven crocodiles on base,” said Wendy Wheatley-Techmer, natural resources manager for the NAS environmental division. “It’s a really unique experience here on base. Our mission is to fly aircraft and train pilots but we have this co-existing relationship with the crocodiles. We just kind of live with them.”
“It was just enjoying the sun,” Baso Silvers said.
People were taken by the site of the croc. Some were even familiar with such a visit.
“The neighborhoods right outside of the fence line, in Geiger Key, have been having multiple croc issues the past few months,” one commenter posted.
Another posted a photo of himself with a croc at the air base from his Navy days before 2012, he said.
NAS Key West property is home to 23 federally listed species. They include the endangered Lower Keys rabbit, the smallest of three subspecies of marsh rabbits. They can grow up to 14 to 16 inches long.
But the croc on the airfield is the most recent star. And she now has a name: Conchita — a nod to Key West natives.
Said Baso Silvers: “She’s a Conch.”