ARE THE ALLIGATORS DOING THIS SPRING?
by Whit Gibbons
May 11, 2008
brings out different kinds of animals, which in turn brings forth questions
about the animals. The following questions about alligators have come
my way recently.
Q. A friend
said she heard male alligators bellowing somewhere in southern Georgia
during a recent trip. Is this true? Could the noise she heard simply have
alligators and bullfrogs make deep, resonant vocalizations. In the Southeast,
both species may be heard from at least late April to mid-May. An adult
alligator makes a rumbling sound, much louder than a bullfrog, that you
can practically feel if you are standing nearby. I know of a large male
alligator (over 12 feet) and a female (less than eight feet) that live
in a pond in South Carolina; they have been bellowing for the past several
days. My impression is that the female is responding to the male's bellows
and that she is actually louder.
Fish and Wildlife Service provides audio of bellowing alligators at www.fws.gov/video/sound.htm.
You can hear what a bullfrog and other southern frogs and toads sound
like on the SREL website at www.uga.edu/srelherp/.
Q. Do baby
alligators really call their mothers the way birds do?
biologists consider birds to be the closest relatives of alligators and
crocodiles evolutionarily, and many similarities between the groups are
apparent. Not only do baby alligators call their mothers, they start doing
so before they even leave the nest. Mother alligators lay their eggs on
land inside large mounds they build of dirt and vegetation. At the time
of hatching, the babies begin making yelping sounds that attract the mother
to the nest. She digs into the nest, opens eggs with her teeth if necessary
to let babies free, and will even carry the young to the water in her
the water, baby alligators stay in the vicinity of their mother and when
one feels threatened, it will make gulping or yelping sounds that can
be heard several feet away. A mother alligator will defend her nest and
young from predators, and will investigate when she hears a baby in distress.
She will attack another animal, including a person, who appears to be
a threat to her babies.
Q. Do alligators
ever leave freshwater lakes and rivers to go onto land or into the ocean?
A. Alligators leave drying freshwater habitats to travel overland during
droughts, and males move between bodies of water in search of mates during
the spring and to avoid confrontations with larger male alligators. Alligators
will enter saltwater habitats on occasion and have even been found a mile
or more out to sea. They do not live in the ocean but can tolerate saltwater
for hours or even days without a problem.
Q. How big
do the largest alligators get?
indisputably can reach lengths of more than 13 feet and weigh more than
700 pounds. In a study done in Florida from 1977 to 1993, the largest
male alligator reported was 14 feet long, and the largest female was 10
feet, 2 inches. An alligator that was killed and left in a Louisiana marsh
in the early 1900s was estimated to be over 19 feet long. However, the
Louisiana record has long been disputed, and the largest size verified
for an alligator from anywhere, based on a statistical analysis of skulls,
skins, and live animals, was slightly less than 15 feet.
Q. Are larger
adult alligators more aggressive toward humans than smaller ones?
females are smaller than the males and when guarding a nest or babies
are often aggressive toward human intruders. They will come up on land
with mouth open to chase a person away. Male alligators are aggressive
toward smaller males during the mating season and perhaps other times,
but I have never seen one be aggressive toward a person. Aside from parental
protection by females, attacks on humans generally involve situations
in which alligators have been fed by people and thus have developed atypical
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